Thursday, August 1, 2013

Baxter: Chapter Twenty-FIve

Only those who really knew him would know that Smith was furious. His face was flat and tight, and a small muscle occasionally jumped under his left eye, as if he were trying very hard to wink, but failing miserably. 
His secretaries avoided him as much as possible. He never had a good relationship with them, they were disposable, tools, just like everyone else he worked with. The secretaries didn’t even have the stature of being pieces on the board, they were just a means to move said pieces. 
Smith sat behind his desk and stared at an illuminated wall. He replayed the satellite footage. There was no audio, but even the visuals told a story. Falconer and Baxter had a standoff, then Falconer joined him. She went to the car, and he had a time-synched audio file of the phone call. He remembered that part anyway. Then the choppers came, and the satellite footage erupted in fire and smoke and shooting. 
The footage tracked the two operatives as they made their way down the hill. They were occasionally lost in the foliage of the forested road to Hood Canal. Smith gritted his teeth at the long empty expanses of road where they were vulnerable. A drone would have solved everything, but even he had to ask for authorization for that kind of activity, domestically, at least, and he couldn’t answer to anyone on this. He couldn’t even take action and ask for forgiveness afterward, not with a drone, not with this public and this administration. He’d already have to justify the loss of a Blackhawk and eight black ops specialists. It wasn’t quite a disaster, and certainly would have been perfectly worthwhile if the operation had succeeded. As it was, it was a blemish on an otherwise spotless record, and not the kind of thing he looked forward to explaining to an oversight committee. Baxter wasn’t a high-enough profile target to justify the action, but he’d have time to make something up.
He couldn’t ask for help. That was partly logistics, partly vanity. He’d be damned if he would lower himself to asking for assistance to kill a fucking retiree and his former protege. On top of that, asking for help would mean admitting things weren’t completely under his control, which would undermine his authority. 
And that added to the ongoing problem, which was that he could only justify so much satellite coverage, and the more they ran, the easier they would be to lose. 
He lost them in The Dalles, at breakfast. By the time they bought a truck and took to the road, Smith had already expanded his search to a grid of hundreds of square miles. Without another handy amber alert, there’d be no way to pull the camera coverage from the places they had visited, and even if he could get it, small towns weren’t carpeted with cameras like cities were.
So, they were in the wind. And he couldn’t have that. She’d betrayed him, gone over to Baxter’s side, and Smith was sure the bastard had weaved quite a tale for her. It didn’t matter what it was, it was the fact that even after faking his own death and being absent for more than ten years, he was still able to command more loyalty than Smith himself was. 
Smith used a digital pointer to circle the area where the satellite coverage lost Falconer and Baxter. He sent it to his computer. He added everything he had regarding the two operatives. His eye flexed and squeezed as he wrote up a mission document. 
When he was finished, the memory stick went into a secret pocket inside his coat. It was hidden in a fold and had two snaps, making it impossible to see and just as challenging to try to pickpocket, even if you happened to know it was there.
He left his office without comment to either of his secretaries, and they knew better than to say anything to him, not in this mood.
Sometimes you had to do things yourself. Sometimes the old dirty tricks were the best ones. 
He left via an exit that only the most important men in the building could use. He was ignored, even as he committed several federal felonies by carrying information out of the building. The guards ignored him, only concerned with people entering the building. The logic, such as it was, said that if someone as high as Smith wanted to break the law, there was no way to spot him. When he entered, he didn’t get a pat down, he didn’t scan his badge. Instead he was subjected to a retina scan, a fingerprint scan, and a voice check. If anyone was clever enough to slip a counterintel agent through that kind of security, well, they probably deserved all the secrets they could carry.
Shuttle bus to train station, train to the suburbs, train back into town, cab to the Jefferson Memorial. The whole time, watching for tails without looking like he was watching. 
He found a particular bench at the Memorial and sat. You sat at these benches at your own peril, due to the large numbers of homeless people who roamed the Smithsonian and memorial lawns. He ignored the panhandlers who approached him. One, who was more dedicated than the others, put himself directly in Smith’s line of sight, demanding a response. Smith slowly raised his head, exhaling smoke, and made vicious eye contact with the scrawny, meth-faced man. The spare-changer gave a twitch and walked away as fast as he could without actually running. 
Smith sat back, took another puff. With his left hand he reached into his coat, opened the secret pocket, and palmed the memory stick he had prepared. He stretched out his arms, expanding his chest as if he were appreciating the fresh air. His left arm curled around the back of the bench, and the left hand disappeared from sight.
Right behind the bench was an old brick wall. Smith cradled the memory stick in his two smallest fingers, and ran the other two along the bricks. He found the notch, pressed it, slid it. Silently, a small cavity opened in the brick. He placed the memory stick inside, closed it. 
A minute later he finished his cigar, ground it out on the bench, threw it flawlessly into a trash can that was ten feet away. 
He stood up and walked away, pulled out his phone. The number was an answering service, and he passed on a message about a deposit. That message would in turn be forwarded to the most dangerous man Smith had ever met. Smith was dangerous of course, but he had control. Baxter could be dangerous, but it wasn’t his resting state. The Starling was a snake waiting to strike, just waiting for slightest excuse to commit acts of staggering violence. Smith thought of most of his operatives as tools, implements to be used in the right time and place, under the right circumstances. The Starling was the same, only he was a limited-use tool. He was a weapon.

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