Phillip Henry is dreaming his favorite dream.
He’s retired, sitting in his living room, watching television when the doorbell rings. He tries to ignore it, sinking further into his favorite chair and trying to concentrate on the infomercial for denture cream so strong it can also be used to tile your kitchen floor. The doorbell rings again, and again, and again and again until finally he decides whoever it is isn’t going away.
He turns off his television, gets out of his chair, and goes to the front door. Standing on his stoop are two men in dark suits, wearing dark sunglasses, waiting stoically for the door to open. Phillip tightens his bathrobe and opens the door.
“Agent Henry, the United States Government requires your help on an urgent matter.” No introduction, no preliminary small talk. “It is a matter of National Security, and the President himself has requested your involvement.”
The two men stand there expectantly, waiting for him to answer.
Phillip straightens, looks at both men, and nods once.
“No,” he says.
He shuts the door, locks it, and goes back to his chair, smiling as turns on the television and turns up the sound to drown out the urgent ringing of the doorbell.
* * *
He wakes up to the sound of his cellphone. It’s his government phone—the one he’s not allowed to turn off—and it takes him a few seconds for the sound to register. It’s one of the special ring tones that means someone is calling him on an emergency line. He sits up quickly, grabbing for the flashing, vibrating phone sitting on the hotel room nightstand.
“This is Henry.” His voice is still thick with fatigue.
Phillip Henry recognizes the voice, and decides it’s time to wake up now.
“Travers.” Phillip exhales heavily. “I guess we haven’t changed any of the emergency access codes yet.”
Travers chuckles. “Most were changed. A few were overlooked. It took a few tries.”
“And you used one of the unchanged codes to contact me directly.” Phillip minimizes the phone display and switches over to text messaging. He composes a quick message—TRACE THIS PHONE NOW—and sends it off to Division M. “I suppose I’m flattered.”
“You sound tired.” Travers sounds the way he always does—mild, vaguely friendly, unconcerned. As if he were simply calling to catch up with an old friend. “Are you getting enough sleep?”
“You aren’t helping that at the moment,” Phillip says. He switches back to the phone interface, turns on the speakerphone, and sets the phone down on the table.
“Sorry for waking you,” Travers says, “but I thought we should talk.”
“I’ll be more than happy to listen to anything you have to say.” Phillip grabs a pair of pants slung over the back of a chair. “Turn yourself in first.”
Travers laughs. “I like that you’re giving me that option. It’s very by-the-book. Are we on speakerphone?”
“I’m getting dressed,” Phillip says, grabbing his shirt. “Why are you calling me, Travers?”
“I told you. I thought we should talk.”
“That’s not very specific…” Phillip rummages through one of the hotel drawers for a clean pair of socks. “What are we talking about?”
“We made eye contact. Right before I… left the office early.”
“We did,” Phillip says. He grabs a pair of dark socks and sits on the bed.
“You and I both know what that means. I wasn’t lying to you—I couldn’t. So you know I’m not a traitor.”
“No,” Phillip says. “I don’t know anything. I’d like to remind you that just before you delivered that grand, dramatic speech of yours, you attacked us with a neurotoxin.”
“It wasn’t lethal,” Travers says.
“No it wasn’t,” Phillip agrees. “But it was a neurotoxin. I have no idea how it may have affected my talents. For all I know it was making me believe everything you said was the truth whether it was or not.”
Phillip can’t tell if Travers is silent, or if he hung up the phone. For a second he’s afraid the line has gone dead... then he hears Travers sigh.
“Fair enough,” Travers says. “I wasn’t taking into account that scenario when I first installed it. I suppose I’ll have to rely on your instinct, then.”
“My instinct says you deployed a neurotoxin device in a Federal building.”
“That’s not your instinct, that’s your rational mind.”
“Fine,” Phillip says. “My rational mind says you deployed a neurotoxin device in a Federal building, and my instinct tells me there’s no reason a Federal employee would set that up in his office, on the 28th floor, unless he was afraid another Federal employee would be coming after him.”
“What was my biggest assignment in the last decade, Phillip?” Travers sounds defensive—that’s good. Defensive people tend to focus on their justifications more than what’s going on around them. “What was my biggest case?”
“PRODIGY was an outlier,” Phillip says.
“An outlier? All that money that went into its infrastructure, all those dummy corporations, all the military investment that went into creating drones based off those poor kids—you think that was a one-time, off-the-cuff operation? No, Phillip. The resources necessary to support that operation were significantly larger than the ones we found. The people behind PRODIGY are still out there, and they’re still in the government. If they weren’t I would have found more.”
Phillip grabs his shoes. “Travers, we’ve had this discussion before, and my answer is the same now that it was then: sometimes, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, the answer to the question includes a magic bullet. You would be more convincing if you could point to anything—anything at all—that would serve as proof.”
“I hope to get that for you,” Travers says.
“Oh?” Phillip doesn’t bother hiding his impatience. “When exactly will that be?”
“It’s been three minutes,” Travers says. “You should have your trace by now. Keep your eyes open.”
The phone goes dead.
“Damn it…” Phillip straps on his shoulder holster, then reaches for his jacket.
His phone rings. It’s a Division M number.
“This is Agent Henry.”
“We traced the call,” the voice on the line says.
“Good.” Phillip takes a pair of sunglasses out of his jacket inside pocket and puts them on. “Send me the location. Deploy my team and send backup. I’ll be there soon.”
* * *
Travers’ call is traced to one of the parts of the city that has been largely ignored by city leaders. It’s “old school” New York—graffiti over every exposed surface, broken windows, bars in window frames and across doors, and not a single working street light on the entire block. When Phillip drives to the address he sees Division M has closed in around a small, grimy motel. The parking lot is full of police cars, and police on the scene are shoving a line of handcuffed people into the backs of cars.
There shouldn’t be police here.
As soon as he turns into the parking lot his car is blocked by four cops with weapons drawn, shouting commands for him to keep his hands on the steering wheel, stop the car, unroll the window, keep the window rolled up, get out of the car, stay in the car—none of them are giving him a coherent set of instructions, and if he reaches for his badge one of the idiots is probably going to shoot. It’s not until a man wearing a dark trench coat grabs one of the police by the arm, shouting at the top of his lungs, that they stop.
Phillip gets his badge out, makes sure it’s hanging visibly from his jacket’s breast pocket, then turns off his car. He steps out into the humid evening, his face set in a snarl of anger.
“Grant, what the hell is going on here?”
The man in the trench coat, a tall, thin man with dark, slicked-back hair, still has one of the officers held in a firm grip. “Not sure, boss. We’re trying to figure that out now. But first I’m trying to keep these idiots from shooting a highly decorated federal agent!”
The officer opens his mouth to protest, then closes it again immediately, nodding once, looking chagrined. Grant lets go of his hand. “All right. This man—” Grant points at Phillip. “Is my boss. That means he is in charge of this scene.”
The cop quickly switches from chagrin to outrage. “Bullshit. Why do the feds care about a vice sting?”
“It’s not a vice sting!” Grant sounds like he’s about to pop. “I told you assholes, we are trying to track down a dangerous fugitive—”
“Grant.” Phillip has collected himself and steps up to place a restraining hand on the agent’s shoulder. “I’ll take it from here.”
Grant nods once and steps aside. Phillip looks at the four police who tried to intercept him, smooths out his jacket’s left sleeve, and says “I’m Phllip Henry. DHS is tracking a rogue federal agent with suspected ties to metahuman terrorist groups. He made a telephone call from one of the rooms in that motel.”
The police officer’s eyes widen in surprise.
“Agent Grant,” Phillip continues, “I need you back on the scene, now.”
“I’m there,” Grant says. “Frank and Hu are bringing in our gear. Second floor, room 221.”
Phillip nods and keeps his attention focused on the one who spoke earlier. “I need to speak to the officer in charge, as soon as possible.”
The man looks at Grant, then back at Phillip, and nods reluctantly. “Follow me.”
Phillip starts to follow. “Grant, keep the scene secure.”
“Already on it,” Grant calls back. He glowers at the police. “Now if you’ll get the hell out of our way, I’m going to park my boss’s car…”
Phillip follows the officer to the other side of the motel, where even more flashing police cars are parked in a line at the end of the lot.
“You have a lot of police on the scene for a prostitution raid,” Phillip says.
“Yeah.” The officer shrugs. “I didn’t plan it, Agent Henry. You need to talk to the Lieutenant.”
They walk to the center of the line of cars, where a number of men dressed in tactical uniforms—body armor with police logos—are standing in a group talking. The officer stops a short distance away and shifts his weight nervously, not quite willing to get their attention. Phillip steps up next to the officer’s side and waits.
Finally the man at the center of the group looks up. He’s a middle-aged, weather-beaten man with short, gray hair, pattern baldness accentuating his widow’s peak. He looks from the officer to Phillip, then he frowns.
“What?” His voice is brisk and sharp. He’s used to being in charge.
The officer gestures toward Phillip. “The Department of Homeland Security showed up…”
“Agent Phillip Henry, Division M.” Phillip steps forward and extends his hand. “It looks like we’ve stepped on each others toes.”
The man narrows his eyes. He shakes Phillip’s hand briefly—reluctantly—and says “Clive Darius. Vice. All due respect, why the fuck do the Feds care about gang prostitution?”
Phillip raises an eyebrow. “We don’t. We’re chasing a fugitive and possible terrorist.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” Darius says. “I’ve been planning this sting for weeks. I’m not saying your job ain’t important, but that don’t give you the right to step all over ours.”
Phillip stares at Darius for a long moment, then nods. “Lieutenant Darius, it’s not our wish to interfere with your operation. Our suspect checked into Room 221. We’ll need a copy of the ledger at the front desk to see what alias he was using when he checked in, as well as how he paid for his room, and we’ll need your men to stay away from that part of the motel while we perform our investigation. Once it’s complete I promise you we’ll be on our way.”
“I want to say no,” Darius says, “but the Captain will chew my ass out if I do. Fine. Keep your guys away from my guys, and maybe we can both go home happy.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.” Phillip turns and walks back to the motel. He pulls out his cell phone and calls Agent Grant.
“Yeah, boss.” Grant’s voice is a lot calmer now.
“Meet me at the lobby. We need to check the ledger.”
“The ledger,” Grant says. “Yeah, funny story about that ledger. It’s not there any more.”
Phillip takes a deep breath. “Tell me at the lobby.”
Agent Grant is waiting for him in the lobby. Grant is best described as a “rumpled” man—he wears the “uniform” of Division M (dark slacks, coat, and tie, white collared shirt) very reluctantly and takes it out on the Federal Government by looking like a slob. He’s in his early thirties and still dresses like a college student. Phillip is hoping he’ll grow out of it soon.
“So the ledger,” Grant says, pointing at the table. “You’ll notice it’s not here.”
“I do, in fact, notice that,” Phillip says. “Where is it, Agent Grant?”
Grant shrugs. “When I saw the cops all over the place, I made a beeline for it while we entered the room. Of course I saw a uniform trying to pick it up and put it in one of their plastic baggies—I told him to cut it out on the grounds that I had a much better looking badge. So naturally we started shouting at each other.”
“Naturally,” Phillip says. Phillip doesn’t consider himself a very social man—he hasn’t developed any skills that make it easier for strangers to like him. Agent Grant, by way of contrast, has spent a lot of time improving his ability to really piss people off.
“At one point in the argument, we both noticed the ledger was gone. Somebody made off with it while we were preoccupied.” Grant smiles slightly. “It’s a big mystery.”
Some of the weight that had been pushing down on Phillip’s head since his conversation with Lieutenant Darius lightens a bit. “OK. Well, we’ll have to investigate the scene, then.”
“Yeah,” Grant says. “I recommend that.”
Grant leads them up the outside staircase to the top balcony. 221 is at the far end. When they get there, the door is open. Two uniformed Division M agents are standing at each side, armed with rifles.
“Everyone’s inside,” Grant says. “I’m gonna go check the trash, I don’t think the police have screwed that part up yet.”
Phillip nods and steps through the door as Grant heads back to the balcony stairs.
It’s a very standard motel room: two double beds set against one wall, a single curtained window next to the door, the radiator/air conditioning unit set under the window. Across from the beds is a desk, a table, and an old, broken television that is chained to the table. The sink and bathroom are at the other end of the room. The carpet smells strongly of mildew.
Two men and a woman are in the room. Agent Brian Frank, a short, wide-shouldered man with a thick, blonde mustache, is running a black light over the sink and surrounding fixtures. Agent Lijuan Hu, a tall Asian woman with a distinctly reddish tint to her skin, is running a much more sophisticated scanning device along one of the walls. Reclining on one of the beds, paging through what appears to be the hotel ledger, is Agent Grant.
“Looks like he checked in a few days ago,” Grant says, not bothering to look up. “Under your name, boss.”
“You’re kidding.” Phillip walks over to Grant and picks up the ledger.
“Line 34,” Grant says. “It’s not hard to miss. Most people check in here as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith.’”
“I’ll bet they do,” Agent Hu says, trying not to laugh.
Phillip looks at line 34. Definitely his name, definitely Travers’ handwriting.
“Are you absolutely sure nobody saw you take this?” Phillip says, gesturing with the ledger.
“Nobody saw a thing,” Grant says. “They were too busy watching me tear into the other guy. We’d just cleared the scene here, so I flipped, grabbed it, then flipped up here. Once we noticed it was missing I accused the poor cop of getting one of his buddies to make off with it while we were fighting.”
“Why did he use your name?” Hu asks. “Is he playing a game?”
“Yes,” Phillip says. “Just not sure which game. He wanted us to trace his call.”
“He hasn’t left any prints,” Agent Frank says, turning off the black light. “If I break out the more expensive tools I’ll probably find DNA, but—”
“No need,” Phillip says. “Travers was here. The question is, did he leave before the police arrived, or did they get him?”
Hu, Frank, and Grant look at Phillip in surprise.
“The cops?” Grant asks. “Those jokers? The ones who almost shot you?”
“No,” Phillip says. “I doubt they were involved. But their Lieutenant—I want a profile on Lieutenant Clive Darius on my desk by noon.”
“He lie to you, Phillip?” Agent Hu asks. Everyone in the group knows that’s a bad idea.
“He tried very hard not to,” Phillip says. “And he almost pulled it off.”