Disclaimer: If you recognize it, it's not mine. This story is on an AU track.
Chapter 15: Laying The Framework
"So," Amita asked. "Who is this mystery guy?"
"Frederick Hart." Charlie pulled a photo from the stack and pinned it to the board. "He's been bugging me for a while, but this is the first time I've been able to support it with the math."
"So that's why you hid all the identifying information when I came in."
"Yeah. I wanted to be absolutely positive that the numbers stood up on their own."
"Well, they do." Amita set the marker down and turned to the small assembled group. "No doubt about it. This is your third-level connection."
"Back up...third level?"
Charlie audibly sighed, turning to the blonde consultant. "If you'd been here yesterday when I was explaining my model, you'd know what a third-level connection is."
"Remember the analogy Charlie made to a tree?" Zach jumped in before another conflict could spark. "Well, the first level – that's the most junior people, farthest from the center of power – that's like the leaves. A second-level connection is the tiny branch that connects a few leaves together. And a third-level connection –"
"Is the next level up," Jane finished. "Why didn't you just say that to begin with?"
"I wouldn't have had to if –"
"All right, that's enough." Bobby had apparently decided it might be necessary to back up Zach in preventing a fight. "We can argue terminology and methodology later. What matters right now is that, based on the math and our profiles, Frederick Hart is almost certainly connected to what's been happening."
"I'd lay odds on it," Charlie agreed, his argument with Jane instantly forgotten. "And I think he's the key. I'm not sure exactly how yet, but whatever this is, he's deep in it."
"You think he could be our leader?" Zach asked.
"Not quite. There are a couple of links that still don't fit. But he's close. Maybe second or third in command to the leader."
Bobby reached for the file. "What do you suggest?"
"Me?" Charlie replied, startled. "I'm not an expert in police tactics...specific methods, sure, but not policing as a whole. I mean, you can't arrest him based on this, right?"
"That's right," Zach confirmed.
Bobby stood slowly, starting to slowly pace the room. "Maybe arresting him isn't what we want. At least, not yet. These people, we bring them in, they shut down, and we get nothing, and we've tipped them off that we're close to boot. But if we can avoid tipping our hand, we might be able to get him to tip his. Charlie," he said, abruptly turning to the mathematician, "the information you used to show that Hart is involved...pull together anything you have that doesn't require massive supposition or deduction; unfortunately, I doubt a judge will buy math as evidence, for the same reason they don't buy profiling. Too much of it depends on the investigator's reading of the evidence. But any of the things you used to base your numbers on, except the profile, should cut it. Amita, you and Wylie should try to do the same with his Internet activity. See if we can pull together enough evidence for a wiretap warrant. I think we'd be well-served to know who he's talking to and what he's saying. In the meantime, I'll go talk to Alex about getting some surveillance and pulling his LUDs...that will at least answer the who, if not the what, which may connect a few dots. Uh...great work guys," he added after a moment. "I think we're on to something."
"You do nice work," Alex commented with a smile. "Better watch out, or I might start begging you to come back to the department."
"Hmm. One small problem."
"Well, I'm not sure where you'd find a partner who'd have me. You see, the only partner I ever really got along with was this certain little blonde detective, and, well, I think I'm a little too attached to the benefits of not being her partner anymore..."
He bent down, and Alex reached up to meet him halfway. As their lips touched, she finally, for just a moment, allowed herself to forget the stress of the past few days and the incredible stakes that still loomed over her. "Mm," she whispered. "That is...an excellent point."
But she couldn't hold back the knowledge of the bigger picture for long. Sighing, she stepped back from her fiance's embrace. "All right. Let me get the ball rolling on surveillance, then I'll call the phone company for the LUDs. What were you saying about a warrant?"
"I was thinking we ought to wiretap him. I've already got the others pulling together the evidence. Know a friendly ADA?"
Alex shook her head. "No, but I don't think the state courts are what we want right now anyway. This is a domestic terrorism case, we can probably get a warrant quicker through the federal court, and with a broader scope."
"Yeah, but that means you have to go through the US Attorney, doesn't it?" he replied. "You've complained about them dragging their heels before. It may be faster to get it approved, but in terms of getting it in front of a judge in the first place..."
"I know." She sighed. "It's one of the things I miss most about working straight NYPD. At least in Major Case, we had an ADA basically on standby. What I wouldn't give sometimes to have a... a US Attorney just hanging around."
"What?" Bobby noticed the small shift in Alex's demeanor as she spoke those last words. "What is it?"
"Something Zach said to me. Giving people a task... I have an idea. In the meantime, keep pulling those documents together. And tell everyone I said 'good work'."
"Where are you going?"
She gave him a half smile. "To find an ace in the hole."
She stepped out into the squad room, looking around for someone who might be able to point her in the right direction. But then a voice came from behind her. "Lieutenant Eames?"
She turned sharply. "Ms. Brooks!"
"Please, call me Robin. I'm sorry, did I startle you?"
"Just a little." It was a flat-out lie, but a necessary one. Robin had had no way of knowing that Alex hated and feared being approached from behind, especially when the person was right on top of her before she realized it, and it wasn't something she wanted to go into.
"I'm sorry, then. I just wanted to thank you. I don't think you realize – what you said to me, about Don, about what he told you – it's the first hope I've felt since this disaster began."
"You're welcome, and don't worry about it. Actually, you're just the woman I wanted to see."
She raised an eyebrow slightly. "What, are you checking up on me? I appreciate the thought, but I'm okay. Really"
"No, it's not that. Actually... Robin, I need your help."
"Good news," Alex announced triumphantly, poking her head into the small conference room. "Judge granted the wiretap application. I've already got our tech people working on it. I'm hoping we'll get lucky and they'll say something incriminating, but in the meantime, I've instructed them to forward anything that sounds even remotely significant, in case it helps with the profile."
"That wasfast," Bobby commented. "How'd you manage to light a fire under the AUSA?"
Alex shrugged. "Sometimes, you just have to have the right person saying the right words. It just so happened I had that available. I just wished I'd thought to record the conversation so I'd remember the words to use the next time they give me trouble."
"We've got some progress here too," Zach chimed in. "We've been using his LUDs to try to pull together a call pattern. Even if we don't know what he's been saying, knowing who he's been talking to could help with the network analysis, and it might also give us a sense of if there are specific calls to focus on with the wiretap."
"Sounds reasonable." Alex gave him a small smile. "Where are you at with that?"
"Right now, I'm analyzing his calls from last year," Charlie replied, glancing up briefly from the pile of papers in front of him. "There is a certain amount of imprecision here, since any number of factors are involved, but I'm close to establishing a general pattern, enough for us to work with anyway."
"Last year?" Alex repeated. "You think they were discussing this that far back?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, actually I don't, but that's the point. The thing is, if I only look at his recent activity, my ability to identify the significance of any particular data point is limited – I can only compare it to general concepts of what is or isn't normal. In order to make the most effective use of the data, I need to know what's normal for him. So I'm going through his activity from last year because it's recent enough to be relevant, but long enough ago that activity related to this plot shouldn't have started to show up yet."
"That...actually makes a lot of sense," Alex admitted after a moment. "Good. Let me know if you get anything major." She stepped out of the conference room, pulling the door shut so the group wouldn't be disturbed, before turning back to the main squad room. "Serena," she added, waving the detective over as she spotted her. "Where are we on that surveillance detail?"
"Colby and Liz have been there for the past hour," she reported. "Unless you object, we'll be doing it in six-hour rotations, four rotations per day. Lisbon and Cho are up next, then I figure I'll grab someone for the third shift. Then Warner and Granger again, and so forth. I know, it means only twelve hours between shifts, but given that no one's getting a lot of down time anyway, I thought shorter shifts might work to our advantage, you know, keep anyone from getting too complacent."
"Yeah, I hear you." She was nodding. "Sounds good, carry on. And you know what, that third shift – I think I have an idea. Give me a minute and I'll set it up. And thanks."
Mike let out an audible sigh, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. Great. Now I'm so tired I've started hallucinating. And to make matters worse, I'm hallucinating this. Isn't it bad enough she haunts my dreams?
He opened his eyes again after a moment, hoping that the figure would have disappeared. But it hadn't. The little girl still stood there, staring at him. He could see her as clearly as he had on that cold street corner six months earlier. His fist clenched. Damn it. Damn it all to hell. Can't I get a break?
But even as he tried to banish the image, something was nagging at the back of his mind. A moment later, he realized what it was. In those six months, he'd seen her countless times, in a dream or behind the careless blink of a tired eye, and it had always been the same image; the injured, terrified child who had stood before him that night. But what he was seeing now was altogether different.
There was no doubt it was the same girl; every detail of that face had been burned into his memory. But instead of being starved, she now appeared well-fed and healthy. Instead of that horrible garment she'd worn on that fateful night, she was now dressed in much the same way as any little girl he might pass on the street. Her body, which had been battered and bleeding, now showed no signs of trauma. And in place of her frightened, desperate expression was a look of surprise, even wonder.
She spoke then, just three words, and the voice, while soft, lacked the fearful tremor he recalled. "It is you."
"Yes," he replied, the word coming from him almost before he realized he'd spoken. Then, as his brain finally caught up, he added the question burning on his lips. "Am I...asleep? Is this a dream?"
She stared silently for a moment, as if trying to understand. "I don't..." she began hesitantly, "I don't think so."
"Andrea." He had never spoken the name aloud, but he knew it, knew it from court records and police reports and hours spent in the District Attorney's office preparing his testimony. "You're – you're really here?" He glanced around the room for anything out of place, anything to hint at the possibility that he might be dreaming after all, but found nothing.
He turned back to her in time to see the slight nod of her head. He looked at her again, really looked this time, taking in all those wonderful differences. "I – I don't know what to say. I never thought I'd see you again. You look – you look good." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he grimaced, realizing a split-second too late how that sounded, especially given the girl's history. "I mean, you look like you're doing a lot better." He extended a hand to her, slowly, making sure she could see what he was doing. "My name is Mike."
The little girl reached out her own hand, shaking his in a practiced motion. "Andrea. But – you already knew that. I heard you say my name."
"From the records," he explained. But something else was weighing on him now. "Are you? Doing better, I mean?" He knew as well as anyone that an improved outward appearance didn't necessarily mean all was well.
"Yes," she replied. "I'm doing better."
"You're sure?" He dropped his voice slightly. "Andrea, if things aren't okay...you can tell me. I'll help you."
Andrea tilted her head slightly, and Mike drew in a sharp breath. The way she was studying him – for a moment, it almost felt like he was back under Carolyn's intense gaze. A lump formed in his throat, the thought threatening to drag him back down into the misery he'd been living in for the past week. No. Not now.With a great effort of will, he forced himself to focus on Andrea instead, to push through the tide of emotions.
"I know," she was saying. "I know you would. But I mean it. No one is hurting me anymore. My dad says no one is ever going to hurt me again."
The smile she gave him was a bit weak, a testament to the trauma at the center of their conversation, but he could tell from her body language that she was telling him the truth. "I – that's good to hear, Andrea."
As he spoke the words, it was like a weight lifting off his chest. What the little girl had been through was brutal, there was no question of that. But at least it was over. To suffer day after day, year after year, no end in sight... Mike had lived that nightmare, and it made him physically ill to think – to know – that some children still lived that way. To know that some would never escape, would die before they could ever know a life that didn't involve pain, like little Deirdre Lowenstein had.
Didi. Even after all this time, all the cases he'd worked since hers, it always came back to Didi. Maybe it was because it was the first child abuse case he'd worked, and he hadn't anticipated how hard it would hit him. Maybe it was the horror of waiting for her inevitable death. Or maybe it was that Carla Lowenstein had reminded him so damn much of his own mother. But whatever it was, no case or victim he'd ever encountered on the job had ever come close to haunting him the way Didi had. He'd come to accept that none ever would, until that cool March night when he'd first laid eyes on Andrea.
Maybe it was the thought of Didi, combined with memories of his own childhood, that had caused him to be plagued by questions and fears about what kind of life Andrea had been sent home to. He'd tried to tell himself that what he was imagining was just one unlikely possibility out of many, that the detectives he'd met that night surely would make sure she was safe, but he hadn't been able to stop his irrational mind running away with him. Hadn't been able to stop himself from wondering whether he'd saved her at all, or whether he was just delaying a different sort of inevitability. But now she stood before him, healthy and uninjured and promising him, believably so, that the painful chapter in her life was over. Seeing this, he could finally let go of those fears and accept that Andrea did have a chance.
Andrea. That thought finally pulled him back to reality, where the girl in question was standing in front of him, looking bemused. And who could blame her? "Sorry, darling. Guess I got a little lost in thought." He couldn't help a brief chuckle at his own expense. Carolyn's gonna be pissed, I'm stealing her act.
But his laugh evaporated a moment later as context rushed back in, turning the once-amusing thought into another reminder of what he'd lost. He could feel the tears starting to build up in his eyes and shut them quickly, bringing his hands up to his face to reinforce his efforts.
Then he felt a small hand on his arm. Looking up in astonishment, he saw that Andrea was standing over him, concern written on her young face. "Are you okay?"
He swallowed hard, trying to get control of himself. The honest answer would have been no, but he couldn't burden a child with his problems, especially not a child who had more than enough to deal with from her own life. "I will be," he said instead. "I'm just...I'm worried about somebody, that's all."
She nodded once, seeming to accept his explanation. "It's hard dealing with things that make you sad when you're scared to cry."
He knew she was trying to help, but her words brought a lump to his throat. "Oh, Andrea, you shouldn't know that."
Her eyes widened, and she pulled back ever so slightly. "I'm – I'm sorry."
"No,I'm sorry," he replied quickly, chiding himself for his choice of words. "I didn't mean – I just meant, it's sad that you know that, because it means that someone's made you afraid to cry too. I'm not saying you did anything wrong...God, no. You said it yourself, I know why it's hard for you."
She bit her lip. "My – my mother didn't like me to cry," she said in a near-whisper. "She said I was bothering her."
"I know. Mine too." The words were out of his mouth before he even realized what he was saying. A moment later, as his mind caught up with his mouth, he was momentarily stunned speechless. Not only had he so carelessly mentioned something he usually could only talk about with an extreme force of will, but for the first time he could remember, it didn't hurt to do so. Maybe it was because he was able to say it so simply, a few words instead of the long explanation that most discussions of his childhood required. Maybe it was knowing that Andrea understood. Or maybe it was that in the past few months, with Carolyn's coaxing and support, he'd finally begun to deal with the memories instead of burying them.
Andrea processed his response for a moment. "I'm sorry," she said finally. "That's sad, that your mom was like that too."
"Oh, Andrea, it's okay," he assured her. "My mother died a long time ago. Don't worry about me, okay? I'm just happy that you're in a good place now."
She gave him another long, Carolyn-like look. "It's just – you deserve to be in a good place too."
"I am," he assured her, meeting her eyes so she'd see the truth of his words. "Like I said, I'm just worried about someone right now. I've gotten to a good place, Andrea. I'm all right."
"Good," she said after a moment, accepting his words just as he had hers. "I know that I'm okay because of you. Because you saved me. So I just – thank you."
"Oh, Andrea, you never have to thank me for that," he replied. "But – you're welcome."
The next thing he knew, her arms were around his neck, hugging him gently. "I hope your friend is okay."
For a moment, he was frozen in surprise, before he finally relaxed and gently hugged her back. "Thank you, Andrea. So do I."
Patrick Jane was a patient man, when he needed to be. He sat quietly in an out-of-the-way chair, drinking tea from a paper cup, observing the people around him.
He knew he should be helping Charlie and the profiling team, but their work was moving further and further from his areas of experience. He liked Nichols and Goren, and he was willing to admit that Nichols had been right when he pointed out that Jane's concept of a profiler was limited to a single experience. When they had been working on the videos, he could see the similarity in the approach. But now they were analyzing files, trying to piece together predictions based on words on a page, and that was entirely different. Jane's method was to study people and their actions, study the spaces they inhabited, to fill in the pieces based on what he saw with his own eyes. Words on a page were all but meaningless. He needed more. He needed something tangible, something that would offer him an answer, or at least suggest where he might go to find it.
He had considered the possibility of asking to join one of the stakeout teams watching their suspect, but from what he was hearing, those were more about tracking his movements than actually finding out anything about him. And they were always in pairs, which would make it difficult for him to do more than he was officially authorized to. He was fairly confident in his ability to give one officer the slip, but two would present more of a challenge.
Unless... Jane's attention was drawn to a man across the room. Another person sitting back from the action, just watching, the same way he was. To an untrained eye, he might have seemed calm or disinterested, but Jane could see the tension beneath the stillness. This was someone else who was on edge, who wanted to be doing something.
Belatedly, he placed the face. Special Agent Ian Edgerton. The man's picture had been in the file, but as Jane was beginning to realize, the photo didn't begin to do him justice. His intensity was so strong that a photo simply couldn't capture his essence.
Jane had only skimmed the file, but it was enough to confirm that Edgerton was exactly what he needed. He stood slowly, coming up beside the man. "Hello. Agent Edgerton, isn't it? I don't believe we've been introduced. My name is Patrick Jane, I'm a consultant for the FBI."
He briefly flicked his glance over to Jane, but he didn't move to engage with him. "What do you want?" he asked brusquely.
"I'm working on a line of investigation. And I need your help."
"There's a dozen other agents and cops on this case. Ask one of them."
Jane lowered his voice, partly to avoid being overheard and partly to set the stage for his words. "I thought about that, but I don't think any of them would help me. The thing is, what I have in mind isn't exactly standard procedure, and you know how well that goes over in these agencies. But you – you seem like a man who's not afraid to bend the rules to get results. That's why I need you."
A long moment of silence passed between them. Then, finally, Edgerton turned to face Jane. "What are we taking about?"
Jane gave a small half-smile. "Here's what I had in mind..."
Yep, Jane's preparing to get into trouble, and he's dragging Ian with him. You didn't really think he'd be able to go through an entire case without majorly misbehaving at least once, did you?
I sincerely apologize for how long it's taken me to get this latest chapter out. For so long, the pieces were just not coming together, until they finally did. The scene with Mike and Andrea was probably the most challenging, but it's also my favorite scene from the chapter.