Saturday, February 26, 2011

Telepaths: The Park Slope Conspiracy - 18

A small note about this week's picture: I saw this example of packaging weirdness in Vancouver. For those of you who collect weird packaging (you know who you are), this one's for you!

Carl's wife is trapped at home, on bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy. Carl is trapped with her. Will Maggie's educated guess lead to a break in the case, or will Carl break first?*

*This chapter contains strong language, morning routines, cell phones, arguing and just a mention of blood.

18. House Arrest 
I fired off an email to Maggie and cc-ed Elise about the department account I thought was being siphoned by Craig for Steadman's 'pick-ups'. Then I shut off the damn computer and stretched. I rubbed my eyes with my knuckles and looked over at the cable box. 10:13pm. "Well, damn," I swore to myself. It had taken longer than I thought to sift through the records and find charges that corresponded with the abductions. I narrowed it down to five credit accounts to watch but there was no telling if that'd pan out. By the time we knew where Steadman was spending it would be too late to swoop in and catch him.  
Enough. I'd wake the girls if I went to bed full of work. Lynn was frustrated about being confined to the bed and I didn't want to make myself an easy target for her temper. Barely survived the last time. I drained the last of the water in my glass and put it in the sink. 
I turned off all the lights in the front of the house and walked down the hall, skirting the creaky spot in front of the half bath. The door to our bedroom was open enough for me to get in without making the hinges creak. I slipped just as quietly into bed, trying to disturb the mattress as little as possible.
That was not 'just a little while longer.' Lynn reached back and tugged me toward her. 
I maneuvered myself behind her and let her drape my arm over her stomach. "I didn't mean to wake you up." I lost track of time with the records. I think I found something. 
"I took three naps today. I haven't been able to stay asleep long." You found something. Does this mean you'll quit at a decent hour tomorrow? she asked, not quite relaxed against me or the mattress. 
Didn't get enough of me today? I was too sarcastic, reminding her how she'd kicked me out of the room to 'go work or something'. "I promise I'll get the computer set up in here for you tomorrow, first thing."  
Her anger receded into sheepishness. "Thank you." I'm sorry I'm being like this, I'm so bored. I feel like I've read all I wanted to read for months in the last few days and there's nothing on TV. It's just- 
Hard. I know, I assured her. "Your Mom said she'd bring by some more knitting patterns, so that ought to keep you busy," I teased. 
I flinched out of the way in time to avoid a sharp elbow. "Jerk. I'd like to know who gave her the idea I wanted to knit and find a way to thank them appropriately." 
Would this involve the insertion of your new knitting needles into that person? 
"Oddly enough it does." I bet it was cousin Janine. She and Mom love that crafty crap. 
I bit back a laugh but I couldn't keep it out of my head. I could never be quiet when Lynn said anything negative about the infamous Mrs. Beast. 
She got me with her elbow that time. "Don't call her that," she said and tried her best not to laugh too.  
I snaked my hand out and skittered my fingers along her side so she twisted and squirmed and laughed.  
"Stop, stop," she gasped, trying to push my hand away without rolling over. Before I wet myself. 
I put my hand back around her waist and laid my palm flat over her stomach. "Don't want that, I'm too tired to change the sheets." 
You're a bad man. 
Horrible, I agreed and kissed her shoulder through her nightgown. 
There was the tiniest flutter once we were both quiet and then a kick that I could feel in the center of my hand. "See? She likes it when I tickle you." Tell me that was happy. 
Lynn held my hand tighter to her stomach. "I think so."  
"Since the two of you are up…" I whispered. She knew what that meant even without my hand moving against her stomach. 
"You never get tired of this, do you?" she asked with a sigh though I could feel her smiling. 
I kissed the sensitive spot below her ear. "I like to be a part of things." Unless you don't want me to, I added, worried I might tire her out. 
She put her hand over mine and squeezed it. "You're a big part of this.” Don't be upset if I doze off. 
"Only if you don't mind me making you type reports in your sleep.” 
"Beast," she said and relaxed into the mattress. 
I smiled against her hair and closed my eyes. I let myself sink into the bed, arms, then legs, limp and heavy, relaxed. Lynn was awake and teased me by thinking about how I worked too much and how my laptop would fuse with me one day. Like this book I read in high school. The guy was fused right into his computer. There was this whole genetically engineered town and- 
She was tired enough that she couldn't keep up her train of thought. Words faded away and random images started to intrude. I sank down beneath them, hitting the fear that had been there since she found out she was pregnant. The fear that had gotten twenty times worse since the hospital. Even on the edge of sleep it was there, clinging to me, feeding my own fears. For a few minutes I was tangled in it, I couldn't sink deeper, chased in circles by horrible 'what if?'s. Dead babies, blood, pain and that vision Maggie had had of Lynn in the bed covered in blood. My face screwed up in disgust but I didn't pull back. I had to share this with Lynn. To be a husband. To be a real parent. I needed to share it all with her.  
I waited it out and concentrated on the thoughts below me, the dark swirling forms of random memory. I sank further. Down past that horrible Queen song she sang in the shower, down past the deer jumping in front of her mother's car and the flash of the airbag in her face, past the smell of the perfume her grandmother used to wear. Down to the bottom where her foot was rubbing against the sheets and her back felt warm where I was against her. It was a sort of dim animal pleasure, glad to be warm and comfortable. It made me feel necessary on a gut level. 
I settled even further in. My hands were tight and cold while my shifting feet were hot and inflated. I felt heavy, almost forced to the side by the weight of my stomach. There was the heaviness of sleep too and the faintest urge to get up and pee. I was almost asleep myself when the baby kicked. I felt it against my hand and inside, in line with my navel. I shifted, we both shifted, and it was hard to know if Lynn had moved on her own or if I'd moved us. I wanted to stay alert, wait for the feeling of movement again but I drifted off, pulled along by Lynn's sleeping mind.  
She slept right through the phone ringing. I almost jumped out of my skin because it was so bright in the room I was sure I'd missed my alarm. I almost fell out of bed getting the phone before I realized that I couldn't be late, I was working from home. "Hey Maggie.” I cleared my throat once I was out in the hall. Need some coffee and to see if Elise sent me thirty more emails last night.  
"Morning to you too. I can't believe you were still in bed, it's almost ten."  
Christ, she's excited about something. "Well I was up until ten working on those accounts I sent on. Give a guy a break." I shuffled into the kitchen and booted up the laptop on my way to the coffee maker. 
"You're such a jerk when you're tired." 
"Am I as annoying as you are when you're wide awake first thing in the morning?" I asked and dumped three heaping spoons of coffee into the filter. Lynn could only have one cup but I wasn’t going to have a problem finishing the pot. I wonder if they have that hazelnut blend at the grocery store. 
"At least that annoying. Anyway, I have a question about your report. How fast can you track new purchases on those accounts you flagged?" 
I was sure I had put that in the email, though it was possible I left it out, or she was determined to find a way around what I'd written. Either way I was about to disappoint her. "Not fast. It would be maybe eight hours before we had anything if not more." Or six if it was a fast system. 
"You know that might work just fine. Especially if he has to buy a plane ticket." 
"It might work for what?" I asked when she didn’t elaborate.  
"Oh, sorry. We narrowed the UL to eleven likelys. If we can figure out where he's using that card, or where he's going with a plane ticket we could predict which target he's heading for." There was that excited voice again.
I sat down at my desk and pulled up my email. There was one from Elise and three from Maggie. She always did that when she was working something out. One would be asking a question, the next one amending the question or asking a new one and the last one would tell me she figured it out herself. I rubbed my face with my hand and wished I already had the coffee. "How did you narrow it down?" I asked with heavier skepticism than I'd have used if I was awake. 
"We guessed." 
Her tone was so deadpan that it took me a second to catch up. "You're a fucking riot." What on earth is Frank doing emailing me? I thought he'd had his cable and his internet cut off. I opened the email from my nephew. 
"It's a very educated guess, so that's ok. You should be getting a delivery in the next hour or so, we made copies of the files for the likeliest targets so you can keep an eye on those areas." 
Oh, he's just gotten his internet back. I guess that was a loan from the bank of Grandma. She has to stop bailing him out. "That's not going to do us much good without a field agent to follow up on it. Anyway, who is 'we'? Did they bring someone else in?" I asked, going back to my inbox. I'd have time later to yell at Frank for skimming my Mother's social security, even if it was with her permission. 
"No, Elise helped, otherwise we never would've gotten through the UL in a day and half. She's talking to Gates this morning about getting someone in for field work." 
"If we have any. I'm not sure we'll be able to catch up with him by the time we get the purchase notices." She let her help on a profile? Guess Elise charmed her too. I looked over at the coffee pot and wondered if I wanted to make a mess switching the pot under the drip with my mug or if I could wait ten more minutes. 
"Don't be so pessimistic. You said yourself that the purchases usually range a few days," she reminded me. 
Maybe if I move the pot fast I won't spill any. "Usually is a pretty loose term with only five cases to go on. He might have had to do recon on some of them or go in ahead to set up the extraction." But if he buys a plane ticket he'd do it a day or two in advance. That might work if he can't drive to the next one. I got up and took a mug out of the cupboard. 
"There are twelve other cases that were most likely him," she defended without anger. "And they fall within certain age, health, and criminal record parameters."  
"Guessing again. You can't determine parameters like that unless all five were, I don't know, twenty, AB positive and had two thought felonies." I wonder who Gates will get to run surveillance, maybe Will from the Albany field office. He'd do pretty well if he had a clear mission statement. I'd better write up a basic op outline. I was relieved to see the coffee had slowed to a drip and poured myself a cup with only a few drops sizzling on the warming plate. 
"Give me some credit, Carl. Read the stuff we're sending and call me later," She said, her tone more serious. 
"Sure thing, boss." I took a long sip of coffee and sighed. Of course staking him out means looking into how he staked them out. No point in going if you're going to get spotted first. 
"Good answer, smartass. Go have some coffee or something." 
"I am right now. I'll call after I read it," I assured her as I spooned another teaspoon of sugar into my coffee. I wonder if Lynn would want eggs. Maybe I should go see if she's awake. 
"Ok, tell me if the courier doesn't get there by noon. Bye."
She hung up before I could tell her I would. I clipped my phone to the waist of my pajama pants and padded down the hall to see if Lynn was up yet. Maybe I could set up the computer before the courier got here. 
She was still asleep and the doorbell rang while I was in the middle of cooking my eggs. I turned the heat off and hoped the yolks wouldn't get hard. The delivery guy had a bright red shirt, yellow shorts and file box sealed with white tape. He checked my ID against the list on his clipboard and my signature against the one on my ID before he passed me the box. It felt full. I closed the door with my foot and carried it into the kitchen. I used the kitchen shears on the tape and flicked through the contents. Just a few files? Either her report's 300 pages long or every file on the list is here.  I took the summary off the top with Maggie's handwritten note 'read this first' and turned the burner under the eggs back on. It didn't take long to see that Maggie had enough long technical terms to back up her guess. My eggs were done, so I took my plate and my coffee over to the alcove where my laptop was tucked away. I flipped to Maggie's list, surprised to see it was typed up. Before I had been lucky if I got a photocopy of her handwritten notes. Or felt tip on a napkin. I bet Elise typed this. "Eleven? Ok, let's try the Missing Persons Database," I muttered to myself, pulling up the database and putting in my password. I had entered in six names between bites of eggs and toast when I came up with a hit. 
I stared at the computer for a minute and set down the last piece of toast. I wiped the butter off my fingers and called Maggie.  
"Read it?" 
I tilted my head, reading down the case file on my screen. "Ok, that's a pretty good guess.”  
"We can hope Gates thinks so." 
Who knows what he'll think now. "I have something. I’m not sure if it'll be good or bad for us though.” There was no telling if the guy had disappeared on his own or if he'd been picked up by Steadman.
"Well?" she said when I hesitated.    
"One of your liklies is missing. No one's seen or heard from him in five days. Girlfriend reported him missing two days ago," I told her as I pulled up the email with the latest results on the flagged accounts. 
"Anything on the credit cards?” 
"Looking right now." I scanned down the list. She's going to be impossible after this. "Two hits on one card for gas, one hit on another for the same." 
"Was it one of the ones in Nevada? Gates says that's where he might be based." She was excited; I could almost see her torn between a frown of concentration and a shit-eating grin. 
"San Jose. That gas was along the interstate between San Jose and maybe Vegas. It's hard to tell since he could've gone a few hundred miles in any direction from the last stop." Let's see how long she remembers that she wouldn't have found this one without me. 
"I knew it was the desert. I guess no plane ticket for this one." She sounded disappointed. 
I shrugged to myself. "Let me look at the rest, there might be something." I went to the next email and skimmed. "Jet Blue, Vegas to San Jose." 
"When did he buy it?" 
This could have potential. "Six days ago.” Two days before the guy went missing. 
"So, if we were watching all of the cards for ticket purchases…" she prompted. 
She's going to make me say it. "We might be able to have someone in place to get the pictures," I allowed. "It's a big 'if' with no one in the field. Have we heard from Gates about that yet? I was thinking of a few guys I could suggest." 
"Send them on to Elise. I don't know if she got to Gates yet. She left an hour ago." 
I felt my eyebrows go up. "I hope you didn't make her breakfast. She may have to make a pit stop at the ER before she can go to work." I could send the recommendations and then see if Lynn's up yet. 
"You're an ass. I haven't used expired eggs in five years. I-" 
My phone chirped. "Hold on, I've got another call." I pulled the phone away from my ear to see the caller ID. Elise. I thumbed the button to switch calls. "I was just talking about you." Guess Elise made it to work after all. 
“I'm not sure how I should feel about that," Elise said in a light tone. "Do you have a minute?"  
She's pretty bright for someone who's been up all night. I wonder if Gates knows. "Sure. Give me a minute to get Maggie off the other line." 
There was a brief pause. "If it's important-" 
"No, she was only gloating over predicting the next target. Hold on a sec." I switched back, knowing Elise would be frothing for me to get back on the line and tell her about the missing guy. "Maggie? I've got to take this."
"Oh? It's your parole officer, isn't it?" 
She sounded so pleased with herself when she thought she was being funny. "Close, it's Elise. I have a feeling I'm about to receive some kind of proclamation handed down by the old man." Maybe he found another guy to do the field work. I wish I'd set up that op outline already. I could put it together after I get the computer set up in the bedroom, I told myself, forwarding the emails to Elise along with the missing person's report. 
"Well his next proclamation better be he's sending her home. She was working all night," Maggie said with something like indignation. 
I smirked. "Is that what they're calling it now?" I could at least dismantle the computer while I'm on the phone, that way it'll be ready when Lynn gets up. I hope I remember where all those cables go. 
"Bite your tongue, she's very professional. Go take your call," she said without any heat. 
Not a flat denial. How professional were you? I grinned to myself. "Ok, I'll call you back later." The phone chirped again as I switched back, heading into the living room where we'd set up the desktop computer like an office. I wiggled the mouse to wake it up. "Elise?" 
I tucked the phone between my neck and shoulder and wished I'd thought to get my hands-free set from the bedroom. I'll turn everything off and pull the desk out. "Good, I always lose calls on this thing. Anyway, Maggie says 'why aren't you home sleeping?'" I said, curious to see what kind of reaction I could get. 
"No rest for the wicked," she shot back and I couldn't be sure if she was being evasive or funny. "Besides I'm waiting for you to tell me about this target." 
"I sent the info on to you. One of the guys off your list was reported missing. There are some charges that match up with the dates," I told her and shut the computer down.
"That's great news." There was a slight pause and I wondered if she'd thought something at me. "I have something new too. A fresh assignment this morning. Partly having to do with you." 
"Do tell." She was charming any time of day and with any amount of sleep. I didn't feel quite so fresh myself, but I managed to pull the desk out so I could see the back of the tower and the monitor. I think I'll leave the printer for now. 
"I wondered if you're ready to get out of the house for a bit."  
I was yanking on the power cord to the computer trying to get it out of the power strip and it took me a second to work past the pleasant tone of voice and get what she was saying. "That's not funny." The cord gave way with a jerk and I fell back onto my ass, almost dropping the phone. Damn computers. 
Her voice was nothing but calm and sympathetic. "I know it isn't. When I approached the Senator for more people, he told me to work with what I had. He implied that you might be able to get away for a day or so.” 
"Would you like to be the one who tells my wife that my job is more important than her health? More important than the baby?" I demanded, yanking the rest of the cords without seeing what they went to. It would take a day at the least and on no notice. How am I going to ask Mrs. Beast to come and stay with her if I have no idea when? It's not like the old bat doesn't have a job too.    
"Of course not. If it's not something you can do then it's not something you can do and I'll tell him that," she said as though that wouldn't land her in the doghouse. 
I hadn't expected her to give up so fast and I couldn't maintain my anger. Gates is such a dick sending her to do this. "What about the other agents I suggested? Did you get my last email? We're on the right track with that list you and Maggie worked up along with the credit accounts I flagged. We could've had someone catch up with him in San Jose if we'd known to look a few days ago. Can't you tell Gates it's a sure bet?" I said with more confidence than I had in any of this. If he wants results he's going to have to get more people, not flog the ones he has. 
"I didn't, can you give me the overview?" She sounded less resigned now, maybe Gates had said no because there was no proof that it could work. 
"Sure, basically, one of the guys on your list disappeared five days ago. A plane ticket was purchased two days before on one of the flagged cards, originating from Las Vegas like we thought. There were three other credit card hits between Vegas and the flight's destination in San Jose all after the flight, all heading toward Vegas.” I shifted the monitor onto the rolling desk chair. Hopefully it would roll over the carpet and I wouldn't have to carry the damn thing. I wonder if the tower will fit on there too. Nah, I'll bundle up the cables and make two trips. 
"That's great. Yes, here's the email. I'll forward it to the Senator. I think he'll be more willing with this in mind." 
"Glad to help." I pulled open the cupboard and found some plastic grocery bags. These should hold all the cables. I wonder if I should put the keyboard and the mouse in another one. 
"And you got the files from the courier this morning? Is there anything else you need?" 
"Nope, I'm good. I'm going to try and see if there's any way to connect these accounts we've flagged with Breaker. Should be at least as much fun as flipping through school pictures trying to find Steadman." Almost makes surveillance sound good. Now where did that power strip go? I started putting the rest of the cables into a bag and piled them on top of the monitor. 
"Sounds like serious fun. Keep me updated and I'll let you know where we are on this end." There was a smile in her voice, she was sure Gates would give her the go ahead for another agent. 
"You got it." I put the keyboard and mouse in another bag just as the bag of cables slid off the chair. Maybe three trips. 
"Great. Bye, Carl." 
"Bye," I said and closed the phone, clipping it back to my pants.    
Let's try this. I gave the chair a push. It rolled almost silently down the hallway and into the bedroom. Damn straight. I had saved myself from most of the heavy lifting and hadn't woken Lynn up. 
I managed to get everything else on the chair for the second trip. If they use Will he's pretty good at spotting an operation in progress. Still this one man thing could be inconspicuous. I bet I could feel him out. He doesn't stay in town too long, so he's either got outside recon or does a quick job of it. He wouldn't be too entrenched. I could see myself in a hotel room with a telephoto lens and video ready, magazines around, listening to that new book on tape Lynn bought me while I kept my eyes on the target.
"You're going to do it aren't you?" Lynn said from the bed. 
I stopped in the doorway, startled that I hadn't noticed she was awake. 
"You're going to leave." Her tone was so accusatory that I felt my back tense in instant anger. You are, you're not going to stay even when you said- 
I'm not going anywhere! I projected, not able to keep a lid on it. This happened whenever the hormones got to her. Every damn time she'd drag this argument out and beat it like a dead horse. "What the hell even possessed you to bring that up?" I demanded, not able to back down even when I knew I should. 
She twisted her head to look over her shoulder at me. "Don't project in here." All you care about is the baby; I think you'd at least consider her before you go frying her brain. Scornful and upset, she turned away and dropped her head onto the pillow, her neck tense. 
I curled my hands into tight fists and clenched my jaw. What the hell else do I have to say to prove that I'm here for both of you? What do you want me to say, Lynn? "Am I not proving anything being here?" 
She laughed, low and harsh. "You'd do that for the baby." It could have nothing to do with me. I'm just carrying it around right? There was a flash of me from her perspective, looking tired, telling her that we should try some time apart. 
I flinched but at least I was on more familiar ground. By the time we got to this part of the argument, I knew what to do. I took a deep breath and sat on the edge of the bed. "I said I'm not going anywhere and I meant it." I tried to make my voice calm and soothing but it had a bitter edge. If I was going to leave, I could've done it before now and gotten partial custody. 
I could've smacked myself; that was no way to defuse things. I was angrier than I thought after the call with Elise. 
So, what? You're angling for full custody now? "Why are you even here? You could have left me to Mom and your conscience would be clear. I know you hate being stuck in this house with me." She was staring hard at the wall, face tight with frown lines. 
"You hate being stuck in the house all the time. Did you think I'd suddenly turn my brain off and not be affected by it?" I took another deep breath. I want to be here for both of you. I wouldn't be here if it was just about the baby and you know it.
"You were trying to figure out how to get away for that op," she said, less angry but still accusing. You were planning it to get away. 
I shook my head. "I told Gates no field work and he agreed. I might have to help with strategy depending on who he hires for the field, that's all." I'm sticking with my girls and that's that. 
She couldn't quite reach my hand so I came closer and put it over hers. She looked down at our hands and then back up at me. "You're going to miss field work." Maybe you don't have to stay in all the time. Mom or Janine could sit with me for a day here or there. 
It didn't always happen this fast, but we'd reached the conciliatory part of the fight. The part where she tried to make up for doubting me. "I was never much for freelance field work. I'm glad you got me out of it." I squeezed her hand. Gates is crazy, who knows what he might have asked me to do out there while I'm under contract?


1 comment:

  1. first and foremost, there is no such thing as a horrible Queen song. Nope, nuh-uh!

    Second, i am always fascinated by your attention to detail, it adds a nice layer to the story, a level of realism.

    Only thing i saw was a matter of opinion. "i tucked the phone" between...yada yada, I like the word "cradled" better.


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