Thank-you all SO much for all the reviews, alerts, follows and private messages. Thanks, too, if you're just reading in lurker mode. Wow! I never thought any story of mine would get over a hundred reviews or the number of hits it has received. I'm flattered and humbled. And the muses are giddy. Goody, we like giddy muses!
This epic is winding down, and should be done in just a few more chapters.
Chapter Sixteen: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Auggie sat on the edge of his bunk, bouncing his cane and tapping his feet to a favorite Ray Brown bass solo thrumming through his head. With all its intricate harmonics and clever improvisations, bebop was among Auggie's favorite forms of jazz. The dissonant melodies and scattershot rhythms provided the one scintilla of chaos that made his rigidly organized life bearable. On this day, however, they would serve a different purpose.
As soon as he'd returned to his room, Auggie had run a fingertip under the grip of his cane, seeking the familiar markings. Certain that the cane was his and not a substitute, he unfolded it, and used it to explore this latest room, sweeping it across the floor, running it along the perimeter, reaching up and down the walls in search of a window. There was none.
He was certain that the rooms here were wired and that his watchers would report any unusual behavior to their higher-ups. And so he did, what he always did to pass the time, he waited, and hummed various jazz tunes, and drummed his fingers, tapped his feet, bobbed his head, bounced his cane, and did everything his captors had come to expect of their somewhat unbalanced jazz aficionado inmate.
He'd given the phrasing of his first check-in message considerable thought. Straightforward Morse was out of the question, and so he'd come up with a code that he hoped his team would recognize but would escape his watchers' notice.
Now it was time. He casually gave the tip a quarter turn clockwise then pressed the cane down until he felt a gentle click . He held it still while bobbing his head and tapping his feet for a count of twelve. Keeping the rhythm of the bass solo, he sent a short message, just a routine check-in code translated into a sequence of numbers, translated again to add an extra level of complexity, then finally translated into Morse. After another twelve beat he folded up his cane, twisted the tip and ended the transmission.
Now all he had to do was wait.
Rossabi pursed his lips as he leafed through the file in his hands. This was nuts. Another of Langley's games. A tantalizing tidbit the Agency was dangling in front of him just long enough to... what exactly? Distract him? Draw him off the scent?
He looked up and met the placid gazes of the two spooks seated across the low table. The blond sat perfectly still, her hands delicately folded on her lap. They'd crossed paths twice before he'd agreed to run point on this op, and he still didn't know her name.
Her companion he knew all too well having seen him on C-Span, CNN, and Sunday Morning news shows, usually defending the Agency from one allegation or another. Arthur Campbell, the CIA's Director of Clandestine Services, the man who was rumored to have played Brutus to Henry Wilcox's Caesar, and who was already up to his eyeballs in hot water of his own. Were they playing him? He wouldn't put it past them. Why ask to meet him here in a suite at the Capitol Grand Hotel instead of walking into Hoover with their intel like honest people did?
He rubbed a hand across his chin. If this were true... sweet Mother-of-God... a win like this could finally wash away the lingering stench of the Hansen affair and the failures of 9/11. It would make his name. They'd be teaching this case at Quantico, writing books about it. Hell, maybe he'd write one himself.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. He was getting ahead of himself. He cast the pair a steady, sidelong glance. "How do I know any of this is true?"
"You can't know, not for certain, and at some point, you're just going to have to trust us." Arthur leaned forward. "If what I've heard is true, you've been involved in this op from the beginning, and you've been looking for the keystone, the piece that will lock everything else into place. This could be it."
"You're asking me to take it on faith that everything I need to tie up my investigation is here."
"Everything? No, but I'm assuming that you're a good enough cop not to pass up on this kind of lead just to prove a point."
Rossabi remained skeptical. "I've been at this long enough to know that no one ever just volunteers evidence this damning unless they want something in return. My guess is that you could face treason charges just for removing these files from Langley. So what do you want, Director Campbell? Immunity? Anonymity? A payoff?"
"How about justice?" Arthur replied, smiling knowingly. He leaned back into the sofa cushions. "You're right, of course, I may have committed professional suicide by reading you in. But I've also briefed the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee who knows I'm meeting with you and why. She in turn will be informing the President later today. So, while I appreciate your offer, really, all I want from the Bureau is the assurance that you'll use what's in those files to bring whoever is behind this scheme to justice."
Joan broke in. "You can question our motives all you like once this case is done. Right now, as you well know, one of the Agency's top operatives, a decorated U.S. combat veteran, has infiltrated a top-secret, unauthorized psy-ops facility, where he is being held incommunicado at great risk to his personal well-being. I have no doubt that he is accumulating evidence and tracing the source of this intelligence failure. But he is one man, alone and at a considerable disadvantage. Whatever evidence he gathers, no matter how revealing, will be one-sided. The files we've given you contain sufficient information for you to begin drilling down on this from two different directions."
"You can launch a two-pronged attack," Arthur added.
"If this is accurate -"
"It is." Joan said in a tone which left no room for doubt. "I'd stake my career and my reputation on it. In fact, I have done exactly that."
Rossabi ignored her. "If this is accurate, and you can be sure that my team will go over this with a fine-toothed comb, but if it's true, then along with Anderson's testimony, we'll have means, motive, and evidence. A rock-solid case."
Joan turned her hand over and unfolded her fingers, revealing two miniature flash drives.
"More dirt?" Rossabi asked.
"The DCS just gave you a list of names, participants, some willing, most not, in what appears to be an illegal brainwashing program. A program that was supposed to have been shut down in the seventies." She handed Rossabi the first flash drive. "This contains lists of financial transactions. Very large and secretive financial transactions that may be linked to that program." She held out the second drive. "This contains details of CIA special operations going back forty years. These are highly classified, and redacted only to the extent where I am obliged to protect the details of current missions. You'll find that the names of several of the operatives and Special Forces personnel in this list also show up in the file the DCS gave you. Connect the dots, Special Agent Rossabi. Cross-reference the three lists against each other. What are the commonalities? Who has the most to lose?"
"I know how to do my job." Rossabi snapped. "How long have you been sitting on this? Why have you decided to give this to me now, after all these weeks of stalling?"
"To answer your first question," Joan began, "this evidence came into my hands forty-eight hours ago. You might have received it earlier, but I had to verify its authenticity. As for your second question, Captain Anderson has been out of contact since he was taken from his Pentagon office two weeks ago. We have an idea of the general area where he's being held, but no specifics. While I could have my financial analysts follow the money lead, there is a clear conflict of interest in having the CIA investigate our own."
"No one just hands over this kind of evidence without looking for something in exchange."
Joan sensed Arthur's temper flaring. She stepped in before he could say anything. "Special Agent Rossabi, we are very much alike, you and I. More so, I suspect, than either of us would care to admit. The bottom line is that we have both devoted our lives to protecting America and her people. We've both seen how even the most noble causes can be corrupted by weakness, greed and ambition. Like you, I have seen unscrupulous behavior all around me, but I have fought to surround myself with men and women of integrity, true patriots for whom the interests of this nation and her people have always come first. I will do anything to ensure their safety, and to make certain that their service and sacrifices are not cheapened or sullied by the actions of a few evil men.
"You asked Director Campbell what he wants in exchange for all of this? What I'd like is a little respect for the people who serve in the shadows and shun recognition. A little discretion would be nice, too. But if neither of those are possible, then the promise that when all this hits the fan, the Bureau will acknowledge the Agency's part in bringing the wrongdoers to justice. That's what I want. "
"Venti, sugar-free, gingerbread soy latte for you," Stu said, setting down the concoction by Annie's keyboard. "And a Green-goddess salad, sans peanuts."
"Thanks, Stu." Annie smiled, then turned back to the stack of Belarussian newspapers she'd been perusing, more to pass the time than in the hope of turning up any actionable leads.
"And for you, Barber," the junior tech continued, "chicken tikka-massala on a kaiser roll, with extra napkins"
Barber grunted his thanks, but kept his attention on his screens.
"What are you working on?"
"Re-routing some satellites for one of the special ops teams on the border. Only, they're exactly not our birds, so it's a little tricky."
Stu looked took a quick glance at the screens. Everything seemed under control. A slow day at the DPD. His own operative was safe on a plane heading back from San Salvador after a routine drop in Central America. The plane was now over the Gulf.
He sat down and unwrapped his own lunch, and that's when he noticed the green light blinking on the laptop on the corner of his desk. He grabbed a pencil, pad and called across the room. "Barber!"
"Give me a minute."
"Barber, you need to see this."
Stu scribbled furiously.
"What is it?" Barber asked, coming up behind the younger man.
"It's Auggie. That's Auggie's signal. He's checking in."
"I'll take over. You call Joan."
Dr. Allen looked up from his notes. "Who did you receive your orders from, Captain?"
"General Oubash. He was my CO. We've been over this before."
"And who did he get his orders from?"
"I don't know. You'd have to ask him. He just told us what to do, and we did it."
"I didn't say that. I asked questions when warranted."
"What sort of questions?" Allen probed.
"Operational details, contingency plans, the usual."
"Did you ever defy your orders?"
"Defy them? No. Question them and recommend an alternative course when I felt justified to do so? Yes, once or twice. Look, Doc, we've been over this before. Next you're going to ask me about the Tikrit mission. I'll give the same answers I've given every other time. I don't remember. I sustained a serious TBI. Talking about it day after day isn't going to bring any of it back. You can't jolt my memories back to life, any more than flashing lights at me will turn my eyes back on. Those synapses are blown.
"I can't help you, Captain, if you won't cooperate," Allen sighed.
Auggie remained sullenly silent.
"Orderly," Allen called to the man waiting silently by the door. "Escort Captain Anderson back to his room."
Auggie heard the heavy steps move closer. It was the same man who'd brought him from his room earlier, a tall, slow-moving man who could probably stand to lose a good seventy-five pounds or more. He might seem big and imposing to those who could see him, but Auggie, holding his arm for guidance, had felt the soft and flabby flesh. He'd heard the slight wheeze after they'd climbed two flights of stairs, and the susurrus of pant legs rubbing against each other when the man walked in front of him. And when he'd laid a hand on the man's back, seemingly for balance, Auggie had felt the thick layer of fat rippling over what might once have been a football player's muscled frame.
Auggie rose from his chair and unfolded his cane, and did not resist the orderly's tug on his arm as they left the therapist's office. They'd taken a dozen steps or so when Auggie pulled his arm from the larger man's grip.
"Somethin' wrong, Captain?"
"No. It's just that it's been a while since I walked on my own. Would you mind if I just used my cane?"
"I dunno. I'm not supposed to leave you alone."
"You wouldn't be. You can still walk right beside me, just without my holding on, that's all." He held up his cane. "If I don't use this, I fall out of practice. And if I don't keep my skills sharp... well, that's how blind people end up getting run over by buses."
He heard the other man hesitate. "Come on, how much trouble can I get into? it's not as if I could ever find my way out of here," he reasoned, and waved his free hand in front of his eyes for emphasis.
"I guess as long as I'm with you..."
"That's the spirit," Auggie grinned, and began making his way down the corridor, trailing his hand along the wall and sweeping his cane before him
"Sir, Allen says he's still not making any progress. He is firmly convinced that Anderson doesn't... can't remember anything, and that we should move on to a more therapeutic course of treatment."
Henry Wilcox ground his teeth in annoyance at the voice on the phone. He looked out the window, and swept his gaze across the broad expanse of lawn, past the fringe of trees, their branches bare and reaching skyward like thin black-gloved fingers in the cold December dusk, then past the colonnade and the empty terrace, down the slope where it paused at the water's edge, to the Potomac, a band of rippling quicksilver that shimmered beneath the pale moon. There had been a time, not so long ago, when his adversaries had threatened to take all this away, heedless of his long years of service.
Sir? Are you there?"
He glanced again at the summons on his desk. Five days. Five days from now, his exile would be over. He'd be testifying before the Senate's confirmation committee. All loose ends would be tied up. Promises kept. Assurances extracted from those who owed him and from those who couldn't afford to cross Henry Wilcox.
"I'm here, Tomacek. What do you want?"
"Sir, what are your orders?
Henry's gaze returned to his desk, and to the summons lying on the blotter. "Read Allen in. Tell him who Anderson really is. Tell him what he did and who he worked for before moving into that cushy Pentagon office. Authorize him... no, order him to use whatever means necessary to find out exactly what he knew about those Middle East ops. Do you read me? Any means necessary.
"Yes, sir. And then?"
"And then? Find out what Anderson knows, then silence them both."
"What do you have?" Joan asked, striding into Tech Ops.
Annie replied at once. "Auggie checked in about fifteen minutes ago. The signal was relayed through our Denver station."
"So he's somewhere in Colorado. What did he have to say?"
Barber shrugged. "It's in code. We're still working on it. But it's good, right? It means he's okay, right?"
"That's what we're hoping. Get on that code. We need to sort it out before his next transmission. Annie, a word in my office."
Annie followed her boss, and took a seat on the office couch. Joan began pacing before her.
"This is it," Joan said. "As soon as we pinpoint the origin of Auggie's message, you need to get on a plane out there."
"You want me to rescue Auggie?" Annie asked, surprised.
"No. We'll have a Special Ops extraction team on stand-by. I need you to get inside and reconnoiter the site. Find out where they're holding Auggie, and if there are any others. You need to get inside. Use the cover Auggie prepared for you, or create one of your own. I'm trusting you to do what it takes to get us the information we need to get Auggie and the others out safely.
"When do I leave?"
"You'll be traveling with the extraction team. I'll have a driver at your place at 0500 to take you to Andrews. And Annie, think Nikes not Louboutins."
"He's CIA?" Allen asked incredulously. "His file, the old one, says he works for the Pentagon."
Tomacek handed Allen a file labelled "Top Secret". "That's his cover. He'd only been working there for a couple of weeks before he was sent here. He was recruited for the CIA while he was in college. He's been with them ever since."
"And his time in the Army, that's just a story?"
"No, that's true," Tomacek said, annoyed. What was it with these civilians? He continued in a tone he might use with a two-year-old. "He was with the Army, but he was also a special CIA operative embedded with a Special Forces unit. He was with them on a CIA mission to neutralize a top Al-Qaeda leader when he was blinded."
Dr. Allen tossed the new file on the desk. "Okay, fine, he's CIA. I still don't see how this changes his treatment plan?"
"Anderson was one of the CIA's top operatives. He was a Special Forces trained officer. He is a world class liar and a master of deception. You say he doesn't remember what happened on his final mission? I would argue that he does and that he's playing you to protect his secrets and is just waiting to get even with the agency that sent him on that mission."
"Fine, but who are we supposed to be helping here, Captain Anderson or your superiors?"
"You can help both, Dr. Allen. You can help Anderson and others like him come to terms with what they experienced, while at the same time making sure that they pose no threat to our nation's security."
"For heaven's sake, Anderson is blind! He's more of a danger to himself than to anyone else."
"Don't let his blindness fool you. He's still a highly capable field operative." Tomacek paused and leaned in closer. In a whisper he added, "After all, can you be sure he hasn't been playing you all along?"
Ninety-eight...ninety-nine...one-hundred. Auggie lay back against the cold floor while he pretended to catch his breath. If he stayed in this place too long, he just might have to work out a little harder. He turned over, and started a series of push ups. A hundred crunches, a hundred push ups, and another hundred squats. Back in Special Forces, they would have called that a warm-up routine. Ever since gotten back on the job, he'd worked hard to maintain that regimen. But in here, it was best not to let his watchers know just how fit he truly was. Back in the gym at Langley, he'd do twice as much in half the time, and finish with the weights, a session with the heavy bag, or a good long run. He wished he could add a run to his workout here, but running in place only messed with his balance. And considering what it had cost him to get his cane back, he'd probably have surrender the CIA access codes and a sizeable chunk of his sanity to secure some treadmill time.
He wondered if his team had received his message, and if they had deciphered his code? He wanted to be able to send them something more substantive in his next transmission. Now that he had his cane he would try to persuade his watchers to allow him a little more freedom of movement. The heavy-set guy who'd been his guide today seemed malleable enough. If he could manage it, he'd explore and get a better feel for the place, figure out how many people were being kept here. For now, however, he would build his strength, consider his options, and rest until the next time they came for him.
The Friday night crowd at Allen's Tavern was the usual lively mix of government workers, students, and neighborhood regulars. Annie, Barber and Stu sat at their usual table, people watching, nursing their beers, and picking at remnants of their meals.
Across the room, Jai was playing darts against a guy wearing an British Airways polo shirt, but who, Annie knew, was actually with MI-6. At the bar, an analyst she had occasionally chatted with in the coffee line briefly caught her gaze then pretended not to know her. He returned to the animated conversation he was having with a State Department courrier Annie had met while filing paperwork for her Smithsonian NOC. She wondered if the woman really was a courier. In this town, everyone it seemed had a secret identity.
"You're awfully quiet tonight," Barber noted.
"Just thinking," she replied.
"Well, stop doing that. Sometimes you just need to clear your mind, take a few steps away from the problem, give your subconscious time to work on it. Leave it and enjoy your beer," he said, reaching for her fries.
She shoved the basket across the table. "It's just... It seems like I'm so close..."
"Give it a break. Right, Stu?" The younger tech was scribbling notes on a napkin. "Jesus, not you, too?"
"What've you got? Annie asked.
Stu grunted, scribbling away furiously, between the remnants of their meal. He seemed caught up in his calculations, then suddenly groaned in frustration and shoved the napkin towards Annie. She briefly studied the intricate formulae. This was Greek to her. Tougher. Greek was actually a lot easier. She cast the former math major a puzzled glance. "Sorry, no hablo nerd."
Stu shook his head. "I was thinking it might be an encryption based on a sequence of complex permutations. Like this combination that keeps coming up zero, two, three, four and six. I took the three sets of numbers he sent and tried to figure out the pattern. So if 1 stands for a, and 2 for -"
Annie slapped her hand down on the napkin. "It didn't work?"
Stu sighed, defeated. "It didn't work."
Barber pulled a lighter from his pocket. "Stuart?"
The younger man held the napkin by a corner as long as he could then dropped it in the empty fajita pan where it continued to burn until it was reduced to ash.
"Maybe Auggie overestimated our abilities," Barber conceded. "The guy's freaky smart, and sometimes, he forgets about how us lesser mortals -"
Annie shook her head. "Auggie set up that relay so that the message would come to us. If it had been something beyond our ability to figure out, he'd have sent it straight to Joan or Marty."
Stu looked up. "He sent it to us. To you, me, and Annie. Obviously, he knew that there would be something to that code that we would recognize. We got the technical part figured out. The rest, the code itself, maybe that's something for Annie... something that doesn't require a high degree of technological know-how."
"You know what I mean. Eric and I are computer geeks. Logically, we should have figured this thing out, but we didn't. What do you know, that we don't know?"
"She's a field operative," Barber suggested.
Annie shrugged. "I don't see how that helps."
"Could it be the dates of ops, case numbers?" Stu offered.
"I checked. Nothing matches. It's just random sets of numbers."
"What else does she know?" Stu asked Barber.
"Hello, she is right here," Annie bristled.
Barber ignored her. "Well, she does speak a couple of dozen languages."
"Not that many. Only ten or so."
"Just ten or so. Sheesh! And Auggie speaks what, four... five?"
"Five," Annie answered, plus ASL. "But I checked. It's none of those either."
"ASL?" Stu asked.
"American Sign Language," Annie replied. "He learned it in high school, when he was working on his Eagle Scout project."
"Some good that must do him," Barber snorted. "Kind of a one-way conversation, unless the deaf guy knows how to sign in Braille."
Annie's eyes grew wide. "Whoa, Eric! What did you just say?"
"I said, that unless the guy knows how to sign in Braille..."
Annie jumped up, and threw some bills on the table.
Barber grabbed her arm. "It was just a dumb joke, Annie. I didn't mean anything."
"C'mon, finish your beers guys."
"Drink up. We've got to head back to Langley."
Auggie was deep in thought, considering the risks and benefits of different courses of action when the heavy tread of steps drew him from his musings. Was it morning already?
The steps paused briefly outside the door. He heard the tumbler turn in the lock, and in an instant the door flew open.
"On your feet, Anderson! Let's go!"
Auggie grabbed his cane and pushed himself up from the floor. "Okay, where are we going?" he asked mildly.
His only answer was an iron-hard grip fastening on his shoulder and shoving him into the hallway. He shook out his cane, and put up a semblance of a struggle while his mind raced through his options. He felt a sharp jab in his neck. "Not again," he managed to mumble before his legs gave out and the world disappeared.
"It's Braille!" Annie explained back in Tech Ops. The DPD was unusually quiet, with only a skeleton crew working the evening shift, and a solitary custodial workers emptying trash bins and scraping a squeegee down the double glass doors.
"I don't get it," Stu complained. "How can he send a Braille message in Morse code?"
"How come you know Braille?" Barber asked.
"Auggie thought it was something I should know. It's no big deal. It's just another alphabet."
Joan strode in. "The code?"
"Right. Braille letters are based on a system of six dots in a cell. Each dot is numbered. The left-hand column dots are one, two, and three. The right-hand column, four, five, and six. From then it's easy just to spell out the numbers."
"I still don't get it," Stu complained. "This still doesn't spell out anything."
"Not in English, it doesn't. He sent us his message in Turkish."
A smile spread across Joan's features. "Auggie spent two years working out of the Istanbul station. He speaks Turkish like a native."
"So what does the message say?" Barber asked. All eyes were on Annie as she transcribed the Turkish numbers to Braille, then translated. "It's the standard check-in code," she said.
Joan nodded. "He's well. That's the best news I've had in weeks. Good work! All of you go home. Annie, go home. Get packed. Be ready to leave for Colorado with the extraction team in a few hours."
Joan watched silently as Annie shut down her computer and headed for the exit. Well, at least that was one piece of the puzzle solved. She turned and surveyed her department, considering whether it was worth driving all the way home for a few short hours, or whether she should just stretch out on the couch in her office.
Joan looked over her department, and noticed the abandoned custodial cart by the door. "Barber, wasn't there someone washing the glass doors a moment ago?"
"Yeah, weird too, 'cause they just did them this afternoon. Where'd he go?"
Joan pulled out her phone. "Security? This is Joan Campbell. Shut down the building, we have a suspected breach."
Ross raced down to gym's changing room. He quickly peered around the row of metal lockers, but at this late hour, the gym and changing rooms were empty. He quickly changed out of the blue janitorial service shirt he'd been wearing, into a crisp white shirt and tie, clipped a holster to the back of his belt, then slipped on a sports coat, clipped his I.D. badge to his breast pocket, and stuffed the custodial shirt in a hamper. He ran a comb through his thinning hair, and made his way towards the exit. The anonymous janitor was gone. An equally anonymous staffer might have been spotted leaving the gym, but even at CIA headquarters, people saw what they expected to see.
He strode purposefully across the CIA seal, into the lobby where guards stood by the doors cradling assault rifles, their gazes sweeping the wide plaza before the entrance. Other guards could be seen rushing into the parking lot. As casually as he could, he strolled up to the security desk by the turnstiles. "What's going on?"
"Possible breach on the second floor. No one's allowed in or out."
"Come on, it's my kid's piano recital tonight."
"Sorry, no one comes or goes."
"Guess I'd better plan on crashing here then," he said, and headed towards the elevators. He pressed the buttons but the elevators didn't respond. Shit! Time for Plan B.
The stairs were empty, so he made his way back towards the gym, hoping he looked like any staffer trying to fit in a late-night workout before heading home.
He shoved the bar on the emergency door. At once, the alarm began to blast out its warnings. He took off at a run, heading for woods surrounding Langley. He made it to the tree line, just as the parking lot lights blazed to life. Once in relative safety, he reached into his pocket, and hit the first number on his speed dial.
"Ross, do you have any idea what time it is?" Henry Wilcox answered after several rings. "This had better be damned good."
"I think they figured out where we're holding Anderson. I overheard Joan Campbell say they had an extraction team headed out to Colorado."
"Did they make you?"
"Yeah, I think so. I got out, though. I was right by Tech Ops when they were talking about it. They were talking about some code. That's when she told Walker to get ready to go to Colorado with an extraction unit."
"Are you sure they said Colorado?"
"That's what caught my attention, sir. That is where Anderson and the others are being held, isn't it?"
"Where are you now, Ross?"
"I'm in the woods, sir, and the building is sealed off. Where should I go?"
Henry paused for a moment. "Make your way to the auditorium," he said at length, "I'll have a car waiting."
"But, sir, that's all the way on the other side of the facility," Ross pleaded. "Sir? Sir?"
But the line was dead.
He turned around to gauge his best route over to the auditorium, but froze at the sound of a snapping branch. He dropped the phone and slowly reached for the Glock at his back. He turned around, and was suddenly blinded by the brilliance of a half-dozen beams of light all turned on at once.
"Drop the gun. Put your hands up where we can see them."
Dr. Richard Allen studied his sedated patient on the gurney, and the array of vials and syringes on the cart at this side.
"Get on with it!" Tomacek ordered.
He no longer deceived himself. He knew he had violated the Hippocratic Oath in more ways than he could count. He'd let his ego get in the way of medicine. This wasn't about researching the outcomes of new PTSD treatments, he thought as he attached electrodes to Anderson's chest. This wasn't about the patients at all.
He turned on the monitors then surveyed the potent selection of drugs lined up on the cart. Almost made one yearn for the good old days of electroshock or waterboarding. At least those prisoners knew what they were up against. If August Anderson was truly the man Tomacek said he was, Allen suspected he would be able to resist even the most brutal of torture.
But this way, there was no chance for honor here. Anderson didn't stand a chance. He ran his hands over the labels. These were powerful chemicals, each carrying its own set of risks. Used alone they were potent, in combination they could be deadly. Anderson, for all that he was fit and seemingly healthy had survived a serious brain injury. Who knew what effect these drugs would have on his damaged brain. How much to administer to give Tomacek what he wanted without risking Anderson's life... or his own.
"Start with this one," Tomacek said, shoving a vial and syringe at the doctor.
Allen read the label, drew a deep breath, and carefully measured out a dose. Then he took another syringe and drew from a second vial. He checked the life support equipment in the room, the defibrillator, and the oxygen regulator. "I'm ready."
He reached for Anderson's arm and found a vein. Slowly, carefully, he injected first one chemical and then the other. The beeping of the pulse monitor remained steady.
"Now wake him up."
Tomacek scanned the labels, and grabbed an unopened bottle. "Give him a shot of this to wake him up!"
"But that might be too much for his system to handle at once," Allen protested.
"If you don't do it, I will."
Allen whispered a prayer beneath his breath, and he injected the third chemical into his patient.
At once, Auggie began to shake, then convulse uncontrollably. His sightless eyes flew open and he began gasping for breath. The monitor's beeping grew rapid and shrill.
"Give him oxygen," Tomacek barked.
Allen adjusted an oxygen cannula. "He'd be better off with a mask." He leaned close to Anderson's ear and whispered, "Be strong," and squeezed the man's arm. Anderson whimpered and gripped his wrist in a vise-like hold.
"No mask. We need to hear what he has to say."
After a few interminable minutes, Anderson's pulse resumed a more normal rhythm. He closed his eyes, then opened them again. His gaze was glassy and completely unfocused.
Joan stepped into the viewing room. "So Ross is involved, too. What do we have on him, Leo?"
"Nothing much yet. Security confiscated his phone. We'll know more after Marty finishes running the SIM card. He claims to have been trying to find a way to make it home for his kid's piano recital."
"By evading a lockdown and pulling a gun on the security guards. His kid must be the next Vladimir Horowitz!"
"There's no kid and no recital. I'll know more after our little chat. Anything in particular you want me to find out, Joan?"
"Find out who he's working for."
"It's a start," she said. "But when you're done, I'd like to have a little conversation with him."
The sensation of falling jolted Auggie awake. He reached out for something to hold on to, something to break his fall, but his hands were bound and he could feel himself flying through the air, faster... faster... spinning out of control. The blast of air was burning his skin, and a screaming wind rushed past his ears. He braced himself as best he could for the inevitable impact. Not again, dear Lord, not again!
The crash never came. He gulped at the air. His skin was on fire, a cloud of dust and smoke consuming his body. He wanted to beat the flames away but he couldn't see them and his hands were tied.
Counting slowly, he forced himself to take slow, steadying breaths. One...two...three in...three...two... one out. Again. One...two..three. Someone was pressing something to his nose. And then, suddenly, clean, sweet air flooded his lungs.
"Stay strong," a voice urged from far away, and a hand squeezed his wrist, pressing through the burning flesh. He wanted to scream, but couldn't spare the breath, and could only whimper. Instead he gripped the arm, as if it were the only object to slow his fall.
He stretched his fingers, reaching out. Looking around, but he couldn't see who was calling. No, that was impossible. He couldn't.
"August..." A noise... a voice pierced through the noise.
"August... I need to ask you some questions."
"Hurt... can't... burning." A beeping in the background grew louder until it roared past his muddled senses and beat at his fragile skull.
"August... who sent you on this mission?"
"Mission failed... epic fail... hurt... blind...wanna sleep... sleep."
"August, who sent you to Tikrit?"
"Langley ... orders."
"Who gave the order?"
"Hurt... burning... on fire!"
The voice grew more insistent, "I can give you something to calm the pain. Just answer my question. Who gave the order?"
"And who gave him his orders?"
"Wilcox. Henry Wilcox."
To be continued.