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Chapter 2 – Before and After

I haven’t decided if I’m going to do this with the whole novel yet. But, I am definitely planning to do it with the first four chapters. The chapter four I release before was just a teaser. It has yet to be edited, in fact. Well, it was edited back when I first wrote it, as I needed to establish direction for the novel (which I learned was an exercise in futility, as the story wrote itself in the end). Anyway. Here’s chapter two as it was. 


 

By the end of the day, we were all exhausted.  It’s not as easy to read through several thousand pages as you might think.  In essence, each of us read two novels and reorganized the chapters into compendiums which we thought made more sense.  With the number of people working this floor, imagine it as a group of people all reading through the Harry Potter series, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Atlas Shrugged, then reorganizing them into new books based on a few perceived patterns.  Needless to say, we weren’t done at 5:00.

Doug Hanson, another Agent for the DSI approached me as I was cleaning up my desk. Doug dressed sharply on a budget. He somehow managed to find the nicest suits at thrift shops and bargain bins.  He stood a full head above me and had a tightly tied blonde ponytail down to his shoulders. He was pretty scrawny – practically a skeleton with skin – but he could outrun just about anybody I’ve ever met, including myself.  Despite this, he was unusually broad. I’ve been told by more than one criminal that the reason we could catch them wasn’t his speed but, the disorientation cause by seeing his strange frame. I had to agree. At times, it is a little disconcerting trying to reconcile his breadth with his lack of meat. To top it off, he wore small perfectly round glasses. Transitions, they’re called.

“Heather and I are gonna go get drinks, Jim. You in?”

“Yeah, let me get Hendricks too.  Where is the wetting of the beak tonight?”

“It’s that place on fifth and Columbus.  Flattery’s I think.”

“Flannery’s.”

“Right, whatever.  It’s been a long enough day without you doing that.  We’ll meet you there?”

I checked my watch.  Too many people use cell phones for everything these days.  At twenty to nine, I wasn’t going to get to the shooting range tonight and I certainly wasn’t going to start reading one of the many classic novels in my collection.  I’ve had enough reading for the next six months anyway.

“Yeah I’m in,” I replied, “just gotta touch base with Hendricks. We’ll do it on the way over.”

“Will see you there then… I’ll go ahead and get the first round.”

With that, he left.  Doug is a goofy looking individual but he means well and he has a big heart.  He’s another agent I’ve been in the field with.  Maybe it was the ten plus hours we tended to spend in the van – criminals don’t really work on your schedule – but, he’d kept me amused through some times so boring that I’d contemplated committing a murder-suicide.  Just to change the pace.  He could handle himself too.  The department seems to attract people who know how to fight well. Or maybe there is a correlation between IQ and combat savvy. I should look into that, find some studies on the militant mind or something.  I hate wondering about these things, I like answers. Welcome to DSI.

Hendricks was on the phone when I got to his door. I peered through the glass window and made a face at him. He didn’t seem to notice.  Two solid taps on the glass got his attention. He waved me in and wrapped up his call before I could open the door.  “Whew. Long day eh, Jimmy?” He waved a hand at the chair across from his desk. I sat down as he began cleaning up.

“We got it done. I tell you Ryan, they don’t pay us enough for the work we do.”

He flashed me a somewhat sleazy in retort. “Well, they don’t pay you enough”

“Does that mean you get paid more for the work, or you just do less work for the same pay?”

He let out a laugh and tapped his nose.  This Ryan is much better than the one running the ship.  I think he would get more productivity out of the team if he were to utilize his personality. I’m pretty sure I’ve read a study linking that kind of generally happy attitude in leadership reflecting in the work force.

“So, are we gonna go grab those drinks?”

“Yeah, we’re meeting Heather and Doug at Flattery’s Flannery’s. Damn it, Doug.”

“Hah, don’t start making errors on me now. I won’t be able to save you from being fired if you can’t speak-n-spell anymore.”

“I wouldn’t want you to.  Anyway, we got through all three cabinets, separated out security documents, listed out all the ID numbers of those with unrestricted clearance. We pulled out anything that referenced Hyperlite and filed it separately, though there wasn’t much outside of what I previously had.  Ryan, let me ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

“Are there any other floors working on this case?  Any other branches of the government?  I’m just a little confused by Alltech here. They are tying our hands with the information we receive, yet they are demanding we find a traitor in their organization, someone who had the ability to get past every security measure or otherwise gained access to Hyperlite.  It just seems weird.”

“Well, that’s exactly why DSI exists; we crack the cases that no one else can, regardless of the reason.  But to my knowledge, it’s just our team working on this.  Bernier must be pretty terrified to lose information on something so major. At this point, Alltech knows less about this thief than you or I. That’s reason enough for a man as powerful as Monsieur Bernier to be concerned.”

“Even so,” I half-thought, half-said, “he should be able to assume some level of trust to the government. Our contracts with his company notwithstanding, Alltech is still an industry leader in clean energy, cybertech, and a slew of other fields.  He should be able to trust this government enough to at least have a second team from DSI on the case. I would think he’d want as many people as possible in on this one.”

“Look, one thing I’ve learned after getting out of the field is that politics is a bitch.  The more power you have, the fewer people you can trust. It’s only those whom you have hand chosen to handle your affairs that you can trust to get things done.”  He ran his fingers through his greasy black hair and gave me a tired, frank look – one I hadn’t seen since we were making life-or-death decisions together.

I recognized his exhaustion and decided to wrap up the conversation. “Is Hyperlite really so revolutionary that it must be kept secret?”

 “My understanding is that this one is the project that unites every other endeavor Alltech has undertaken.” Hendricks took his jacket off of his chair and threw it over his shoulder. We walked down the stairway, through the empty office, lit only by the big city lights.

We waited for the elevator thirty floors below us, I commented. “Redefining every industry, eh?”

“It could lead to greater things than anyone ever imagined possible in our lifetime, Jimmy. This is the big one, and we need to recover any information that has left their facility so that it doesn’t get misused.”

“Right.”

The elevator finally reached us. Hendricks turned to me and flashed a wide grin, it would have looked villainous to anyone who didn’t know him. “You know what I love, Jimmy? Working with a hangover.”

 

By the time we arrived at Flannery’s Doug and Heather were already on their second or third drink of the evening.  We sat down on either side of them – I on Heather’s left, he on Doug’s right – and began drinking our preordained drinks. The conversation was pleasant; the atmosphere was pretty classic bar.

Flannery’s had red and green stained glass windows.  The lighting was all low-hanging, dim yellow bulbs. The whole interior of the bar was made of cedar – walls, furniture, bar, everything.  The décor was a little bit eclectic, consisting of a large bull skull above the bar, a few vases with a variety of flowers scattered around the restaurant section, and a Canadian flag above the entrance. There was a wooden barrier, about chest high, separating the bar from the restaurant section. It was topped with a slick brass beam running along its length.  Sometimes, I’m not sure what to make of this place but, they have the best happy hour around:  Buy one, get one free.

We drank the next round in silence. On the third round, Heather spoke.

“You know what really irks me about this case?”

Hendricks and I gave a quick glance around the bar; the bartender was in the restaurant section serving a nondescript man. They were shooting the breeze it seemed, maybe old friends. Neither was within earshot. Hendricks nodded at me as an “all clear” sign.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The hours… We aren’t getting overtime for this. It’s really rather demotivating to spend extra hours every day working on this and getting jack shit for it.”

Doug chortled and added, “We don’t even get a piece of the discretionary fund.  It’s not OUR money, it’s Hendricks’ money.” He looked over at Hendricks. “Maybe we could if someone didn’t have such expensive tastes.”

“When you’re running the office Doug, you can buy all the fancy suits you want. Besides, I got this one when I was a kid.”

“A kid?”

That was a pretty shocking statement, given his stature. All I could muster up was “Jesus, man.”

“How old were you when you first became a giant?” Heather inquired. “I mean, seriously Ryan, if you got that suit when you were a kid, then you were a freak of nature.”

“I hit 6’6” at 15 and just grew an inch a year for a while.”

Doug let out an impressed whistle, I eyed my scotch, swirling it in the cup with a smirk on my face. Heather’s eyes were twinkling with joyous curiosity. Hendricks is always fun when you’re buzzed.”

“The worst part,” he continued, nonchalant as though his freakish size were commonplace, “is that I grew so big, so fast, that I didn’t develop the coordination required to navigate this body until I was in college. I tried out for my high school’s track and field team once; I wanted to do the 110 meter hurdle. I could step over all of them now but back then, I couldn’t get my legs to jump on command; I tripped over all ten hurdles. I even dragged one with me.”

We all had a laugh. Doug and Heather had never heard this story before. I decided to put Hendricks on the spot. “Could’ve been worse though, right? You’re high school crush could have been there cheering you on.”

He threw me a quick look but he still had that cheeky smile on his face, the kind of smile you get when you have a memory you wouldn’t trade for the world. “Stephanie Jorgensen. She was watching from the bleachers… moved to town just a year before.  Barely spoke English but damned if she wasn’t the most beautiful woman I’ve seen, to this day.”

“Thanks for that,” Heather returned.

Doug threw in a quick aside, “You’re plenty hot, don’t sweat it.”

“I broke one ankle and sprained the other when the hurdle I was dragging knocked over another hurdle. I still managed to finish and dropped onto my knees. I cried like a baby and she laughed and laughed.” He snickered a bit on that last note. 

“You’re a lot more fun after work, Hendricks.” Doug patted him on the shoulder. “Have I told you that yet?”

“Every time we drink, Doug. Every. Fucking.Time.”

“Well, it’s still true.”

Heather turned to face them. I had a rather exhilarating view of the back of her head. “Why don’t you act this way more often? You know, I’ve checked out a few studies that concluded a positive attitude in management results in higher productivity in the work force.”  I knew it.

“Our work is different. And anyway, I don’t need the whole team asking about the Advetures of the Intrepid Imbecile.  I’d rather they see me as a leader to be respected and feared than respected and loved.”

“You catch more flies with honey, Ryan.” I quipped, much to Hendricks’ annoyance. I do enjoy instigating from time to time.

“I think the team would really take to you.” Heather added. She turned to me and gave a quick wink. It was nice to see that deviant smile of hers. The whole team is a lot of fun and we get our work done. These are my three favorite people though, the ones I wouldn’t have to worry about protecting in the field. Even the rusty Hendricks, five years out of the field, could step into any situation without missing a beat.

                “But still,” Doug began, “your mindless zombie work face isn’t as troubling as this Alltech thing. When was the last time we had to dedicate the entire floor to a single case, anyway?”

                “Not since I’ve been here,” Heather answered.

                “Nor I,” Doug continued.  “And the CEO, Bernier. He has the kind of power that drives men to madness. Asking us to dedicate our floor to this theft but, refusing us any other assistance. He’s even got other departments in the government refusing to help.”

                “I tried talking to my superiors.” Hendricks interjected, “The orders are to keep it as small as possible. Everyone in the government is required to have Alltech clearance authorization. When virtually anyone working for your multi-billion dollar corporation across the country could be responsible for something, you’ve gotta keep it close to the vest. The second the thief knows someone is pursuing them, it goes from a potential leak, to a leak. And that person would have a lot less junk to filter through to sell the information than we have in figuring it out. Plenty of dangerous people would pay more than a lifetime can spend to have the stolen information.”

                “I’m sure he’s handling the matter internally as well.” Heather reasoned. “He probably has the Alltech security department working on it full time. We are very likely just that extra set of eyes.”  As she said that, she batted her eyelashes in a most befuddling manner, and I could tell all three of us guys took notice.

                Doug rubbed his tired eyes under his glasses. “It’s just all so unorthodox.  Since when does the government take liberties with its policies on corporate espionage and national security?  This guy Bernier says the most important scientific development this government will ever see has been sabotaged and he wants one team and complete secrecy?  Tell me that makes sense.”

                “To your point,” I answered, “The government takes plenty of liberties with all of its policies.  The guys in charge tend to do whatever the fuck they want while the agencies therein monitor exactly those liberties to make sure they aren’t in violation of the very laws they set forth.”

                “Fuck politics so much.” Heather supplemented in a most ladylike manner.

                “As for Bernier and Alltech, I’ll be talking to him on Friday. These are all good questions for me to address with him.  I think I’ll try to spend the evening glued to him. Who knows? Maybe he really is just a terrified little boy worried about what the other kids are going to do with his toys. Maybe I can convince him to get us extra hands, if it comes to that.”

                Hendricks nodded in agreement. “All of this is just unfounded speculation stemming from frustration. Jimmy is going to be the first one of us to speak with anyone from Alltech.”

Doug’s jaw dropped. “You mean to tell me we are the only people looking into this and no one has spoken with Bernier yet?

“Bernier or anyone associated with Alltech. My orders came straight down the chain of command. The only person outside of the team I have heard anything from is my SO, and all he did was give me the mission brief.   But, this happened in July. I’m willing to be it came to us after several other agencies to a whack at it. Hell there could be other teams in the DSI working on it.  The point is, we have no fair reason to make any conclusive statement about the politics and procedures at play until after the banquet.  In the meantime, we hold our noses and do our jobs. Regardless of any external factors, someone stole information that could do real damage. No matter what, we gotta find it.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. I’m just venting frustration.”

Heather put her hand on Doug’s shoulder and gave a reassuring smile. “I’m right there with you.  I never would have had this kind of secrecy going in the Bureau.”

I had one more thought to add as I gathered myself up. I threw a few bucks on the bar for a tip and looked to Hendricks. He gave a slight nod confirming my drinks were covered. “Don’t forget, these are the kinds of cases they created DSI for.  If there weren’t this confusion, there wouldn’t be this job.”

 


 

And now, here is the current chapter two! Over the first three chapters, I’ve subtracted about 500 words but added about 1500. If this trend continues, there will be an additional 7000 words in this novel! Here are 600 of those 7000, mixed in with this chapter.

 


 

By the end of the day, everybody was exhausted.  It’s not as easy to read through several thousand pages as you might think—even with a full team working at it. To put it in perspective, we each read the equivalent of two novels and reorganized the chapters into compendiums which we thought made more sense – the grimoires of Alltech.  With the number of people working this floor, imagine it as a group of people all reading through the Harry Potter series and Lord of the Rings trilogy then, reorganizing them into new books based on a few coincidences.  Needless to say, we weren’t done at 5:00.

Doug Hanson, a fellow agent with plenty of experience, approached me as I was cleaning up my desk. Doug was the type of guy who could dress sharply on a budget. He somehow managed to find the nicest suits in thrift shops and bargain bins.  He stood a full head above me and had a tightly tied blonde ponytail down to his shoulders. He was a clear-cut example of a nerd. His features were long, drawn out, and generally sharp. To top it off, he wore small perfectly round glasses. Transitions, they’re called.

“Heather and I are gonna go get drinks. You in?” He placed his hands on my desk, casting a little bit of shadow over me.

“Yeah, let me get Hendricks, too.  Where should we wet our beaks tonight?”

“It’s that place on fifth and Columbus.  Flattery’s I think.”

“Flannery’s.”

“Whatever it is.  It’s been a long enough day without you doing that!  We’ll meet you there?”

I checked my watch. Cell phones be damned, my watch still tells time.  At twenty-to-nine, I wasn’t going to get to the shooting range tonight and I certainly wasn’t going to start reading some intense book like Dracula at this time of night.  I’ve had enough reading for the next six months anyway.

“Yeah I’m in,” I replied, “just gotta touch base with Hendricks. We’ll do it on the way over.”

“We’ll see you there then… I’ll go ahead and get the first round.” With that, he left. 

Doug is a goofy character… but he means well and he has a big heart.  He’s another agent I’ve been with in the field.  Maybe it was the ten-plus hours we tended to spend in the van – criminals unfortunately don’t work on your schedule – but, he’d kept me amused (by which I mean sane) through some times so boring that I’d contemplated committing a murder-suicide just to change the pace.  He could handle himself too.  The department seems to attract people who know how to fight well. Or maybe there is a correlation between IQ and combat savvy. I should look into that, find studies on the militant mind or something.  I hate wondering about these things, I like answers. I feel like there should be research on everything in existence by now. Then I wouldn’t have to ponder so much. Welcome to the DSI mind.

Hendricks was on the phone when I got to his door. I pressed my head to the glass window and made faces at him—a sign that work was over. He didn’t seem to notice.  Three solid taps on the glass got his attention. He waved me in and wrapped up his call in the time it took me to open the door.  “Whew. Long day eh, Jimmy?” He waved a hand at the chair across from his desk. I sat down as he began cleaning up. I think by that point, the chair’s cushion simply knew how to give when I sat down. It had only gotten more comfortable over years.

“We got it done. I tell you, they don’t pay us enough for the work we do.”

He flashed me a sleazy smile in retort. “They don’t pay you enough.”

“Does that mean you get paid more for the work or, do you just do less work for the same pay?”

He let out a laugh and tapped his nose.  This Ryan Hendricks is much better than the one running the ship.  I think he would get more productivity out of the team if he were to utilize his personality. I’m pretty sure I’ve read a study linking that kind of generally happy attitude in leadership reflecting in the work force. I should definitely find the data and present it to him.

“So, are we gonna go grab those drinks?” Hendricks inquired.

“Yeah, we’re meeting Heather and Doug at Flattery’s – Flannery’s!” I cursed Doug’s name.

“Hah!” It was a loud, coarse laugh. “Don’t start making errors on me now. I won’t be able to save you from being fired if you can’t even speak-n-spell anymore.”

“I wouldn’t want you to.” My response came with a classic grin, the kind you shouldn’t sport if you don’t have countless experiences in being right and the resulting job security.  “Anyway, we got through all three cabinets, separated out security documents, listed out all the ID numbers of those with unrestricted clearance. We pulled out anything that referenced Hyperlite and filed it separately, though there wasn’t much outside of what I previously had.”

            I stopped for a moment. I looked at Hendricks to make sure he was aware that something was coming.   “Ryan, let me ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

“Are there any other floors working on this case?  Any other branches of the government?  I’m a little confused by Alltech here. They’re tying our hands with the information we receive, yet they are demanding we find a traitor in their organization, someone who had the ability to either bypass every security measure or otherwise gained access to Hyperlite.  It just seems weird.”

“Well, that’s exactly why DSI exists; we crack the case, regardless of any kind of confusion.  But to my knowledge, it’s just our team working on this.  Bernier must be pretty terrified of losing information on something so major. At this point, Alltech knows less about this thief than you or I. That’s reason enough for a man as powerful as Monsieur Bernier to be concerned.”

“Even so,” I half-thought, half-said, “he should be able to assume some level of trust to the government. Our contract with his company notwithstanding, Alltech is still an industry leader in clean energy, cyber-tech, and a slew of other fields.  He should be able to trust this government enough to at least have a second team from DSI on the case. I would think he’d want as many people as possible in on this one.”

“Look, one thing I’ve learned after getting out of the field is that politics is a bitch.  The more power you have, the fewer people you can trust. It’s only those whom you have hand-chosen to handle your affairs that you can trust to get things done.”  He ran his fingers through his greasy black hair and gave me a tired, frank look – one I hadn’t seen since we were making life-or-death decisions together.

I recognized his exhaustion and decided to wrap up the conversation, despite the dozens of other questions burning my mindd. “Is Hyperlite really so incredulous that it must be kept this secret?”

 “My understanding is that this one is the project that unites every other endeavor that Alltech has undertaken. Hyperlite is purported to be an Alloy that will replace all others. No more plastic, no more metal… Just Hyperlite” Hendricks took his jacket off of his chair and threw it over his shoulder. We walked down the stairway through the empty office, our casual stroll lit only by the expanse of city lights.

We waited for the elevator thirty floors below us. After a minute or so silence, I commented. “Redefining every industry, huh?”

“It could lead to greater things than anyone ever imagined possible, especially in our lifetimes. This is supposed to be the big one, and we need to recover any information that has left their facility so that it doesn’t get misused.”

“Right.”

The elevator finally reached us. Hendricks turned to me, a wide-eyed smile locked on his face. Combined with the way he bore his teeth, the look could have been mistaken for villainous or even demonic to anyone who didn’t know him. “You know what I love, Jimmy?”

It felt like he was setting me up for some kind of shtick, so I bit. “What’s that, Ryan?” 

“Working with a hangover.”

 

By the time we arrived at Flannery’s, Doug and Heather were already on their third or fourth drink of the evening. The two were laughing and wobbling just a bit on their stools.  We sat down on either side of them – I on Heather’s left, Hendricks on Doug’s right – and began drinking our preordained drinks. The conversation was pleasant; the atmosphere was pretty classic bar.

Flannery’s had red and green stained glass windows.  The lighting consisted entirely of low-hanging, dim yellow bulbs. The whole interior of the bar was made of cedar – walls, furniture, bar, everything.  The décor was a little bit eclectic, consisting of a large bull skull above the bar, a few vases with a variety of flowers scattered around the restaurant section, and a Canadian flag above the entrance. The TVs around the bar were all tuned to the same soccer game. There was a wooden barrier, about chest high, separating the bar from the restaurant section. It was topped with a slick brass beam running along its length.  Sometimes, I’m not sure what to make of this place but, they have the best happy hour around:  Buy one, get one free.

We drank the next round in silence. On the third round, Heather spoke.

“You know what really irks me about this case?”

Hendricks and I took a quick glance around the bar; it’s something you learn to do when you spend enough time working with classified intelligence. Secrets only exist with active monitoring. If you don’t keep it secret, then it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if the guy who overhears your discussion is benign. There is likely someone else trying to extract the information you guard and you must assume they would torture and kill any random person to further their goals. A black operative I worked with once told me “paranoia is the key to survival.” When you’re wrong about being stalked, the situation can go south quickly. But when you’re right, you’ll be glad you kept your guard up.

The bartender hung around in the restaurant section, serving a nondescript man. They were shooting the breeze it seemed, maybe old friends. Regardless, neither was within earshot. Hendricks nodded at me, an “all clear” sign. He returned to his whiskey, studiously absorbing every detail of the liquor.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The hours… We aren’t getting overtime for this. It really is rather demotivating to spend four or five extra hours working on this case every day and getting jack shit for it.”

Doug chortled while adding, “We don’t even get a piece of the discretionary fund.  It’s not OUR money, it’s Hendricks’ money.” He looked over at Hendricks. “Maybe we could have some for ourselves if someone didn’t have such expensive tastes.”

“When you’re running the office Doug, you can buy all the fancy suits you want,” Hendricks smiled without batting an eye away from his drink. “Besides, I got this one when I was a kid.”

“Get out of here! A kid?”

That was a pretty shocking statement, given Hendricks’ raw size. All I could muster up was “Jesus, man.”

“Boss, How old were you when you first became a giant?” Heather inquired. “I mean seriously, if you got that suit when you were a kid, then you were a freak of nature.”

“I hit 6’6” at 15 and grew around an inch a year for a while after.”

Doug let out an impressed whistle, I eyed my scotch, swirling it in the cup with a smirk on my face. Heather’s eyes were twinkling, joyously curious. Hendricks is always fun when you’re mind isn’t buried in work.

“The worst part,” he continued, nonchalant as though his freakish size were commonplace, “is that I grew so big and so fast that I didn’t develop the coordination required to navigate this body until I was in college.” A hard laugh slipped out of my mouth despite my best attempt to repress it. I remember when Hendricks first realized how to long jump with his body.

“I tried out for my high school’s track and field team once,” He continued. “I wanted to do the 110 meter hurdle. I could easily step over all of them now but back then, I couldn’t get my legs to jump on command; I tripped over all ten hurdles. I even dragged one with me.”

We all had a laugh. Doug and Heather had never heard this story before. I decided to put Hendricks on the spot. “Could’ve been worse though, right? You’re high school crush could have been there cheering you on.”

He threw me a quick vengeful glare but he still had that cheeky smile on his face—the kind of smile you get when you have a memory you wouldn’t trade for the world. “Stephanie Jörgensen. She was watching from the bleachers… moved to town just a year before.  Barely spoke English but damned if she wasn’t the most beautiful woman I’ve seen to this day.”

“Thanks for that,” Heather muttered.

Doug threw in a quick aside, “You’re plenty hot, don’t sweat it.”

Heather shot him the bothered look of a tiger before it decides to make you into food while Hendricks continued his story. “I broke one ankle and strained the muscles in the other when the hurdle I was dragging knocked over one or two more hurdles. I somehow managed to reach the tape at the other end. I mean, I crossed it and immediately dropped onto my knees. I cried like a baby and she laughed and laughed…” He lingered on that last note a bit. 

“You’re a lot more fun after work, Hendricks.” Doug patted him on the shoulder. “Have I told you that yet?”

“I shit you not, Doug. Every time we go out, you do exactly this.”

“Well, it’s still true. Take the hint, man!”

Heather turned to face them. I had a sarcastically exhilarating view of the back of her head. “Why don’t you act this way more often? You know, I’ve checked out a few studies that concluded a positive attitude in management results in higher productivity in the work force.”  I knew it.

“Our work is just… different. And anyway, I don’t need the whole team asking about the Adventures of the Intrepid Imbecile.” Hendricks shook his head, chuckling under his breath.  “I’d rather they see me as a leader to be respected and feared than respected and loved.”

“You catch more flies with honey, Ryan.” I quipped, much to Hendricks’ disapproval. I do enjoy the poking of the bear.

“I think the team would really take to you.” Heather added. She turned to me and offered quick wink. It was nice to see that deviant smile of hers. The whole team is a lot of fun when we get our work done. These are my three favorite people though, the ones I wouldn’t have to worry about protecting in the field. Even the rusty Hendricks, five years out of the field, could step into any situation without missing a beat.

            “But still,” Doug began, “your mindless zombie work face isn’t as troubling as this Alltech thing.” He glanced around as he spoke. The bartender was sitting with that fellow, chatting up a storm. “When was the last time we had to dedicate the entire floor to a single case, anyway?”

            “Not since I’ve been here,” Heather answered.

            “Nor I,” Doug continued.  “And the CEO, Bernier. He has the kind of power that drives men to madness. Asking us to dedicate our floor to this theft but, refusing us any other assistance. He’s even got other departments in the government refusing to help. Whatever’s going on, I think we need to be cautious of Bernier himself.”

            “I tried talking to my superiors.” Hendricks interjected, “The orders are to keep it as small as possible. Everyone involved in federal law enforcement and policymaking is required to have Alltech clearance and authorization-”

“That should tell you something right there!” Doug insisted.

Hendricks paid him no mind. “When virtually anyone with access to your multi-billion dollar corporation across the country could be responsible for a crime, you’ve got to keep it close to the vest.”

“The second the thief knows someone is pursuing them,” I added, “it goes from a potential leak, to a leak. So far there is no reason to believe the theft has tried to move the information. They could have been working for another corporation, not necessarily an independent broker.”

Hendricks continued, “And that person would have a lot less junk to filter through in selling the information than we have in figuring it out. Plenty of dangerous people would pay more than a lifetime can spend to have the stolen information.”

“Or spill more blood than a lifetime produces.” I commented. Maybe it was the alcohol but, I felt that line too poetic to pass.

            “I’m sure he’s handling the matter internally as well.” Heather reasoned. She was probably the most rational person in the group. Even though we hadn’t operated together yet, I knew she was DSI material. “He probably has the Alltech security department working on it full-time. We are very likely just that extra set of eyes.”  As she said that, she batted her eyelashes in a most befuddling manner, and I could tell all three of us guys took notice.

            “That would explain our office being the only government team involved,” I responded.

Hendricks added, “It could also potentially write off the concern about our documents being censored. If Heather’s hypothesis holds any water, then I’m sure his security team is looking at more up-to-date and unrestricted information than any of us.”

            Doug rubbed his tired eyes under his glasses. “It’s just all so unorthodox.  Since when does the government take liberties with its policies on corporate espionage and national security?  This guy Bernier says the most important scientific development this government will ever see has been sabotaged and he wants one team and complete secrecy?  Tell me that makes sense.”

            “To your point,” I answered, “The government takes plenty of liberties with all of its policies.  The guys in charge tend to do whatever the fuck they want while the agencies therein monitor exactly those liberties to make sure they aren’t in violation of the very laws they set forth. We protect the common citizenry by watching the national elites and other vermin. ”

            “Fuck fucking politics.” Heather supplemented in her best ladylike voice. She followed the eloquent statement by hammering back a full vodka-cranberry.

            “As for Bernier and Alltech, I’ll be talking to him tomorrow. These are all good questions for me to address to him.  I think I’ll try to spend the evening glued to him. Who knows? Maybe he really is just a terrified little boy worried about what the other kids are going to do with his toys. Maybe I can convince him to get us extra hands if it comes to that.”

            Hendricks grunted his agreement. “All of this is just unfounded speculation stemming from the goddamn frustration. Jimmy is going to be the first one of us to speak with anyone from Alltech.”

Doug’s jaw clenched. Heather was right; we were all getting pretty worked up. “You mean to tell me we are the only people looking into this and no one has spoken with Bernier yet?

“Bernier or anyone associated with Alltech.” I corrected.

“My orders came straight down the chain of command. The only person outside of the team I have heard anything from is my S.O., and all he did was brief me on the situation: the alloy, the thief, the secrecy.   But, this happened back in July. I’m willing to bet Bernier came to us after several private agencies tried to figure it out. Hell, there could even be other teams in the DSI working on it under just as much shroud as we are.” Hendricks noticed the lost look on Doug’s face. He was losing the crowd as the alcohol kicked in. “The point is, we have no evidence to make any conclusive statement about the politics and procedures at play—at least until after the banquet.  In the meantime, we hold our noses and do our jobs properly. Regardless of any external factors, someone stole information that could do real damage to a lot of people if it fell into the wrong hands. No matter what, we have to find it.”

“Jesus, I’m just venting, man.”

Heather put her hand on Doug’s shoulder and gave a reassuring smile. “I’m right there with you.  I never would have had this kind of secrecy going in the Bureau. Over there, everyone needs to know everything.”

“I’m glad we don’t have to deal with oversight committees unless things go terribly wrong,” I smiled and threw a few bucks on the bar for a tip and looked to Hendricks. He tipped his head, confirming my drinks were covered. “Enjoy the rest of the night. I’m going to go home, get some sleep and not feel crappy working at 8am.”

 

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