THREE DAYS LATER
Elizabeth Keen found herself, as she had been doing for the last week, checking over her shoulder every ten feet she walked. Considering the level of her training, not to mention the ordeal she had been a part of for the last three months, one would 'have thought that she had reached a level of certainty when it came to whether or not someone was observing her or not. Hell, given what her 'job' "job" was and the company she had kept for the last two years, you one would've would have thought that she would have been making sure that every other person on the street wasn't already some kind of spy already.
But she had just gone through three months where she was one of the ten most wanted criminals in the country, accused of being the child of a Soviet spy, the woman who had murdered the Attorney General. That she had managed to escape from this epic manhunt - —one which had been led for much of the period by people she'd considered friends—and - almost completely restored to normal should have been a relief.
Then again, considering everything that happened over the last two years, it was frankly remarkable that she had even the faintest idea of what 'normal' "normal" was supposed to represent. She had learned that the government she had sworn to protect was actually really under the machinations of a group of individuals that she knew only as 'The "The Cabal'Cabal";, so entrenched in the halls of power, that neither she nor anyone she knew was willing to trust the government they worked for. The man that she had married had been revealed to be the darkest of criminals, a complete and utter liar about everything she had known about him. Frankly, even she didn't know what was more astounding about her relationship with Tom: the fact that she had held him prisoner for more than three months, unwilling to admit he was in her custody, ; or the fact that not only had they fallen in love again, and that they were now back to living in her apartment together.
And then there was the elephant to end all elephants: Raymond 'Red' "Red" Reddington, the 'Concierge "Concierge of Crime'Crime", the man who had been responsible for the task force that had been founded two years earlier, the man who had either destroyed her life or opened her eyes, depending on how you looked at it. And considering everything that had happened, particularly in the last three months, she always went to whatever meeting he sent her own, with a level of trepidation that would have paralyzed your the average Navy SEAL. Even gGiven everything that had happened over the last couple of years, she still didn't know how to define her relationship with the man who had changed her life. Every day, a part of her wished that Reddington had just left her the hell alone, left her to live a life where she and Tom were happily married, and she was about to become a mother. But if she were completely honest with herself, trying to hold on to that idea of her life, was becoming more and more difficult with each successive meeting. She didn't know whether to be grateful or horrified.
As was almost always the case when she met with Reddington, he had called for the meeting in a completely different location than all the others. Considering he'd been off the grid for more than a quarter of a century when before he'd shown up at the FBI's doorstep, it was rather remarkable that Reddington knew D.C. better than she did. This time, it was an Irish Pub called McLarney's.
Less than a minute after she arrived at the front door, a man in his early fifties turned up, and said: ""Mr. Reddington's waiting for you."."
How does he know this one? she found herself thinking. Some part of her, even after all this time, thought that it was better not to know.
In the back of the restaurant— - there were no other customers, of course— - Reddington was engaged in a fairly fairly-active conversation with a man who had to be at least eighty-five at least.
"Jamie's nine, Richard is seven, and Sara, the baby, she just turned four," the old man was telling Reddington. "But I have to tell you, Raymond, I don't get these kids at all. The other day, Richard said he wanted a cell phone. I asked him why. He said, because Jamie's got one." He shook his head. "What's a seven-year year-old need a minutes plan for?"
"If you want my opinion, Carl, it's all gone to hell since AT&T split up," Red was saying. "They may have violated every principal of the Antitrust actAct, but at least there wasn't all this competition."
"My great-grandkids are getting cell phones before I did," ." Carl shook his head. "I guess this is what I stormed Normandy for." He looked up and saw Liz. "I'm guessing this is your lady-friend."
"I should be so lucky," Red turned to Carl. "I'm sorry I have to keep you busy during the lunch rush. I'll try to keep it to less than half an hour."
Carl got to his feet slowly, took a brief look at Liz again, then walked away.
"Carl's platoon was one of the first on the ground at Iwo Jima," Reddington said. "When we started referring to them as the Greatest Generation, in a way we were right. The men and woman who served during the Second World War really may have done something truly noble. A triumph of the human spirit. But when we started writing the book on the era, it's a good thing that all of the politicians of that time were long dead. Wouldn't have made things look nearly as pretty."
There was something in Reddington's tone of cynicism that Liz just didn't recognize. It took her a moment to place it. There was some kind of genuine regret there somewhere. She filed it away for later
"History quiz, ElizabethLizzie. What was Operation: Paper Clip?"
Liz searched her mind memory for a moment. "If I remember correctly, it was the devil's deal bargain with the devil we made with German scientists after World War II. We issued pardons for some of the worst Nazis in the world so we could win the space race with the Soviets."
"Slightly less well well-known was a deal that we made with the Japanese involving a unit known simply as 731," Reddington said. "Scientist who engaged in horrific experiments on in Chinese prison camps, torturing twins, gassing women and children. Some of the things they did turned my stomach, and you know the things I'm capable of."
"I'm guessing these men conducted experiments on American soil long after they were granted amnesty."
"In 1973, the U.S. government announced that it was causing a cessation on biological and chemical testing on humans. Need I even mention the size of the lie?" Reddington seemed a little sicker than usual. "Those same experiments were supervised by a group of men that wouldn't even give me the time of day to join them. But you know what Groucho said about being 'part of a club that would have me as a member'."
"I take it you found a way in," Liz said.
"I never got the chance. In February of 1999, the majoritymost of these men and their families died in a mass conflagration at El Rico Air Force Base. Somehow, they were burned beyond recognition, using weapons that had no record of being on ain an military base."
"Did the Cabal have them killed?"
"The Cabal never even knew they existed." Reddington shook his head. "Which isn't that surprising, considering that according to all available sources, they pre-dated the majoritymany of the members by nearly forty years. But for all intents and purposes, this alliance of people that had been responsible for far more evils than even the Nazis were capable of were exterminated that night."
"I'm guessing you're here to tell me that's not exactly true." It didn't take this long for Reddington to get the point most of the time.
"In all honesty, I should've put your next Blacklister earlier further up on your list of priorities." Reddington told her. "But I'd been told by very reliable sources that the man had been eliminated in 2002. Even if he hadn't been, conservative estimates would put him at age 88, which would make him as much of a threat as Carl there." He shook his head. "I had to confirm with a couple of reliable sources that he had gone back to his old line of work. Good men who, like so many others I'm associated with, are now gone."
"Who is he? What does he do?"
"He's called the Cigarette-Smoking Man. I guess not even cancer wants anything to do with him. And what he does is a subject of severe debate among the few fringe elements that even have a clue that he is alive. What I can tell you, with a fair degree of certainty, is that he was the leader of that group I told you about, that same group that arranged the abduction of men and women, drilled holes in their sinuses and teeth, super-irradiated women in order to expose them to cancer. Extracted their ova in order to do... even I'm not certain what."
A shiver ran down Liz's spine. Even now, she was amazed to hear Reddington so casually discuss what amounted to war crimes in front of her, never mind that they'd been committed on American soil. "What in God's name are they doing it for?"
"I know at times I must seem omniscient, omnipotent even, but this is one of the rare cases where the answers are beyond my knowledge. All I can do is give theorize theories based on what I know from other sources. And there is no consensus." Reddington shook his head. "Some theorize that it's part of a military project to build a better soldier. Some Others say it's a form of rendition over some of America's more dangerous citizenry. And some— - a fringe group among even the fringe groups— - theorize that it's part of a bigger deal plan to prepare us for an alien invasion."
Of all the bizarre things she had heard Raymond Reddington say over the years, this last one took the cake. "You don't honestly believe that."
For the first time since he'd started talking, Reddington gave a smile. "Of course not. That would be absurd. But whatever his reasons, these experiments, which stopped for a brief period after the mass incineration, have been going on for nearly a decade. And this man, though nothing directly connects him to any of this, is responsible for all of it. Including the death of his own wife."
"So how do I find this man?"
"I haven't the foggiest idea. But I do know of a place to start, and for once, it's a lot simpler than the usual rabbit holes I have you go diving downinto. All you have to do is go back to the FBI." Reddington hesitated. "Are you familiar with a division known as the X-Files?"
"It's a division in the Bureau that deals with unsolved cases," ." That had been something that Liz had been taught when she had joined the Bureau. But there was something else... something that wasn't coming to her.
"It's a division for cases that have been designated unsolved." Reddington corrected. "There's a world of difference with that added word, as you know."
"And those files will lead us to this Smoking Man?"
"I have no doubt he's in them. But in this case, the X-Files will give you the people who know far more about him than I could ever tell you."
FBI TASK FORCE
Usually when Liz Keene told briefed the people on the Task Force assigned to finding the Blacklisters, she knew far more about them after doing a fair amount of legwork. This time, however, she was surprised— - slightly— - that Director Harold Cooper and Agent Donald Ressler knew far more about it then she did.
"The X-Files has been never been the most popular division in the Bureau," Cooper was saying. "It basically came to be considered a career-ender. And that was if you were unlucky enough to end up there. No one ever expected that someone would volunteer to open them."
"Until 1991. Fox Mulder." Aram Mojtabai, their resident computer expert, put a slide on the screen. It was an FBI Badge, circa 1988. "One of the top profilers ever to come out of Quantico. He reopened the X-Files, and did the best he could to turn them into a real investigative force. Rather impressive, because for the time it was open, a total of six agents worked in the Division. Never more than two simultaneously, by the way."
"What was the X-Files' primary focus?" Keene asked.
Cooper and Ressler exchanged glances. "The main focus of the X-Files wasMainly cases with a supernatural or paranormal tendencies," Cooper finally said.
Liz wasn't sure how to handle thisthat. Samar Navabi, however, had no problem with it. "Are we talking about Dracula or Casper the Friendly Ghost?"
"Actually, from what their AD tells me, vampires and ghosts were frequent entries in the X-Files." The fact that Cooper was somehow managing managed to say all this with a straight face was the only reason Liz hadn't managed to burst into laughter.
"And that was by far the least ridiculous thing about it." Ressler told them. "Fox Mulder apparently pissed away a brilliant career, because he was convinced of two very key idealideass.: That eextraterrestrial life really existed, and that certain individuals within our government was involved in collaboration with them."
The laughter abruptly dried up in Liz's mouththroat. "How do you know about this? I thought the X-Files had been shut down before you came into the Bureau," she demanded of Ressler.
"It was," Ressler acknowledged. "But one of the last people who worked there was still in the Bureau when I came out of the Academy. John Doggett, ex-NYPD, ex-Marine. He was in charge of the division the last two years it of its existedexistence. Now, he wasn't the kind of man who believed in this kind of thing, and he would never confide that he believed in aliens, but those years, he saw things those years that he could never get out his head. Even though running it pretty much torpedoed his career, he never regretted that he worked on the X-Files."
"Is he still in the Bureau?" Samar also seemed determined to give this a little bit more consideration.
"He's in charge of the Anti-Terrorist task Task force Force out in North Dakota, according to the records," Aram told them.
"He literally got handed a shit detail," Ressler told him. "Telling you, we'd better tread lightly?'."
Liz considered this for a moment. "Who else was in the Division?"
"Aside from Mulder, the agent who worked on it was Dana Scully. In 1993, she was assigned to essentially reign Mulder in. The private consensus was that she was there to debunk his work." Ressler told them.
"In actualityS, she was probably his most prominent defender, as it turns out," Cooper told them. "Even though she believed primarily in hard science, over her nine years at the Division, she became convinced that were things outside the realms of science, and that the majoritymost of Mulder's work was valid."
Samar looked at the picture of Scully. "Was she sleeping with him?" she asked bluntly.
That seemed like a blunt, brutal thing to say. But Cooper decided to be just asequally blunt. "The rumors began almost as soon as they started working together. I suppose, given everything that happened, they showed an immense amount of restraint. Around the spring of 2000, they began an affair. About a year later, she had a child, which she eventually admitted was his. It would have been enough to ruin them both of them, but by then they were both out of the Bureau."
There was clearly something that both Ressler and Cooper were holding back on. "What happened?" Liz demanded.
"Fox Mulder spent most of his career chasing UFOs." ," Cooper told themreplied. "In the end, he found what he wanted. Around November 2000, Fox Mulder disappeared off the face of the earth."
The implication was clear. "You're not saying that he was abducted by aliens?" Liz wasn't willing to agree to this.
"His boss was AD Walter Skinner. And he saw it happen. He was more than willing to go on record, but Agent Scully talked him out of it." Cooper Cooper's indicated aid it as ifthat he wasn't sure he believed it.
"You can't be serious," ." Samar clearly wasn't there, either.
"Doggett was put in charge of the 'manhunt' to find the missing agent." Ressler told them. "That's how he got dragged into the X-Files in the first place."
"Manhunt. Like what they were doing for me," ." Liz was not happy.
"Oh, it gets better." ," Ressler said sardonically. "They found Fox Mulder. Three months later. Dead in a field. Whoever had him did a such a number on him, I'm not sure Al-Qaeda would've been able to pull off."
"You told us Mulder was drummed out of the Bureau. How could they do that if he was dead?" Samar was sounding as skeptical as Liz felt.
"He got better." Cooper told them. "Three months after that, they dug him up. A week later, he was conscious." Cooper told them.
"That's not possible." Liz stated the obvious. "There has to have been some kind of mistake."
"Skinner attended the funeral," Cooper said bluntly.
"Doggett was there when he woke up." ," Ressler said, just as bluntly.
"Nobody bothered trying to explain this?" Samar told askedthem.
"They finally had a valid reason to drum Mulder out of the Bureau," Cooper said. "By then, he'd proven so much of a gadfly that no one cared anymore."
How much of this did Reddington know, ? Liz wondered. His knowledge of the minutiae of just about everything was eerie at times, but he hadn't even bothered to mention anybody working with the X-Files. "So, if Mulder was gone, and Agent Scully was pregnant, did anyone else work in the Division?" she asked instead.
"Monica Reyes." Aram put up the FBI ID of an attractive brunette. "She transferred in from the New Orleans Field Office, an expert in Satanic rituals. She was called in when the manhunt for Mulder was in its final stages. Seven months later, she was transferred to the X-Files. According to Skinner, she was the only one who actually considering it her dream posting."
"And one year later, the X-Files was dead." Ressler told them.
"Why? From everything you've told us, it's not like it was bothering anybody," Samar said.
"Mulder turned up in Mount Weather Army Bases. He was accused of murdering a military man named Knowle Rohrer." Cooper told them. "He was held before a military tribunal, and sentenced to death. The night before his scheduled execution, he was liberated from his facility, and went on the run. Scully and Mulder disappeared, and the X-Files was shut down. Doggett, Reyes, and Skinner stayed in the Bureau, but their careers were as dead as Mulder's."
It was a lot to take in— - too much really. So Liz tried to focus on the most important thing. "What about this Blacklister? This Cigarette-Smoking Man?"
"Therein hangs another tale," Cooper told them grimly. "Though no one ever had a name for him, that 'black-lunged son of a bitch', as Skinner cheerfully called him, was one of the major movers and shakers in the conspiracies that Mulder was primarily investigatinginvestigated."
"The kind of stuff that Reddington was talking about?" Samar was determined to take this seriously now.
"According to Mulder, he wouldn't have been surprised if he flipped the switch on JFK," Cooper told themadded. "Mulder spent the better part of seven years trying to figure out what he and a group of men known as 'The Consortium' were responsible for."
"The same group of men who died at El Rico?"
"According to Mulder, the Smoking Man was the only one who walked away without a scratch on him." Ressler told them grimly.
"We need to see those files," Liz walked turned her attentionover to Aram, looking over his shoulder at his computer. "Is there any way you can pull them up?"
"Not possible." Ressler said. "According to Doggett, all the years Mulder worked there, the files were never digitized. Shit, the whole time he worked there, the whole office was little more than a janitor's closet."
"And after the division was scuttled, the files were put in lockup." ," Cooper told themadded with genuine regret. "Mulder was the primary custodian of those files. My guess is, they've probably been gathering mold ever since they were shut down. "
"What about the agents? Any idea where Mulder and Scully are now?"
"The manhunt for them was called off in 2007." Ressler said. "Couple of agents called them in to investigate a case around that time, but they pretty much didn't've never renewed ties with the Bureau again."
"Maybe they've changed their minds," ." Aram, who'd been surprisingly quiet through most of this, was now looking at his computer screen with a fixed glance. "Take a look at this."
Liz walked over to the screen. And yet again, she found herself wondering how deep Reddington's ties were in a city that he'din which he'd been persona non grata in for nearly two decades.
"According to this, the X-Files have just been reopened," she said slowly.
"Who are the agents in charge?" Ressler demanded.
"Same people you've just deconstructed," Aram said. "Fox Mulder and Dana Scully."
"You don't think that..…" Samar didn't think she could finish the sentence.
"No," ." Cooper wasn't buying it. "Based on everything Skinner told me, Mulder and Scully would just have soon as had a Blacklister as a patron, rather than someone like Reddington."
"Out of the Bureau for nearly fifteen years, and they just happen to reappear the day after Reddington mentions them?"" Samar asked rhetorically. "You have to admit, it's a hell of a coincidence."
"Is it?" Liz countered. "Reddington told me about the X-Files. He didn't tell me a thing about any of the agents who worked on itthe division. If he knew they were back in the Bureau, he would've just led me to them. His methods are serpentine, but they're nowhere near this convoluted."
"Besides, they never trafficked in his level of work." Ressler said. "Doggett told me that Mulder and Scully worked on those files for seven years, and they were never were able to put names with theto people behind the crimes they were investigatinged. And this may have been the only division in the entire Bureau where looking into someone like Reddington would've been a priority."
If nothing else, Liz knew that Raymond Reddington's ties were deep and long. But in the three years she'd been working with him, she'd never heard him once even express an interest into looking into the supernatural. He'd mentioned aliens, but had been quick to laugh off the idea.
Then again, why would he put the Cigarette-Smoking Man, someone who trafficked in this very thing, on the Blacklist the name of someone who trafficked in this very thing?"
"We're overcomplicating things," she found herself saying. "Reddington wants us to look into a lead that will lead to the Blacklister. We've been led to two people who might know exactly where to find him. In every other case, we'd jump on it. Why are we hesitating now, when this time it goes right back to the FBI?"
They all took this under consideration for a few moments. Then Cooper walked over to the phone. "I'll put in a call to Walter Skinner right now," he told them. "I think that it's time for a little inter-departmentalgency cooperation."
"Good," Ressler told them. "Hopefully, we get some other name for this guy than just the Cigarette-Smoking Man."
"Who knows? Maybe the anti-tobacco lobby finally managed to shut him down," Aram tried, as he did so often, to make a joke.
"If he's still around, and as old as Reddington said," Liz told them, "something tells me that he may keep Big Tobacco working 'til the very end."
Only after she had said the words, did she realized that she didn't know until the end of what.