Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by Bad Robot.
Thanks to: Karabair and Yahtzee, for beta-reading.
Written for Kangeiko, whose requests were Sloane as a priest, Jack, and Colombian drug trade, as part of the Aliases ficathon.
January 6th, 1984
„Let me get this straight," Jack said flatly. "You'll be posing as some kind of refined scholar in clerical gear, surrounded by monks all the time, while I'm a drug smuggling pilot trying to work for a trigger-happy cokehead who is employed by the richest killer in Colombia?"
"We can always switch assignments," Arvin said mildly.
"No thanks," Jack replied, and the thin straight line formed by his mouth might even have tugged upwards at the corners for a minuscule second. In other words, he was pleased. Which was fortunate, both because Arvin Sloane had worked long and hard to get them these particular assignments, and because he had no intention of switching.
Their last time in the field, either together or apart, had been a while ago, as one could put it euphemistically. In Jack's case, this was because the CIA had seen it fit to incarcerate him after discovering the late Laura Bristow had been highly successful KGB agent. Deciding he had been duped along with them had taken them many months. Afterwards, giving him paper work had been the safest policy. Besides, one of the men in charge of that decision had told Arvin when Arvin had argued that to keep a natural like Jack Bristow from the field was a horrible waste, Jack had his little daughter to consider, hadn't he? Surely, he would welcome a desk-bound job which allowed him to be with her all the time. Why, before "Laura's"…. death, he had shown signs of intending to leave the agency altogether, just for the little girl. All very commendable. The President encouraged family spirit. And if said desk job would ease Bristow's way out of the agency and into civilian, life, well, surely, under the circumstances, that might be the best for all parties. No bitter feelings, eh?
Over my dead body, Arvin thought.
His own lack of recent field assignments had a variety of reasons: for one thing, he had found out he actually thrived on overseeing and directing not just one but several operations, even more so than on field work. For another, the combination of Jack's time in prison and Emily's pregnancy had lead to his request of a transfer to Italy, with only administrative duties. He hadn't wanted to be absent from Emily during the last months of her pregnancy, had not wanted to leave her in this of all times.
Now the baby whose name Emily had asked him never to mention again was dead, and Emily herself had just started to regain her joy of life, almost two years after losing their child. As for himself, he had returned to Los Angeles with a new… he didn't know what to call it. "Interest" seemed too vague, and far too banal. It was a mystery, and he would decipher its meaning, while ensuring that his best friend got his life back together as well. He knew what Jack needed, of course he did. No more sympathetic talks, and certainly not civilian life. No, what Jack needed was proof that Laura -- that the woman -- had not taken his intelligence, his ruthlessness, or his skills when she left. Jack needed to feel that he was good at something, and being an agent, a field agent, Jack had always excelled at.
"Escobar is quite a piece of work," Jack said, going through the files.
"He's a long shot," said Arvin. "Your immediate mark is George Jung."
"Not Lehder? I thought Jung was forced out of the operation by Carlos Lehder," Jack commented, proving he had done his homework since Arvin had first mentioned the assignment as a possibility. Arvin took this as a good sign and proof that he was right about Jack. Of course Jack loved Sydney. But if he hadn't been interested in getting away from Los Angeles – even eager to get away from Los Angeles and into action again, he wouldn't sit here now, prepared for the task. He'd have told Arvin he didn't want that kind of involvement anymore.
"He was forced out of the upper hierarchy of the Medellín Cartel," Arvin answered, nodding. "But he's still running a small scale operation directly for Escobar. And tries to stay out of Lehder's way."
The Medellín Cartel was by far the most dangerous network of drug smugglers today, originating in Colombia, build and run by Pablo Escobar. Carlos Lehder and George Jung had both started out as small-time crooks until they had hit on the revolutionary idea of smuggling cocaine into the United States via small airplanes and professional pilots instead of human mules. As far as the CIA had been able to find out, Lehder had provided the contact to Escobar and Jung had provided the US contacts, but what few recent reports they had been able to get on the Medellín Cartel indicated that Jung had undergone a severe loss of status.
"Jung is addicted to cocaine himself," Arvin said, "and according to his old prison records just sentimental enough to hire you if you pose as another Bostonian from the wrong side of the tracks. Especially now. But be careful. Presumably he is not far gone enough to risk getting killed if anyone as much as suspects him of turning against the Cartel."
"But we are offering a deal, I take it," Jack said.
"We are. Use your judgment as to when."
"Even if he agrees to testify…," Jack said, leaning forward, eyes intent, and Arvin felt a little jolt. This was what he had been waiting for. The two of them working together again. That brilliant, pragmatic mind to work with and compete against. He's back, Laura, he thought, and he's not yours anymore.
None of us are.
"…we still don't have an extradition treaty with the Colombians," Jack continued, watching him. "Would this be where your assignment comes in?"
Arvin folded his hands.
"Let's just say President Betancur as well as several members of his cabinets have been known to prefer the monks of a certain order for confession as well as spiritual counselling."
"Which order?" Jack demanded, as this hadn't been in his file. It seemed he had not been able to find out this detail through other resources, either, which was satisfying. There was a reason other than Jack's need for active work and talent for this particular kind of cover why Arvin would not have considered switching assignments.
"The Vespertines," he said casually. Jack nodded and started to read the material on Jung again. But then, Jack wasn't interested in the Italian Renaissance, its scientists and artists, or their fates.
He had no way of knowing that the Vespertines had been founded by a follower of Milo Rambaldi.
Arvin's Spanish was good and fluent, but not quite good enough to pose as a Colombian. He had never been able to rid himself completely of the Castilian pronounciations. His Italian, on the other hand, especially the Tuscan and Sicilian dialects, allowed him to pass for a local any time he wished to, and he had the requisite background knowledge. So his alias was Father Ricardo Brunelli, sent from the motherhouse in Umbria to teach Latin and Italian at the school run by the local Vespertines, and to study and evaluate their own collection of Renaissance manuscripts.
"I'm so grateful you're here, brother," the Prior told him. "We tried to keep the… incident as low key as possible. But we need a true expert to find out whether what we suspect is true. To think – a handwritten letter by Rambaldi himself, stolen and replaced by a forgery! And it has to be one of ours who took it. Yes, we are in dire need of a discreet investigation by a neutral party."
It was fate, Arvin thought. And fortune, which favored not only the brave but the inventive. When reading through the assessments of various key figures of the Colombian government made by diplomats and less official sources, he had noticed the offhand mention of the Vespertines while simultaneously hearing from one of the black market art dealers he was in contact with that a Rambaldi manuscript was rumored to have vanished in South America. After that, it was a matter of making an educated guess and persuading the CIA to accept his idea of a cover identity without mentioning the name Rambaldi even once. Though he had originally heard about the Italian sage through his work with the Army Corps of Engineers, he didn't want to share his more recent pursuit with anyone just yet. He would explain it to Emily, later. Jack, too. Just not yet. As for the CIA, this was hardly something bureaucrats would understand.
He spent several weeks ingratiating himself with the members of the Bogotá House, teaching in a soft voice, in clear Castilian syllables with just a trace of an Italian accent, and studying volumes in early printed copies as well as what handwritten manuscripts the Order possessed, including the Rambaldi letter. As he had sadly not seen more than one example of Milo Rambaldi's handwriting, and that on a microfiche copy, he had to bluff about his expertise. What he was an expert in were people, though, and by the fourth week, he had identified the monk who had replaced the precious document with a forgery.
"You were just staring at him," the Prior said admiringly. "Not doing anything else. And he confessed. Really, Brother, I am impressed. Though I fear we'll have to consider the letter lost now. Of course, we have transcripts, but…"
"Yes," Arvin said. "An original letter by Rambaldi, to our founder. It seems… wrong to think of it traded away, like a trinket."
"At least it was not for monetary gain," the Prior sighed. "If Brother Jorge is telling the truth. Of course we are supposed to leave our families behind once we enter the Order, but still, to know your brother is threatened by imprisonment is a hard thing."
"I took the liberty of making an enquiry or two," Arvin said. "His brother was indeed released and the charges dropped. The man responsible for it has since been sacked, though, by none other than the Justice Minister himself."
"A good man, who tries the impossible – to fight corruption in a country where it reigns supreme. I pray for him, but I still wish he had waited with the removal of this particular official," the Prior confessed. "Now we shall never regain the letter."
"Nothing is truly impossible, Father," Arvin said, not lying. "It is just a matter of faith."
Shortly afterwards, the Prior told him that they were all taking turns in the confessional, and that now, being one of them in truth, it was his. He had expected this – in fact, it had been one of the reasons why Langley had agreed to this cover – but there was still an element of uncertainty when he put on the stole over the simple tonsure shirt he wore every day. Nobody had expected him to read mass, so this would be the first time he would in fact he would perform a religious function. Well, hearing confessions should be a good place to start. After all, he enjoyed learning secrets. It was what made him so good at his profession.
The stole hadn't been part of his cover; it belonged to the monastery, and the embroidery on the white cloth was of a faded gold. Suddenly, he wondered who had heard Milo Rambaldi's last confession, before the Renaissance genius who intrigued him so much had been consumed by the flames. It might even have been the founder of the order, who had already joined the priesthood at this point.
There was something particularly apt in the thought; like footsteps on an uncertain path left by some predecessor, fitting his own feet exactly.
Not that hearing confessions immediately provided the cue to any great mysteries, either political or historical. Generally speaking, it meant a variety of adulterous shopkeepers, masturbating school boys and the very occasional guilt ridden pocket thief, but it also meant a convenient way to meet with Jack, who had not only gotten himself hired by George Jung as planned but had flown his first mission to Colombia and back, and now was on his second.
"No chats with the President yet?" Jack asked drily.
"No," Arvin said. "But one of the secretaries of the minister of health has told me all about her guilty passion for her oldest stepson."
"I knew monastic life would agree with you," Jack said, and didn't sound as if he was entirely joking, not even in his Jackian deadpan way. He was right, of course. Arvin had no problem with the daily rituals, the strict hierarchy, or even the Spartan quarters, as much as he enjoyed his comfort at home. Aside from missing Emily, he was quite happy.
"It has all the advantages of the Company without any of the drawbacks," he returned, using the nickname of the CIA. "People actually do what they're told, for starters. How about life among the cocaine smugglers?"
"Even better," Jack said. "People who are incompetent get shot. Jung is falling apart," he added dispassionately, "but there is no way he'll ever testify against Escobar. He's not suicidal. Lehder, maybe. He's ready enough to tell you what a son of a bitch Lehder is once he's high enough. So if Escobar approves, he might testify against Lehder. But we'd have to arrest him first, because right now, he's still swimming in money and cocaine, even after having lost his original position, so why should he give that up?"
"If Escobar approves," Arvin said, repeating the most difficult detail. "Is there any gossip among the pilots about a possible Escobar-Lehder fallout?"
In the confessional, he couldn't see Jack's shrug, but he heard the soft chaffing of leather against wood. Jack had to wear a leather jacket.
"Not in my presence." Jack paused. Then he said unexpectedly: "Most of them have families. Jung, too. He showed me the photo of his daughter once he was done with ranting about Lehder." After another pause, Jack added: "This could take at least until fall. Then I won't be at home for Sydney's birthday this year, either."
For the first time, it occurred to Arvin he might have been wrong about Jack. Which was disturbing. He knew Jack as well as he knew himself.
"Do you want to be?" he asked. He didn't mean just "do you want to be at home for Sydney's birthday?" Of course, Jack would want that, otherwise he wouldn't have brought it up. But did he want it more than he wanted to be in the field, and more importantly, did he want to be with Sydney enough to try the civilian life, no matter how unsuited for it he was?
Jack didn't say anything, and Arvin felt an element of fear. Suddenly, he could see it, could see Jack turning his back on his entire former life, especially the agency, cutting off everyone, taking Sydney and vanishing to a place where no one had ever heard of Laura Bristow. Arvin would lose Jack and Sydney both.
Over my dead body, he thought again, but said out loud: "I could make it possible. If Jung's the sentimental type, he won't begrudge you a home visit to Boston to visit your sister and her niece. And we can arrange for Sydney and her nanny to be there on her birthday."
Five seconds, every one of which he counted, passed, and then Jack said: "No. Maybe he'll have someone follow me. I don't want anyone of that world near her."
"Of course not," Arvin said, and the relief in him was overwhelming. He would arrange for a birthday surprise to distract Sydney as much as possible from her father's absence. A trip to Disneyland wasn't enough; maybe the most talented of the performers there should come to her. Yes, that was it.
He would always try to do his best for Jack and his daughter.
Finally, the first genuinely valuable source dropped by for confession; the personal assistant of Police Officer Jaime Ramirez. Like his boss, he said he supported the extradition treaty, but said it was harder and harder to do so as long as the President would not come around.
"And I think, why risk my life, if the man ruling us won't, no? And then I think: maybe Escobar isn't the worst. Maybe even if we manage to bring him down, those who come after him will be worse. I've read the files of the Cali Cartel, Father. They'd be there, like vultures, to pick up the pieces. And then I see my cousin Elena's daughter full of drugs and think we must do something, now."
"Even our lord asked for this cup to be taken away from him in Gethsemane," Arvin said gently. "This is your Good Friday now."
He had never been Catholic; in those far away days when he had still attended religious services, he had, like his parents before him, visited the temple. But he had immersed himself in Catholic theology as a part of his study of Rambaldi even before his assignment made a plausible knowledge of anything concerning a priest's life necessary. There was something elegant there of which he approved, though he found the content as hollow as that of the Judaism he had left behind with his teenage days. None of this stopped him from giving a good performance. The assistant went away comforted and strengthened, and proved the first of a row. There were other senior officials; there was, at last, not the President, but the wife of Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, the Justice Minister.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My husband is trying to do the right thing, I know it, but I have accused him of being selfish. I asked him to think of me and his son. I told him I hated his work. I told him it made him a monster, just like those he fights."
"Surely not that much of a monster," Arvin said soothingly. "He must know you did not mean this."
"But I do," she said bitterly. "It is just work, work, work for him. Though he is not dead, he might as well be. When he is at home, he looks at those horrible pictures of their victims, and if he does not do that, he stares at something that must be stolen, yes, I tell you, Father, stolen! I know something out of a museum when I see it. That manuscript should be in one. It looks like it is centuries old. It must be something he took from them, but does he return it? No. He tells me some nonsense, says it might be the key to defeating them, for if they cannot kill him, then they have no weapon. What kind of talk is this? He is starting to loose his mind, yes, that is what is happening, and his honesty. Let someone else be a martyr, I tell him. Stop it. But does he listen? No."
Arvin could feel his heart racing, but his voice remained as even and friendly as ever. "That is a grave charge, my daughter," he said. "What would you do, if it were up to you?"
"Get rid of the damn thing and go far away from anyone connected to the Medellín Cartel," she said. "But he does not listen. He thinks he came across some kind of higher truth. I can change the world with this, he says. I finally can. That was when I told him I hated him, and that he is becoming like one of them. I am sorry, Father. But I meant it."
"Jung said he'll take me along to some soccer game Escobar expects him to come to," Jack said. "Escobar sponsors the team and built the stadium. Chances are I'll get a handshake. Did the agency even consider an assassination plan? I realize this would not end drug traffic from Colombia, but the Cartel would split up. There is no way any of the others would manage to hold it together."
"The agency didn't," Arvin said carefully. "You know what they're like these days. But I did."
After a beat, Jack said: "Go on."
"Not Escobar, though. No matter whether you'd be successful or not, you wouldn't make it out alive."
There was no reply, and he wondered whether that had been the purpose of the suggestion.
"Sydney needs you, Jack," Arvin said, and then for the first time brought up the woman he didn't talk about with Jack unless Jack mentioned her first. "She already lost her mother."
"I had asked you..."
"You don't want me to be Sydney's father, Jack. You want to be her father."
"I had asked you not to talk about her again," Jack said firmly, and there was no question he didn't mean Sydney. Still, Arvin could tell his tactics had worked, for Jack continued, sounding more vicious and alive by the minute: "And if you think I require this kind of sentimental pep-up talk, your current surroundings obviously started to affect your mind, Arvin."
"It is a possibility. But I still believe that Escobar isn't the man to kill. There is another death which would solve our problems. If I suggested it to Washington, though, it would take years to get it greenlighted, and by then Escobar might well be ruling Colombia, along with his cronies. Did you know he's controlling 80 of the world's cocaine market already?"
"You can spare me the recruitment speeches as well. Who?"
"Rodrigo Lara Bonilla," Arvin said matter-of-factly.
There was silence. He could smell the incense left from the mass read in this church earlier today, as well as sweat and a faint trace of old alcohol on Jack.
"If the Justice Minister is killed by the Medellín Cartel, openly, on the road…" Jack said slowly, and Arvin could hear he understood.
"It will be the final push the President needs to sign the extradition treaty," Arvin finished.
"You're sure of this?"
"He'll sign the treaty. And then he'll serve us Lehder as a first course, if someone actually manages to arrest him. But he needs something that drastic first. The cold wind of the bullet passing him by and hitting the man next to him, as it were. Yes," Arvin said, "I'm sure."
His right hand had pressed itself against the lattice separating the two sides of the confessional from each other. The fact he had not noticed this until now was something that would not bear repetition. He couldn't afford subconscious gestures. Not now.
"Then I hope you have our own extradition organized," Jack said abruptly, and thus signalled he'd do the job, and intended to survive it. Arvin heard his own dark robes rustling as he leaned back. The lattice had left marks on his palm.
"Yours," he said. "I'll stay a few days longer. We can't afford for anyone to connect us in any way."
On April 29, 1984, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, Justice Minister of Colombia, was killed during rush hour when motorcyclists came up behind his car and opened fire. No one doubted for a minute they belonged to the Medellín Cartel.
On April 30th, Jack Bristow was back in the United States. At the same time, President Belisario Betancur Cuartas told his aides he would extradite any Colombian suspected of drug trafficking to the US now, starting with Carlos Lehder.
On May 2nd, the widow of Lara Bonilla had one last conversation with the man who had briefly become her confessor, Brother Ricardo. Her eyes were swollen from crying, but her fingers, handing over a centuries-old manuscript, were quite firm.
"Don't tell anyone my Rodrigo had it," she said. "He's… he's a hero now, and I don't want… oh God. He shouldn't have – if he had only listened…"
Arvin Sloane comforted her as best he could and watched her light a candle for her husband's soul. For some reason, the gesture stayed with him. Then he returned in his cell. He had packed already, not that there was much he had taken with him in terms of property. After all, he had a cover to maintain. But the Prior, grateful for all his services, had given him one of the bibles printed in the monastery itself as a gift, with illustrations that had been drawn originally by an Indio artist in the late 17th century and had been reprinted ever since.
Rambaldi's letter ended up somewhere in the book of Judges, in the story of Jephtah. He thought it was a coincidence at the time, but then, he was just at the start of his quest.