“It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties which make the defense of our nation worthwhile.”
Winter was grudgingly loosening its grip on the nation’s capital and snow gave way to a light drizzle as West and Edward made their way into the city. His Cadillac was found in the Parking Garage of Reagan International Airport, about a week after Northville had ‘borrowed’ it from West, along with a three-digit parking bill that West was stuck paying in order to get his car back.
“Did you talk to your friend at NSA?”
“Yeah. According to Southworth, a couple of stiffs were picked up outside of Abbottabad. That’s in Pakistan, by the way.”
“I didn’t think our troops went into Pakistan.”
“Um… Yeah… See, they DON’T. And that’s why there was no announcement about this; which ALSO suggests that someone thinks these guys are somehow important.”
Edward gave a cynical laugh and shook his head. “They sound like the perfect test case, anyway.”
“They should be. And remember: You’re not supposed to know about them!”
“Add it to list. Will Panetta be there?”
“I aksed that he be there. And considering the potential security threat we’re perceived as, I bet he’ll be there with a couple of agents in tow.”
Edward nodded and fell silent for the remainder of the trip over.
In the Oval Office, the President was not happy as he reviewed the day’s revised schedule with the Vice-President and his Chief of Staff.
“I don’t like this,” the Vice-President snapped, finally losing his patience. “We gave that son of bitch the whole Supreme Court, what the hell else does he want?!”
“Joe,” the President answered, as calmly as he could under the circumstances, “I sympathize, but what would you have me do?”
The older man fell silent, the memory of their botched assassination attempt still fresh in his mind.
“So failing that, we’re keeping him close. That’s our new policy, OK? If you want to challenge him when he’s here? Please DO. BE the ‘bad cop’ here. But we can’t be fighting amongst ourselves, OK?”
Both the Vice President and Chief of Staff nodded in agreement. Although they were not in agreement on the extent that they thought Edward was involved in the New Year’s Eve massacre, neither wanted to risk ANY potential wrath by obstructing him. At this point, the best they could hope for was to manage him and pray that he would be pushing things in a good direction. It was at that moment that CIA Secretary Panetta arrived.
“Morning, Leon,” the corpulent Chief of Staff greeted the veteran politico. “Just you?”
“Agents in the hallway,” he replied, pointing his thumb over his shoulder. “Your friend’s going through security now. Does anyone have any idea what this is all about?”
He would get his answer a short time later, as Edward got right to the point after some awkward, and somewhat sarcastic, pleasantries.
“Effective immediately, we will no longer torture terror suspects. No execptions.”
The Vice-President exploding in indignation before anyone else could respond. “Son, we are the United States of America! And we do NOT ‘torture!’”
But Edward didn’t even blink. “Oh, of course not Joe. Torture doesn’t get results. And whatever it is that you call what we do does. So let me clarify: Effective immediately, anyone we pick up will not be subject to any treatment or handling that you would not happily subject your own Grandmother to.”
The room was too stunned to react. Edward’s tone left no room for negotiation. Finally the President spoke.
“What is this all about?”
“Maintaining our moral authority, Mister President. Maintaining our position as the ‘good guys’ here. Making sure that the lives we’re saving are still WORTH saving by defending the Principles that make this Country worth defending in the first place.”
He was about to answer, but was interrupted by the V.P. “And you would have us risk HOW many lives in the name of ‘principle?’”
Daggers in Edward’s smile. “Mister Vice President, I thought you just said we didn’t torture? And besides, if it’s generally accepted that torture, sorry, enhanced interrogation, is less effective, it seems to me that YOU are the ones risking lives by using it.”
Secretary Panetta stepped forward, “Mister Carpenter, what you’re suggesting is that we should not use ALL of the tools at our disposal, according to what we truly believe the situation calls for. And, yes, that will put lives at risk.”
“Are you a betting man?” Edward asked slyly.
“No, not by nature. Not really, no.”
“Anyone? No? Well… I propose a wager anyway. You’re marines recently picked up a couple of guys outside of Abbottabad, yes?” A series of accusatory murmurs at that revelation. West made a herculean effort not to face-palm. “Let’s just say an angel told me about them. Can I assume that you haven’t fed them to the dogs yet, then? I’ll tell you what. Bring them HERE. This country, I mean, not the White House. But not Guantanamo, or any other infernal pit. Treat them well, Mirandize them, and even lawyer them up. Extend them every legal consideration and courtesy. And then give me their names, pictures and 24 hours. If I fail to deliver the goods? Do what you will with them. No one else need know they’re here, and I’ll never say another word about it, you have my word. But if they spill their guts? That’s how we’ll be doing thing from now on, OK?”
Nods of agreement from three men who had no faith in his ability to deliver, and thus only marginal intentions of having to hold up their end. Edward only hoped that at least one of the captives would have something to offer. In the heat of the moment, he took a bigger risk than he’d originally intended.
Back in the restaurant off of the lobby of the Four Seasons, the three new friends were eating lunch when Edward and West returned. The conversation was political, picking up from the day before. Professor Todd found himself at odds with both Paul, who while not particularly religious was still far from being the atheist that Robert was, and John who refused to concede that ANY scientific data coming from a Corporation that was being sued by a sick or injured customer could EVER be valid. The case of Dow-Corning’s Silicone Breast Implants, found to be perfectly safe after all despite many losses in court, according to Robert, was being debated as the example as Edward approached.
“So you lot are supposed to help me save the world, and here I find you in a bar, talking about boobs!”
After a good laugh and exchange of greetings, Edward got down to business.
“Guys, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be a little scarce. Epiphany and I have one more trip to take. There’s one more person I want to add to our little group.”
“Don’t we get a vote?” John asked, only half-jokingly.
“AFTER this one, yes. No one else gets in without everyone’s support. But the initial team was hand-picked by me, and it’s not actually complete yet. So… I’ve asked Gretchen to support you guys as far as getting any information from Congress regarding the legislation I’ve asked you to keep an eye on. Don’t let me down. She’s also coordinating the cleanup out in Manassas in my absence. She’ll let you know when the new digs are ready, and take care of your rooms, meals and *a-hem* drinks, while you’re here in the meantime. If you have any questions regarding security, or access, West here is as good a man as any for hooking you up with whatever you need… within reason.”
“Eddie, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you…” Paul had a very heavy matter on his mind. “Maybe these two haven’t thought this though, or don’t plan to, but what are we supposed to do about… well, our affairs; our old lives?”
Robert Todd and John Rydell had not given the matter a lot of thought, choosing instead to bask in the sunshine of their newfound youth, but a day more into it they were beginning to realize that something needed to be done, and they really hadn’t planned on anything.
“West and I have been discussing this for a while now. I’m afraid this is probably going to come off sounding very unsympathetic and business-like, but please understand: we don’t mean to be callous to those you’re saying good-bye to. It’s just that it’s imperative that, for now, no one really figures our, or catches onto what we really are. And it’s not just about our ‘work.’ It about our basic safety. I don’t want to end up in a government lab or secret prison for what could amount to forever. All the while, with them testing us, poking and prodding and trying to figure out what happened to us. How we did it. So with avoid that particularly horrible fate in mind… West?”
West gave a nervous laugh at being on the spot, his three-member audience turning to him with baited breath. “Basically… Right now… You’re going to check in at home – with family, work, someone, doesn’t matter who. Let them know that you’ll be staying here on business for awhile.”
“What business would I have had in D.C.?” John asked, laughing, as he had been unemployed when he agreed to take the trip.
“Pleasure, then. Let them know it will be while, and hint that it might end up getting extended. Robert, you can be on some manner of sabbatical. Paul, you can be working on some Government Contract - Auditing a Defense Company maybe, something like that. Then, as opportunities present themselves, you will be reported dead, and given new identities. You can keep your names and such, but officially you won’t be the same people.”
Paul looked nervous. “What do you mean… opportunities?”
Another nervous laugh from West. “Well… not to be morbid, but… unsolved murders, with unidentified victims. Maybe a mutli-car pileup on the beltway. Plane crashes are perfect for this sort of thing. We do this with witness protection and asylum seekers a lot. We’ll use the same technique, only… well, in this case, it won’t exactly be sanctioned. But don’t worry about that. For now just buy yourselves some time.”
Paul looked forlorn. In truth, he felt a lot better than it was in his nature to show. He was enjoying the feeling of being young, strong and healthy just as much as the others. And knowing he would stay this way, regardless of any effort on his part, certainly opened a lot of adventurous possibilities that he never would have considered in his old life. But at the moment his thoughts were on his frail Mother and soon-to-be-overwhelmed sister. He thought of how unfair it would be to saddle her with the family responsibilities that he had taken on, and then to soon have her mourning both her Mother AND older Brother… he couldn’t help to feel an overwhelming guilt. The only karmic balance in it all was his expectation that life with Edward, and immortality in general, would carry a burden and responsibilities that the others were not even grasping yet. He knew that there would be joy and satisfaction in their work, but for now he focused on the difficulties they would face to get his mind off of those he would soon be leaving behind.
The early evening sunset found West, Edward and Epiphany driving back out along Route 66 towards their Manassas compound. There was still no power, but the fireplaces, while intended to be ornamental, did actually work. Edward had some wood delivered to the lot, and he and Epiphany looked forward to spending some quality time fireside.
“I hope you don’t mind that I won’t be staying,” West inqured.
“Um, actually, I’d INSIST that you don’t stay!” Edward shot back, laughing.
“Ha! No, I didn’t mean that. I meant that camping out in the middle of winter, even if it is in a near-mansion, isn’t my cup of tea. So I’ll drop you off and head back into the city. Maybe see about finally buying you guys another car.”
Edward smiled at his defacto cheufeur’s little joke. “It’s on the list, West. It’s on the list.”
Edward’s phone rang. Unrecognized number. “This is Ed.”
“Mister Carpenter, do you know who this is?”
Though he was surprised to hear it, the voice was familiar enough for Edward to venture a guess. “Leon? I mean… Secretary…”
“Yeah, yeah. Listen… You were right this morning. We’ve got two guys in custody. And we WANT your help with them.”
“Uh-huh. And have they been treated well?”
“I can’t vouch for the comfort or quality of their meals on the flight over, but they haven’t be water-boarded yet, if that’s what you mean.”
“They better not have been. If I find out otherwise…”
“I won’t force you the threaten me, Mister Carpenter. I’ll send you their names, with known aliases, and pictures.”
“How? E-mail? I don’t have elec…”
“No, no. I can’t send them to YOU. It’s classified. Tell West they’ll be sent to his phone. He can show it to you, but once you’re done, he is under Executive order to delete the info. Understand?”
“Will that work for you?”
Edward glanced down at the Tablet, in has bag, tucked behind his laptop. “Yes, sir. That should work just fine. Treat these men well. Mirandize then, on camera, and in the presence of their lawyers. And then wait until about… about Eight O’Clock and make sure the recorders are running. All right?”
“And if this doesn’t work?”
‘Then you idiots didn’t do your homework,’ Edward thought. “Then I’ll never say another word about it. I never heard of them.”
“Excellent. We’ll be waiting.”
“I’ll come by in the morning to see how things went.”
He hung up and let Epiphany and West know that they had some work to do, once they got to Manassas.
‘ALI MUSTAFA HASSAN’ Edward punched into the Tablet, while looking at the picture on West’s phone. There was no question the page that opened was the right one.
“OK…” Edward began to type:
‘Will waive his right to remain silent. Will acknowledge any objections of his lawyer, and proceed regardless to give a full confession of any terrorism related crimes he has committed or intends to commit. He will divulge every single name and location of any terrorist operatives or leaders that he has knowledge of and lay out, in as much detail as possible, any planned terrorist operations that he is aware of. During this time, he will answer any direct questions as accurately, honestly and completely as he is capable and make any effort to be as helpful as possible to the people questioning him. His cooperation, and these conditions, will end at midnight, but he will never make the allegation that this information was in any way coerced, while otherwise living out the reminder of his of natural life, under his own recognizance, for the next 200 years.’
“Think that will do it?”
Epiphany preferred specifying some kind of punishment.
“No,” Edward answer flatly. “That will be for the courts to decide. Given the thorough, accurate and completely NOT coerced confession he be giving, assuming Panetta was being honest with me, and did what I told him to, should be enough for a conviction and an appropriate sentence. Don’t you think, West?”
The Agent read the paragraph a few more times before nodding. “Yeah, that should do it… assuming they picked up the right guys.”
“Exactly! Which is the OTHER reason we’re not passing judgment here. We don’t KNOW, for a fact, that these guys are actually guilty of anything… yet, anyway. But we sure as hell will know soon. OK… now to do the same thing for the other one…”
Edward copied and pasted the exact same verbiage into the second profile and waited unit 8:05, before hitting ‘EXECUTE,’ just in case the Government was slow in getting their recording devices set up.
Rather that make West spend the night in an unheated house, or risk being late the next day, the trio decided to drive back into town that night, grab a couple of rooms, and get to the White House as early as possible the next morning. While West was nervous about having another person play such a visible role, it was agreed that Epiphany would accompany them, but that she would play the part only of the silent observer.
They left a little bit earlier the following morning to allow time for her to be passed through security for the first time.
The trio entered the Oval Office to find the President meeting with the Secretary of State and the Director of Central Intelligence, with whom Edward had spoken the evening before, and who was now almost giddy, smiling from ear to ear, like an athlete who had just scored the game-winning point.
“Good morning Gentlemen. You already know agent West, I’d like to introduce you to Epiphany Wolport, one of my closest friends and advisors. I trust you had a productive evening?”
Secretary Panetta stepped forward, grasped Edward’s right hand in his and proceed to give it several strong pumps. “Sir? I don’t know how you did it, but you did this country a GREAT service last night. A truly great service!” His smile was almost creepy, his enthusiasm was somewhat unnerving.
“Oh? So… What did you find out then?”
The CIA Director looked over at the President, who just shrugged. “Well… We can’t tell you much of the details, but this guy was a veritable treasure trove of intel. Oh, my god… I mean, this MIGHT just get us close to…”
“Ah-hem!” The President cut off the other man.
“Well, suffices to say… Someone BIG. Really big.”
“And you’ll be able to try these men then?”
“Well, we hadn’t really considered what we were going to do next…”
“So you’ll be able to try these men then?” Edward repeated, sounding only slightly agitated.
The Director sighed. “Yes, well one of them anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the one guy spilled his guts. Gave us everything. And it seems he was some kind of courier, so he knew where all of the hidey-holes were.”
“And given his confession and affiliation, it sound like it should be a fairly simple matter to give him a trial.”
“Yes, yes,” the Director waved his hands impatiently. “The problem is the other guy gave us nothing. The instant the other guy starts talking, he stands up, waives his right to remain silent and then started yelling, ‘I didn’t do anything!’ ‘I don’t know anything!’”
“He doesn’t. You’ve got the wrong guy.”
“Bull-shit!” the Vice-President broke his silence. “He was found with correspondence on his person!”
“Going to who?”
“Hmph. That’s classified. Someone… important.”
Edward thought for a moment. “The same ‘big’ that the other guy’s leading you to?”
“So… You don’t think it’s possible that the courier saw your men approaching and planted the evidence on a nearby civi, in case he was searched, or to avoid you getting a hold of them if you picked him up?”
“Well, I suppose that’s possible…” Panetta conceded.
“You will release this man.”
“What?! Look, we had an agreement…”
“YOU WILL RELEASE THIS MAN! And if you want to avoid making an enemy of me and EVER benefiting from my help again, let us be crystal clear on what is going to happen. You WILL release him. You will APOLOGIZE. You will offer to fly him home first-class, or to fly his family here and offer him permanent asylum if he prefers. And you will COMPENSATE the man for the inconvenience you put his though,” Edward was now raising his voice, and talking over the objections of the Director, “And you will be so generous in doing so, so as to dispel any possibility that he will ever hold a grudge against this country and to the extent that he would happily go home and tell everyone how well he was treated by us, DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?!”
Edward stared, channeling his wrath into the Director’s eyes.
“And if we refuse?”
“Then you’re a fool who letting small-minded pride and ambition get in the way of his seeing the big picture. I’ll make this simple: Iran. North Korea. Happy New Year. You DO NOT want to make an enemy of me, Mister Director.”
Edward abruptly turned and stormed out of the office, passing Epiphany and West, who followed closely thereafter.
“Was that wise?” West inquired.
“They already fear me, and that’s important. It’s also important that they realize that I might be useful to them. Let their ambition lead them to want to keep me around.”
“So they can use you?”
Edward stopped and towards West. “Who’s using who here? If they want to think that they’re the ones asking me to do what I already planned to do anyway, then let them. The fact is that I’m the one who needs them, at least at the moment. They’re the ones with the power and the resources, but I’m the one who will decide how they use them. It remains theirs to keep, but make no mistake: I’m the one using them. And it is both their fear and their ambition that will allow that to happen.
And I want to know what happens to that man. Have your people keep track of him. If they harm even a single hair of his, we WILL be cleaning house again, make no mistake.”
“I will take care of it.”
The following night, sitting by the fireside, in his secure, yet still-dark abode, Edward looked at the Tablet. The Traffic lights which had been double-green the day before, for the first time in weeks, were Yellow and Red again.
He dialed Gretchen. “Hey. I need some help. Can you to set up another trip…? For two… Cambridge... Figure about two weeks… Thanks a bunch!”