Saturday, July 2, 2011

Telepaths: The Park Slope Conspiracy - 31

Andrew decides it's time to take a leave of absence from the FBI. But will Director Craig let him go? And what about the investigation slowly closing the net around them?*

*This chapter contains strong language, a bad tattoo, a long goodbye and a touch of revenge.

31. Up The Creek 

31. Up The Creek
I was allowed into the infirmary because the doctor filling in for White didn’t know any better.
He wouldn’t leave me alone in the ward. I didn’t have the clearance for that. He stood at the far end, over another patient, making notes on a clipboard and checking monitors.
I stood next to her bed and felt his thoughts like intrusive eyes. Was it the drugs? I asked though I knew the answer. I knew she was never getting out. I knew it at that first meeting when White was so eager to get her as a subject. If his theory worked he got to keep her as an example, if it didn’t he got to keep her to find out why. Even she must have known that long before she said anything.
The faint hum of the fluorescent lights was distracting. A layer of sound over the hiss of the respirator and the steady beep of the heart monitor. Almost like a building exercise, I told her. I made a face, feeling foolish. I didn’t need the doctor to tell me she couldn’t hear me. Her mind was a haze sparsely populated with indistinct shapes, meaningless scraps of memory. No dreams, no thoughts, just the leftovers.
The gown they put her in was so thin I could see the tattoo under her collarbone. A white mantis with one of the legs filled in black because she’d moved when they were doing it. I wanted to pull the fuzzy blue blanket higher to cover it. She wasn’t supposed to be on display. I didn’t move, I didn’t even twitch my hand. I held the impulse in, the way I had when I noticed the useless restraints on her wrists. Her mischief days were over.
Someone washed your hair, I thought into the silence. Her hair was light and fluffy, like it had dried and hadn’t been brushed yet. I pushed a strand away from her eyes. Her skin was warm under my hand. I hadn’t expected that. She didn’t look warm. She was so pale she was almost blue. That was the drugs. I put my whole hand over her forehead like I would be able to read her that way. If you hadn’t stabbed White they would have tried harder. They might have saved her in more than this strapped down shell. If only she hadn’t stabbed White. 
The rattle of a cart on the tile floor startled me. I put my hand back in my pocket. It felt clammy and when I rubbed my fingers together they were slick.
I turned to look at the doctor. He was bent over a patient and loaded a large syringe of something yellow into the IV port. He’d told me to tell him when I was done. I looked back at Carol. I didn’t want to raise my voice but I didn’t want to cross the room and leave her exposed on the bed with her fluffy hair and her bad tattoo.
I cleared my throat. He didn’t look up. If there had been a nurse on the ward I could have waved her over. There wasn’t, but there was a curtain next to the bed. The sound of it rattling on its track was loud but it covered her up and it got the doctor’s attention.
What’s he doing? “All done, Agent?” he asked, relieved when I’d stepped away from the curtain instead of behind it. Where he wouldn’t be able to see what I was doing.
The thought he was barely thinking made my stomach roll and I nodded without speaking. He wheeled past me with his little cart and I heard the curtain push back before the ward door had closed behind me.
I wasn’t alone in the hall so I walked purposefully away from the door. I didn’t start out with a direction in mind. I kept my hands in my jacket pockets and nodded greetings to whoever made eye contact. Most of them didn’t. Most of them pretended I wasn’t there until I passed them and then they could stare at my retreating back and wonder how I gotten my clearance back. The rumor was that I gave her the knife she stabbed White with.
I took the fastest route to the elevator. All I wanted was to be out of the labs. 
White’s office door was open, his secretary was fielding his calls, and she didn’t look up from the phone as I passed. I could see the package I’d left for him on the edge of her desk. He wouldn’t get it until he came back to work in a week.
I passed his office without stopping. It was so cold in the elevator that the sweat was icy on my forehead. I wiped at it with my hand. It was still slimy. I wiped my head on my jacket sleeve and I put my hand back in my pocket. When the elevator opened I shivered in the blast from the corridor between the doors. It seemed colder than ever today, it cut through my jacket and made my eyes feel chilled when I blinked. I didn’t pause over swiping my card and getting out of the white hall. I had had enough quiet in the infirmary. 
Gail looked at me over her magazine. “You should have one of the muffins from the security meeting this morning. There are plenty left.” He’s looking paler and skinnier than ever. 
“I’ll do that,” I promised, turning right when I reached the end of her hall, away from muffins and toward my office. I was still queasy from the three egg omelet and toast Reva made me eat before I left the house. You’re lucky she didn’t try to feed you the whole damn fridge 
My office door was open and the crosswords I’d put in quarantine sat on the edge of my desk. Kepler had brought them the second time he questioned me. He set them on the edge of the desk when we were done talking. I sat down in the chair in front of my desk, where he’d sat and asked me in a hundred different ways if I’d known she was suicidal. He’d even asked the absurd, if I knew she was homicidal. When I told him that was already in her file he looked surprised and left as quickly as he could. I hadn’t been the only one who had forgotten why she’d been at the Slope in the first place. I reached out and smoothed the bent edge on the cover of the New York Times Crossword book. It must have bent again when they pulled it out of the bag. My finger left a smear over the glossy surface. I felt a chill down my spine and got up to wash my hands and stopped when I saw the clock. Less than five minutes until my meeting with Craig. I wiped my hand on my pants and went around my desk. My revised op report was in a folder and I had my sabbatical request in another folder. I pulled out a new legal pad and a pen and locked the office door behind me.
I saw Kepler on my way to Craig’s office. He gave me an encouraging nod as I passed.

I should’ve stopped him or said hello. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have gotten my clearance back until Brandt was back from assignment on Friday and had time to question me.

Craig’s secretary wasn’t at her desk. I went to the inner door and knocked.

“Come in already.”

Craig didn’t look up as I came in. He was pecking something out on his keyboard with one finger and an exaggerated look of concentration. 

I sat down, settled my leave request on my lap and put the legal pad and the op report on top of that. My hand curled around my blue pen and it took me a moment to realize I was rubbing my slick fingertips together again. I gripped the pen tighter and waited.

I think the 31st will do for that. Now I have to send it. He tapped a key decisively and moved his mouse over something before he looked at me. His eyes were as flat as his mind, giving away nothing. “What’ve you got for me?”

I stared. I hadn’t spoken to Craig since Carol had stabbed White and pumped herself full of Hex-47. The last thing I expected was for him to act as though it hadn’t happened. I put my report in his outstretched hand. “Everything went smoothly.”

“Quickly you mean.” He opened the folder and glanced at the first page. “You took him four hours after establishing surveillance.” What was that about? He tapped the paper with his finger, watching me.

My hand felt wet around me pen and I fought the urge to wipe it on my pants. “He took an early lunch and I saw a clear shot.” Does he think I’m being reckless?

Craig sat back with an expectant look. When I didn’t say anything else he nodded and drummed his fingers on his desk, once with each finger like a little drum roll. “We’re going after Murphy next. He’s firmly entrenched, so I’d take my time if I were you.” Rush in with this one and he’ll get himself torn in half by three Irish thugs. He pulled out a folder that had been wedged under his keyboard and slid it across the desk.

I caught it before it went off the edge. I put it in my lap under my notepad. “When do we need him in?” I knew there was a firm date; he was baiting me by telling me to take my time. Maybe I’ll get time to do some descent surveillance.

Craig shrugged; the gesture was too casual with his mind so carefully blank. “End of the month. The lab’s going to be backlogged anyway.”

I felt my heartbeat pick up but he didn’t continue. There was no cutting comment, nothing about why the lab was backed up, nothing about Carol. “That’s almost three weeks. I can be in Baltimore in two days to get set up,” I replied, choosing my words with care.

Not so fast. He shook his head. “Give it until Monday. I’d like to see your proposal in two days.”

“Yes, sir.” I felt the dig low. If you don’t think I’m ready to go back out you could just say it.

He nodded. “Good. Have it on my desk first thing Thursday.” He turned in his chair, eyes back on his computer, dismissing me.

I debated leaving but I found myself rubbing my slick fingers together again. I cleared my throat and forced my hand to lie flat on the arm of the chair. 

He took his time turning away from the computer and when his eyes did focus on me it was with polite surprise that made it clear I was pushing my luck.

I shifted in my chair, unable to stifle the minor tic. I held up a folder. “I wanted to give you this.” I held it out over the desk and set it on the blotter when he didn’t take it.

“What is it?” he asked without looking at the folder. His eyes bored into mine. He already has his clearance, what else does he want?

I didn’t shift again, or move my hands, or break eye contact. “It’s my official sabbatical request.”

A what? “A sabbatical,” he said with his eyebrows raised. 

He thought you were going to resign, I realized with some surprise. “I’d like to take it this spring. The full three months.”

Three? With everything on the schedule? A hint of relief came through the careful closure of his mind. “I’m afraid we can’t spare you for that long. Aren’t you taking a week in April anyway?”

Dislike and relief was all I could read from him, but if he was relieved that I wasn’t leaving why was he trying to talk me out of it? It would mess up his schedule. “I can rearrange the vacation time. I’d like to take the full allotment. I’m not going to be much good to you if I burn out,” I said, knowing what I was entitled to. I was giving notice three months in advance, legally he couldn’t say no.

He leaned back in his chair and looked at me over his linked hands. This isn’t a standard position. Does he expect a year off after ten years? “Take your full three weeks. That’s all I can give you.”

I squared my shoulders and said what I’d decided to say the night before when I’d spent hours staring at the ceiling trying to will myself to sleep. “That’s not going to be enough. This is my notice.” He’s going to make your life hell until you do go. 

“I don’t think you understand the position we’re in here, Andy. When I say you can have three weeks I’m being generous.” Even White’s only taking three days after getting stabbed.

I took a deep breath. I had expected him to bring up Carol and White but I still felt winded by his sudden viciousness. You’ll regret it if you don’t say it. “I think I understand pretty well. Under the Telepathic Health Act of 1986 I’m entitled to a three month sabbatical after three years of employment. I’m going to take it, or I’m going to resign.” My voice didn’t shake at all and I felt stronger.

The flash of derisive humor in his mind was disturbing. “Over a woman? The one taking up space downstairs? You’re going to give up over that?” There’s no coming back from resignation.

“For a lot of reasons. I need some time off.” You bastard, I almost added aloud.

“Because your little girlfriend tried to kill herself?”

Motherfucking bastard- I half rose out of my chair, hands fisted.

“Sit your ass down.” Think whatever the hell you want so long as you listen, he thought, waving me down. 

I realized that I’d almost come across the desk at him. I sat with my fingers digging into the upholstery. 

He nodded, satisfied. “I could have you charged with aiding and abetting since you never told anyone she was going to do it. I didn’t. That’s about as much coddling as you’re going to get around here. In any other department your clearance would have been revoked pending a formal review and a suspension. But you were down there visiting this morning. Take that and your three weeks. They’re the last favors you’re going to get from me for a while.” Quit and you’re going to get another kind of favor.

The shock of what he was thinking slapped down my anger. There is no resigning. I’d always thought of it as one of those bullshit things they say in the bureau. But there he was, sitting across from me, watching me and considering having me shot. “If I get caught again because I’m too burned out to do my job?” The anger was still there though I was wary too. What had happened to Carol and White had been his fault. His fault for authorizing her pick-up in the first place. 

His face relaxed like he’d been waiting for me to ask. “That’s not going to happen. It’s the reason I’ve been short-listing recruits for you to train. I think with another agent or two on pick-ups your load is going to be a lot lighter.” How much danger of burnout is there with a pickup every month or so?

He had gone from angry to calm so fast I felt dizzy. “Recruits? Who?” I moved to the edge of my seat and looked at the folder he’d tapped with his fingers. He must have already picked them.

He passed me the folder. “This is the list. I want you to pick the two you think would be the best fit here.” Two more paths. I think these two are going to have less lab access.

I flinched at the barb about the lab and kept my eyes on the folder. I skimmed the first page. Twelve candidates. “What if none of them suit? I’m not going to know until they’re in the field.” Does he think this is going to be easier? A pick-up schedule and two agents to train?

“I have no doubt you’ll get the right ones. I’m counting on one making it through the training, so I wouldn’t worry about that. Warner’s going to set up passes for them to come in the week after you get back from Baltimore.” Plenty of time to look through their files.

I nodded and closed the folder. “That should give me some time to prepare,” I agreed. Everything he said was a new twist. Didn’t I come in to talk about the last pick-up and taking leave?

Everyone likes to teach. He thought he was appealing to my pride instead of capitalizing on my surprise. “What kind of timeline do you think we’ll be looking at for these people?” 

I sat back and frowned. “I’m not sure. I’ll need at least a week to get through the interviews providing I don’t have to do two rounds.” Three a days and then decide?

“That’s fine. I’m wondering about the field time. I want them able to…”

I didn’t make out the rest of what he said. There was a shift in the feeling of the office. It could have been building for any length of time but it spiked with a thought that brought it to my awareness.

Keep a lid on that. The first person who fires is going to hear from me.

“Something wrong, Andy?” Craig said.

I blinked at him and realized that I’d tilted my head to concentrate on reading the hall outside his office. There were at least six of them and they weren’t any of our people. I was blocked almost as soon as I focused on them. They were paths, professionals, and they were looking for me. I straightened in my seat and shook my head. “No, sir. Just tired.” 

Craig accepted that. I looked tired, everyone said I did. Wonder if I should defer this pickup. “I want you to set up an interview schedule before you leave for Baltimore.”

“Yes, sir,” I said with surprising calm. Knowing that they were coming for me was strangely liberating. Not telling Craig that there were six armed men in the hall that were all paths was beyond liberating. I almost smiled. I’m not armed.

The men in the hall slowed their approach.

“You can have the interviews done by the end of the month.” Craig wasn’t asking, he was moving up the schedule he’d just agreed to.

“It shouldn’t be a problem.” I settled both hands on the armrests of my chair so they could be seen from the door. 

It looked awkward. Craig was trying to shunt me from his office and I leaned back in the seat like I never intended to go. I wondered if he’d tell me to go or if we’d keep playing until they broke down the door. They were good, whoever they were, getting this far without anyone from security calling Craig’s office to warn him. Maybe he knew. Maybe he’d called me in so he could watch them arrest me.

“Brandt should be back by the time you start. I’m authorizing you to include him in the evaluations,” Craig said.

I could hear the outer door open. It occurred to me that Craig would never allow me be arrested in this office. Not with the lab below us and the weapons closet down the next hall.

My palms were wet against the armrests. “Have you contacted Brandt?” I asked to fill the thick silence from the outer room. They were arranging themselves around the door, weapons drawn. I forced myself not to retreat completely behind my block where I couldn’t read them.

“You’ll have to tell him when he gets in,” Craig said with every indication that he was above passing messages to agents.

I was too tense waiting for them to make their move to reply and there was a long beat of silence as Craig and I stared at each other across the desk.

When the door flew open it was almost a relief. 

“Stuart Craig and Andrew Piken I have a warrant for your arrest,” Deputy Director Rawls said with his gun trained on Craig and his men fanned out over the room covering both of us.

I looked at Rawls who was tight with excitement and fear and blocked hard against me. Then I looked back at Craig, whose expression hovered on complete shock for one wonderful second before he regained control. 

“Under whose authority?” he demanded and held out a hand for the warrant.

Rawls looked surprised by the reaction. He held out the warrant, weapon trained on Craig. “By the authority of the FBI.” Get them up and cuffed.

Craig frowned and shook out the warrant. He spoke without looking up, “If you'd bothered to check you'd know we’re FBI affiliated.”

I was prodded by one of the agents and stood, hands held out at my sides. They were brought roughly together with cold metal cuffs. Don’t make a fucking move.

“Get your hands off my agent.” Craig stood behind his desk and ignored the four weapons aimed at him. This is ridiculous.

Rawls smiled, his lips thin. He gestured to the agent behind Craig. Get him cuffed and let’s go. “You and your agent are being arrested for the Park Slope fire, the escape of Carol Matthews and the kidnapping of three other telepaths. I’m sure we’ll come up with more once we go through your records.”

“No charges for holding the telepaths?” I asked, surprised.

Craig’s cool expression faltered.

Holding them? “Holding them? Where?” Rawls demanded. His eyes met mine and I could feel him fighting not to flinch away.

I motioned to the hall with my head. “Downstairs. I could show you.” There are eight down there right now. That should be worth another few kidnapping charges.

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This is a surveillance outfit,” Craig ground out, staring hard at me. What do you think you’re doing?

His face was red and I met his eyes without wanting to look away. “Well sir, it looks like I’m getting that time off.”  


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