Book 11 Chapter 2
If you missed chapter one, you can find it here: https://ltryan.com/book-11-chapter-1/
We walked through the hallway, and into a series of memories. Ones I’d fought to forget over the years. For all the good we did during my time in the SIS, there was no fooling anyone that we were a bunch of choir boys. We had been able to operate without restriction Stateside, and elsewhere. Rules rarely applied to us. I’m sure that made Frank Skinner an appealing candidate to head up the SAD-SOG. He’d run a similar operation with a much smaller budget, and much less backing from the politicians. He was unstoppable now.
The carpet in the corridor had been ripped up in favor of concrete. Chemical-laden air blew through the oversized vents in the ceiling. Overhead lights hummed and blinked on and off at irregular intervals. I figured they hadn’t been on since the SIS was dissolved. Of course, I had to question whether it had been shut down after all.
Walking past my old office, I thought of specific missions we’d run. The faces of men, women and children we’d saved. Agents, and friends, we’d lost along the way. The six-by-nine room now stood empty, save for a vacuum cleaner in one corner. Judging by the floor, I doubted anyone had ever used the machine.
We stopped short of Frank’s office, which was next to mine. Tattoo knocked on the door, waited a second, nodded, then entered. Two of the remaining agents left us. Coffee, maybe. Readying the interrogation room, perhaps. I hoped it didn’t get to that point because it didn’t appear Doc’s office was occupied anymore. Who’d set their broken bones once I was through with them?
Tattoo emerged from the office, looked past me, nodded at his partner.
“Skinner will see you now.” Tattoo took a step back, gestured at me like I was a plane making my way toward the runway. He guided me toward him, then into the office.
Frank remained seated behind his desk. He offered no greeting or handshake. One hand remained on the chair’s armrest, the other hidden beneath the desktop, presumably gripping a pistol so tight his fingers turned white. His neutral expression gave nothing away. I might die in the next five minutes, or he could ask me to assassinate a politician in Colombia.
Despite the chair next to me I remained standing.
“Good to see you, Jack.”
Was it? I responded with a slight nod. Nothing else.
He lifted his hand from the armrest and gestured toward my waist. “You mind?”
“They checked me out half a dozen times, Frank.”
“I’m sure they did. How about you humor me. Please?”
I lifted my shirt a couple inches, turned around. “Good enough?”
“Sure.” He scooped a pen off the desk, aimed it at me. “Have a seat.”
I sat back in the chair, rested my head against the glass window. It was bulletproof, and when the light in the frame was switched on, no one from the lobby could see in. It’d saved Frank’s life once. Unfortunately.
“Comfortable?” he asked.
I’d taken that posture in this very office a hundred times in the past. Don’t know that I was ever comfortable in here. Still, I nodded at him.
“Little,” Frank said, talking to his agent. “Close the door for me.”
Tattoo reached in and pulled the door closed.
“Little?” I said. “Guy’s built like a tank.”
“Ironic, right?” Frank placed his other hand on top of the desk. He’d left the pistol mounted to the underside of the desk. I glanced down at the steel divider preventing me from accessing the weapon. Frank leaned over his forearm. “Jack, what the hell happened down in Texas?”
I waved my hand in front of my face to disperse the smell of his aftershave. “Don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Can’t tell you the feeling in my stomach when your name flagged. I mean, there’s only a handful of people in the world who would show up on that report. Damn, we hadn’t had anything come up on it in three months. I’ll tell you what, Jack, it scared the shit out of everyone around that table. It went all the way to the top. You were included in a daily briefing that usually ends up with someone dying.”
“That’s why I’m here? My time’s up?”
He gnawed on the end of his pen, shook his head.
“Then why mention it?”
“The meeting? Just thought you should know.”
“Curious is all. I’ve been getting texts keeping me in the loop about a massive weapons deal supposedly going down soon. There’s four different agencies collaborating on this. The FBI, Homeland, DEA, one of those Texas groups. It’s supposed to be huge. Hearing we’ll take down one of the largest terrorist cells in the southwest.”
I said nothing.
He twirled the pen between his fingers, index to pink and back. “Earned yourself a lot of goodwill with this, Jack.”
Thinking about Texas led my thoughts to Reese. Frank had always been perceptive to the inner workings of my mind. Today was no different.
“I understand witness protection had to get involved. Someone you knew, right?”
I held his gaze for a few seconds, wondering where he was headed with this. “Yeah, old friend of mine. Met her during the Brett Taylor mission. Remember that?”
“I do, and I know about Reese McSweeney. Maybe I can pull some strings.”
“I figured I was here to die.”
“That’s up to you.”
I straightened in the chair. “How so?”
“The past is the past,” he said. “That’s how I feel, at least. I understand why you acted the way you did. If the roles were reversed, I probably would have put a gun to my head, too. You had me dead to rights. But you let me live. And, Jack, I’m grateful that you didn’t go through with it. Now, don’t you think I’ve totally forgotten about it. I may understand why. I may thank you for not killing me. But I can still get pissed thinking about it. And remember, I could provide enough testimony to put you away for ten to twenty, at a minimum. And we both know you wouldn’t last long in a cage.”
“So that’s it, huh? You don’t care, but you do. You’ll use everything you have against me, unless you won’t.” I placed my arms on the table, leaned forward. About a foot of air separated us. I could smell the ham sandwich he had for lunch, and the beer he washed it down with. “Listen up. I’ve got just as much on you, if not more. We can both go down, for all I care.”
Frank leaned back, spread his arms with his palms facing me, smiled. “Sorry, that came off as a threat, didn’t it? That’s not how I meant it. I really am over the whole thing.”
I was growing tired of the game. He was beating around the bush about whatever it was he wanted, making not so subtle threats toward me.
“OK,” I said. “Then my answer’s no.”
Frank laughed. “No to what?”
“Whatever the hell you’re about to ask me.”
“Let’s walk, Jack.”
Given the confines of the SIS headquarters, taking a walk was never a good thing. I had little choice at the moment, though.
We left his office and headed down the hallway away from the entrance. All the other offices were dark and empty. Same with the interrogation rooms. Frank and I had spent a lot of time in them, sitting on the same side of the table.
Obviously Frank no longer operated out of this place anymore. No one did. Not regularly. Perhaps it had been left in place for situations like this. Or worse. With the building now being off the grid, it could be used to deal with hostiles in a certain way. One that the politicians generally frowned upon.
The lights in the stairwell barely functioned. They illuminated the area enough to make it down the stairs, but that was about it. There could’ve been someone hidden on the first landing, and I wouldn’t have seen them.
The first sub-level smelled the same as it had five years ago. Which is to say it smelled like two week old squid nachos. We stopped in front of the meeting room where the team used to get together weekly and before any large missions. I expected to be greeted by some of Frank’s SOG agents. He reached inside, flipped a switch and the lights cut on. The room was empty.
He took a seat at one end of the large conference table. I sat on the opposite side.
“Other than Texas, what’ve you been up to?” he asked after settling in.
“That’s why we came down here?”
“Things were getting a bit intense upstairs. Figured a few minutes hanging out and catching up might help.”
“I’ve been drifting. Nothing more, nothing less. Saw my family for a day, left without saying goodbye, and started driving.”
“I lost track of you after you left Florida,” he said.
He was about to bring up his next bargaining chip. I hadn’t fallen for his threat to turn on me in court. Mia was his ace, though. I wanted nothing to happen to my daughter, especially because of me.
Frank continued. “I know you left without your daughter.”
I clenched my jaw, shook my head.
“What?” he said.
“Don’t say it, Frank. You can hold whatever you want against me, but so help me God, if you bring my daughter or family into this, I will unleash every ounce of my fury against you. Neither of us will leave this building alive today.”
Frank rose, walked down the side of the table closest to the hallway. I countered on the opposite side. We stopped in the middle. Four feet of cheap particle board separated us.
“I’ve got nothing on her, or anyone else in your family, Jack. You know me. That’s not how I operate.”
“Things change.” I could feel my blood pressure skyrocketing, my pulse pounding in my head, against my temples. My ears and cheeks burned.
“That they do.” He held out his hand as though he wanted to shake mine. “But I have a few strands of moral decency left. Hell, I’d help you protect them if your ass wasn’t too proud to ask. I’ve got the best operatives in the world working for me. No one asks questions.”
“Makes it that much easier, doesn’t it?”
“Christ, Jack. I’m trying to help you.”
“Think I would risk giving away their position to you?”
“You think I can’t find that out anyway?”
“There you go again,” I said. “You come across as saying you’ll help, but then you have to make those threats.”
“You are a paranoid son of a bitch, you know that, Noble?”
He was right. “Aren’t we all? How else have you and I survived in this business so long?”
“By trusting the right people.” He placed both hands flat on the table and leaned forward. It left him vulnerable. I could lay him out cold before he could move his jaw. And he knew it. “There was a time when you and I had each other’s back. Every goddamned minute of the day, man. We didn’t always get along, but we sure as hell made sure that we went home alive at night.”
“Trust me that nothing is going to happen to your family. Not even if word of this gets out.”
“Word of what?”
He looked up at me with a grave expression I’d only seen twice before. “We should head back up to my office.”
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