Saturday, March 19, 2011

Telepaths: The Park Slope Conspiracy - 19

Here's one last picture of winter.

Senator Gates has refused to hire a field agent, so Maggie and Elise are trying their hand at surveillance. They're only taking pictures and filming a little, what could go wrong?*

*This chapter contains strong language, flirting, hotel rooms and some unexpected violence.

19. Four Shots 
I finished putting the camera together and got it up on the tripod. The telephoto lens Elise had borrowed from her brother was half the length of my arm and had its own stabilizer but it hadn't been as hard to get together as the tripod. I stuck my finger back in my mouth and tasted blood from the spot I'd pinched between the tripod legs. I used the other hand to maneuver the camera so it was at an angle to the window and wouldn't show when we closed the curtains. I wish Carl was here. 
"Should I check the windows from the courtyard and make sure no one can see the lens from downstairs?" Elise asked, deferring to my opinion. She didn't look up from the spare battery she was trying to jam into the charger. 
"Sure." I nodded and fiddled with the focus on the camera. Why are you even asking? Isn't it obvious that I'm in over my head? 
The battery clicked home. She put it on the desk and took one of the plastic card keys from the dresser. "Maybe when I get back we should work out some sort of schedule, we didn't get much of a chance before I fell asleep on the plane." Sorry about that. 
"Why don't we order dinner when you get back? We'll have plenty time to set up the equipment and decide who sleeps first." I looked at her over the camera. She still seemed tired despite her impromptu nap. Is the scheduling about control or is it embarrassment about falling asleep? 
She smiled, making a faint dimple on her left cheek. "Sounds good. I didn't get lunch." She looked past me at the gap in the curtains. We're going to have to keep the lights off in here. She bit back a yawn. Not great for staying awake. 
"We should be able to leave the lights in the bathroom and the other room on for now. Anyway, I'll give you first crack at the bed."  
Both of us looked into the other room where the foot of a bed was just visible. We glanced back at each other, Elise with an amused look on her face. I found myself smiling back. She didn't try to cover any thoughts she had about us but let them slip away, not allowing it get unprofessional.  
It was light and casual, almost like flirting with another path. I caught the flash of us rolling around on the mattress and Lee pushed out. He answered with a low swoop in my stomach. It was pleasant and unnerving at the same time and I looked more speculatively at Elise. I hadn't figured out who he would react to—blondes, redheads, tall, short—there was no telling. But this was the second time now, Elise was on the list.  
I knew what it was like when he didn't like who I was with. It was vicious and unbearable. I'd wondered what it would be like to find someone he did go for.  
Elise cleared her throat and I realized I was staring. I turned back to the camera and kept my eyes there.  
"Hit the lights and I'll let you know how it looks from downstairs." This is going to be a long couple of days, she thought more to herself than to me on her way out the door. 
"No joke there," I agreed. I hit the switches until all of the lights were off except the one in the bathroom and the one in the adjoining room. I rubbed my eyes and went into the bathroom. I felt worn down and grimy from the flight. Maybe a nap wouldn't have been such a bad idea.  
I unwrapped a tiny bar of soap and turned on the tap. I washed my hands and then my face in the hot water. I did it three times, until the water was too hot to stand. Like I could wash away this mess I'd gotten into. You should've waited for Gates to give in and hire another agent. He would've done it after we showed we could predict another pick-up. You just had to volunteer. I dried my face and shook my head at my reflection. "You forced it. You knew Elise would let you if you asked." She's so damn sure you know what you're doing. "And what did that get you? Now you've got her here to watch you fumble with the equipment."
At least we were far enough away from the concierge Smith's room that Andrew wouldn't be able to feel us. Neither would Smith. I had to wonder if the man knew there was a textbook opportunity for surveillance of his rooms from his own hotel. It was perfect.  So if I screw up we won't get caught and it'll only be embarrassing. 
I sighed and found the room service menu. There was enough light from the bathroom to make it out but I went into the second room anyway. No use sitting in the dark when I don't have to. I sat on the end of the bed and flipped through the menu. 
I jumped up when the door rattled open. "How was the view?"
Elise was rubbing her hands together. "Couldn't see a thing." It's colder than I thought. Isn't it supposed to be warm in the south? 
"Even Atlanta has winter. Sort of." I handed her the menu and was grateful our hands didn't touch. "I got snowed in at the airport here." I thought I'd go nuts. How long had I been stuck in that hick town? Two weeks? With that as my first federal case it was a wonder I ever did another one, I thought and smiled to myself. 
She watched me smile and ducked her head to look at the open the menu. She squinted and took it toward the bathroom so she could read it on the counter. "I can't imagine it snowing here, ice storms maybe. That must've been something." Was that during the Granese case? She blocked her next thought and her attention doubled on the menu. 
I blinked at her. I knew from Carl that Gates had his people well informed, but that case had been years ago. Did she know all of my cases? "It was after. I was on my way home." I sat on the edge of the bed in the dark room and watched her profile. "Did you read up on my cases?" Maybe that control thing goes farther than I thought. I wonder if her parents are divorced. Even though I knew she couldn't read me I cringed at the blunt thought. 
She glanced at me, a quick flick of blue eyes, and then back at the menu. "Should we order? Do you know what you want?" I didn't read up on your cases. Just the file Gates sent me. She stepped out of the bathroom and held out the menu. 
I was curious and less careful about touching her hand when I took it. My fingers just missed hers. "How did you know about the Granese case? Your family wasn't involved were they?" That could make this the longest weekend ever.  
She shook her head, relieved for some reason. "No, no, it wasn't like that." She took a deep breath. "I know most of your cases because my little brother is a big fan." You want to call, or should I? 
"Fan of what?" I had no idea what she meant. Why would anyone memorize my cases? 
She frowned and tucked her hair behind her ear. It was pink from the cold. "Of you. He, well, he thinks your case made great strides in sentencing for path crimes." He works for the Registration Regulation Board, they all followed the Murphy trial. He was so excited about it he looked all your old cases up. Wouldn't shut up about them. 
"So he thinks that Leland Murphy getting the chair was a great step forward for humanity?" I managed to ask in a clam tone. People think that was about justice? Justice would have been locking Lee away at the Slope. In the Projector Wing behind twenty feet of steel. After what he did to me I wanted him gone. Blasted off the face of the earth. 
She shrugged. "Something like that.  I don't think we should have the death penalty-" She cut herself off and looked apologetic. This would be a great time to talk about anything else.
I felt my jaw clench. So you fucking disapprove? I thought even though I didn't disagree. I had always opposed the death penalty before. I ground my teeth and tried to keep from saying anything that would make it impossible for us to sit in the same room for the next two days. 
"You can tell me to go to hell. I never meant to bring this up." I don't mind you saying what's on your mind. I'm used to it. Her expression was cautious but firm. 
I felt deflated by her calm response. "So your brother's a path? Is it just him?" I asked, not wanting to discuss anything about Lee if I could help it. 
She cocked her head. "The whole family." I'm the- 
"1 in 10,000 chance. Damn." I'd never come across a five that had two path parents. There weren't many. "I guess this explains-" 
"Why I don't think like a five? Yeah." There was something hard in her tone but she wasn't angry. Two of my brothers and my father could project, so I was included. 
Not completely included. I'd read a few articles on fives raised in a path environment, the subjects were almost never this well adjusted. I couldn't remember if any of them had been with projectors. "Is that why Gates sent you to work with us?" 
She nodded. And with me he can look like he's path friendly without having any on staff. 
I blinked at her cool delivery. "You don’t seem angry about being used like that." I was baiting her to see what she'd say, about Gates, about herself. I bet Carl knew about her family. I wonder why he didn't say anything. 
She shrugged. "I like my job, and it has been pointed out to me that he's a politician. I can't expect him to act like anything else." Derek thinks it's hilarious. Or he did until he found out I was working with you, now he just follows me around with a dazed look on his face wanting to know what our last meeting was like. 
I gave her a sharp look. She smiled and shrugged and I laughed. "Sounds like a charmer." There's that dimple again. 
"He's something," she agreed with genuine affection for her brother. Now can we please get some food?  
I picked up the phone and dialed. "What do you want?"  
"Room service." The line picked up with a high male voice. 
Chicken ceasar salad, sweet potato fries, orange juice, she rattled off, moving across the room to look at the set up for the video camera. 
I nodded. "Hi, this is room... um, room 42," I said, giving him the number for the other room so we didn't have to explain the cameras.  "I'd like to get the turkey club, no bacon, two orders of sweet potato fries, chicken caesar salad, a pot of earl gray tea, and orange juice. How long do you think that will be?" 
"Thirty minutes ma'am." 
"Ok, great. Thanks." I hung up and frowned. When did I become a ma'am? 
"What?" Elise asked. 
I turned and saw her looking at me over the video camera. "Huh?" Too bad there isn't a bigger screen on that camera. We're going to have to sit right on top of it. 
"You got a funny look on your face when you hung up." I'm going to see if I can hook this up to the TV so we don't have to huddle around the camera all night. Can we put the lights back up for a minute? 
"Oh, the room service guy called me ma'am. I didn't know I'd hit ma'am age." I went over the entryway and hit the lights. I watched her take more cables out of the bag on the bed and start counting ends. I was staring again. Why don't you go see if you can do something useful? I chastised myself.   
"I wouldn't say you're anywhere near ma'am territory yet." If the TV's new enough this should work.
"Thanks." I nodded and circled the bed to check the manual release on the camera. I was surprised to find myself smiling, enjoying the compliment. I picked up the release, looked through the viewer, and shot several pictures of Smith's half open curtains. With the zoom I could see all the way into his bathroom. 
I was checking the images on the digital display when the lights went on across the courtyard. My heart went from somewhere in my chest to the back of my throat. "I thought he wasn't supposed to be home for another two hours." Relax, Andrew's hasn't landed yet, I reminded myself. 
"Steadman's not there is he?" Elise asked and popped up from behind the TV. We don't have to use the monitor. Should I hit the lights?  
I shook my head and tried not to feed off of her worry. "His plane is still in the air. Why don't you finish with the TV and then we'll turn them off." No use locking down and getting bored before we have too. 
Elise ducked back behind the TV. Where did I put the audio cable? I guess we don't need it but I'm not sure it'll work if- oh, there it is. 
I ignored her and watched Smith's silhouette move around the room. I backed away from the curtains with the release. My hand shook and I felt ridiculous. Breathe. Even when his plane lands it will take time to pick up a rental car or even get a cab. We've got time to set up and eat. 
"Got it," Elise announced and turned the TV on. That wasn't so bad. She straightened up to get a better look at the screen. 
It was filled with the curtained window across the courtyard.  
The window went dark.  
"Did he leave again?" Elise asked with a glance at our window. 
"Did you see that?" I scrambled off the bed to the TV, the lights were out but it wasn't pitch black. Was there something moving? "I saw someone else in there," I said and squinted at the TV like I could will it to get clearer. Is someone else trying to hit this guy? 
Something flattened the curtains against the window and then it was gone. It took me a split second to realize what I'd seen. "It's Andrew. Grab the video camera." The other one's too conspicuous with that lens. 
I pulled my jacket on so fast my arms tangled in the sleeves. 
"His plane hasn't landed," Elise protested, standing in the middle of the room. Maybe Smith has someone over?  
I shook my head and rammed my arm left hand through the sleeve it was caught in. "A buddy who threw him against the window? I don't think so. Get the camera. We'll catch him in the parking garage," I said and wrestled with my zipper.
Elise yanked the wires out of the video camera and fumbled with the catches that attached it to the tripod. Is the white balance going to work in a parking garage? "Got it!" she exclaimed and hurried over to me. 
I took it from her and got the full jolt of her nervous excitement and a shadow of doubt that I had seen anything in the black window. She had barely gotten her jacket on when I pushed the camera back into her arms. "You take it; I don't know how to work the damn thing." I ripped the door open and looked both ways down the hall as though Andrew might show up at our door next. Go, he's halfway to the van by now
I jogged down the hall with Elise behind me. Ok, he took Smith straight from his room. That means that he had to park his van in the D section to be near that stairway. I held the door to the stairs for Elise.  
"Where do you think he parked?" She rushed down the stairs so fast I was sure she'd fall. Could we get there before him? He can't run through the building with this guy, right? 
Right. I had to wait until we hit the bottom of the stairs to answer. Even then I had to fight to talk through the stitch in my side. "D Section I think, we can move over that way. Fast but don't run, it'll echo."
Elise let me move ahead of her and we walked fast along the rows of cars. I opened myself up knowing I'd feel Andrew before we saw him. I could feel Elise's attention divided between me and the camera and beyond that nothing else. The garage was a big blank of cold metal. Rows and rows of grimy cars covered in mud from the rain. It wasn't late, someone should've been in the lot. An attendant, some employee coming in late, one of the valets. There was just me and Elise, the rubber on our shoes squeaking against the concrete, breath sending up rapid plumes of mist.  
We'd started in B and had half run, half crouched through C. On the edge of D my hands were cold, I was sweaty under my jacket and I could see the door we'd looked at when we first arrived. Painted bright blue like all of the other entry doors it looked cheery in the flickering fluorescent lights of the garage. I stopped next to a big black truck that would keep us out of sight from the door. 
Elise bumped me from behind. "Sorry," she muttered under her breath. See anything? 
I moved to the side. "That's the door he's going to use. Can you shoot it from here?" There should be someone in here. The place is like a tomb. 
"Yeah, yeah." She nodded and arranged the camera on the hood of the truck. With the tiny color display turned on an angle she could crouch behind the truck and still see where the camera was pointed. I'll even have some zoom room. Are you sure this is where he'll come out?
That's the big question, are you sure or do you want to be? You couldn't stand waiting and watching like a sane person. Andrew could be in a cab over and we're going to miss him huddled over here. "I'm sure," I said, wanting one of us to believe it. 
It was less true with every minute that ticked by. As open as I was I could feel Elise's cramped position along with mine. Her hands were stiff, cold around the camera and she shifted her weight from one leg to the other to keep the pain from building in her knee.
I think I prefer indoor stakeouts, she thought and twisted her knee until the joint cracked.
I had to agree. "Yeah, I think-" There was a flicker from the direction of the door. I grabbed Elise's shoulder hard through her coat and stood up enough to see over the top of the truck. "Someone's coming."  
She tensed too, adjusted her grip on the camera and hit the record button. We're going to get him.
I tried to focus through the door and hoped I'd read something familiar. That dark mass of his block, the careful surface thoughts, anything. 
…you can't be a cop. Cops don't have silencers. 
What if I am and my job is to quietly clean up little messes like you, Ray? 
I knew it had to be them but the vindictive pleasure in Andrew's tone threw me. Still on edge from Park Slope? "It's them," I whispered to Elise. 
She shifted higher against the truck and adjusted the zoom to frame the door. Got it, she assured me or herself. 
Shut up and walk. From here I can carry you if I have to. The blackness of Andrew's block loomed under the words and I didn't dare dig further. 
There was the wince of the gun pressed into Smith's back. Definitely not a cop. His tone was almost defiant. 
The door swung open hard. It hit the concrete wall and shattered the silence.
There they were, Andrew and Smith, Smith in front, Andrew's gun against his back, covered by a jacket. It all looked too bold, too reckless. Anyone with eyes would know what was happening.  
I didn't try to read them. I pulled back instead, I didn't want Smith to know we were there. Andrew seemed to block almost as hard as he had in the interrogation room, he could probably read what Smith was thinking and nothing beyond. 
Got it, profile on both of them, zoom in there's the face, there's the other one. I have it. Elise was babbling to herself, intent on the camera controls and the exhilaration building in her stomach. 
Andrew steered them toward a black van that looked a lot like the one he drove in Vegas. They walked steadily and Andrew poked Smith in the back whenever he felt the urge to slow down. Did he try to read him? Is he going along because he's in shock from hitting that block? Or did Andrew threaten him with the gun? I speculated as I watched them from the hood of the truck, my hands braced against the gritty side panel. 
They were feet from the van when there was a slight hitch in Andrew's step. The barest second of hesitation that threw his gait off. 
There was a moment of predatory recognition, a flicker from Lee's corner of my mind. He knows we're here. Not stopping to think any further than that I grabbed a handful of Elise's jacket and yanked her back and down, hard. 
Too hard, my foot slipped behind me and the hand I had braced against the truck stayed there as I lurched forward. There was a searing pop. I hit the ground hard, the white sparks in front of my eyes timed with the whine of bullets off the metal hood.  
I tried to get up but the pain in my shoulder was so bad that for a second all I saw was red. When my vision cleared I saw Elise crouched over me, her eyes wild. He saw us, shit he saw us, what the hell do we-
Over her I could hear another shot, louder this time, the report and then the impact against the car next to the truck. We both ducked lower and I ground my teeth. I took a firm grip on my right arm to keep it from moving. "We need to move, down there." I got my feet under me and nodded toward the next row. "He can't follow us with the target. Fuck this hurts. Partial or a full dislocation? 
With a direction to run in Elise ran, low and fast across the lane and then faster down the next row, back toward C. I watched her go and followed as fast as I could. I hoped that Andrew wanted out now and wouldn't think to stow Smith in the van and then come after us. Every step jogged my shoulder and sent lancing pain through the joint no matter how tight I held my arm. Sweat ran into my eyes from the effort to keep moving. Get back to B and you can have Elise get the car. They'll give you Demerol at the ER and they'll pop it back in place and you'll be fine. 
I saw the door with East Stairwell painted on it with a surge of relief. Where's Elise? She was out in front so he didn't get her. She probably went back up. As open as I was trying to read for Andrew anywhere in the garage, I didn't get a hint of Elise. I looked at the door and sighed. It was four flights up to the room and I didn't know if I could do it. I bet my cell gets no reception down here. I sighed and let go of my arm long enough to open the door. Elise sat on the steps with the camera in her lap. I let the door close behind me and sagged against the wall in relief. 
She was on her feet the next instant and stared at me like I was a mirage. She managed to sound breathless without saying anything. I shouldn't have left you back there, I thought you were behind me but when I got to B I didn't see you and I thought maybe you took another row. Steadman didn't follow you did he? "What took you so long? I was about to go back for you." She had inched forward without lifting her feet but speaking seemed to push her into action. She rushed toward me and pulled me away from the wall by both shoulders of my jacket. 
I don't know if she meant to hug me or shake me. I could feel the ends of the bones in my shoulder rubbing together and my legs almost collapsed under me. I pushed her hard with my good arm. "Get off." I held my right arm tight against my side and blinked the tears out of my eyes. Shit that hurts. 
"You're hurt, what happened? Did-" 
"I dislocated my shoulder when I fell," I told her between deep breaths. The pain came in bursts timed to my heartbeat. "Andrew's gone with Smith." Fucking strong grip she's got. 
"Oh, ok." Her eyes were wider than they'd been when we were getting shot at. What can I do? Can you get to the lobby? I can bring the car around and take you to the hospital. I’m sure there’s a hospital here. 
Great, she’s in shock. She can't drive. "Slow down ok?" I said and tried to think clearly. "We can get an ambulance at the front desk. If you're sure you aren't hurt you can go get our stuff and tell Gates we got the footage. Then you can book us a flight out of here. How's-" 
She cleared her throat. "We don't have the footage." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the video camera that lay where she'd left it on the stairs, her eyes focused on the wall past my head. "A bullet went right through it."



  1. Your blog includes candid pictures of my gritty and beautiful hometown. I love much, and am now following.

  2. It's a great place to take pictures, even if it does get you some weird looks from time to time.

  3. So first off, I have been iced in at Atlanta's airport (with my wife). To this day she still claims it is one of the worst experiences of her life.

    Second off, I need to take a cue from you in the small details categories. Little things, like the pinching of the finger in the tripod, really help the characters and the story pop.

    Finally, and here is my caveat for the chapter. Most hotel rooms do not let you hijack the tv's signal. I know, my computer and I have tried (as well as many co-workers). Some do though, so just be careful you do not establish it as a major chain.


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