A/N: Ugh, been too long since my last update on this! I'm sorry guys! But it's here, and I've got a new system for working on my fics so it shouldn't take so long to around to it the next time. Thanks for reviews and all that jazz, and to Beta Branch for making me get my ass in gear, and...uh...don't kill me when you get to the end of this chapter...
"What've you got?" Ethan asked, leaning over the table Benji and Jane were working on.
The tech spoke without turning his eyes away from his computer. "It appears Richards was hired onto the school via Porter's personal recommendation. As far as I can tell, no other members of the faculty are involved. Fake ID, of course, which means false address, contact number, references – everything about 'Larson' was a well-crafted ruse. Richards, on the other hand, has a rather impressive smuggling record. Agencies all over the country have been after him under different aliases, as well as around the world. Last anyone had seen of him, he was in Spain peddling some type of rare gemstone. Seems like he'll trade in anything that'll bring in money."
"Can we tie him to the African?"
"Possibly. I've run his face through recognition software, and it's scanning cameras all over the city. If any of them pick him up I'll be alerted immediately. I'm hoping to catch him doing something that may clue us in."
Ethan nodded. "Good. Jane? What've you got on Porter?"
She sighed. "On the outside everything about him looks clean. He's been at the school for almost twenty years, wife, three sons. The only record he has with the law are a few speeding tickets, paid off immediately. No shady relatives, no apparent friendships with anyone who looks suspicious, nothing unusual in any of his accounts. This guy's a model citizen according to what I'm seeing here."
"Model citizens don't help kidnap little girls. There's a link in there somewhere. Find it." He shifted in close to the screen and wrote something down on a slip of paper before heading for the door.
"Where are you going?" Jane asked.
"Making a little house call."
Benji scoffed. "Well, you can't expect him to just have gone home after this. That would be lunacy!"
"Maybe. But maybe he's a lunatic. Call me if anything else comes up. I'll be back before the next check-in."
He had just about shut the door when a voice called out from the stairs. "Wait!"
All eyes looked to see Tabby standing there, a little in shock at the intensity of the stares she now fell under.
"Tabby, do you know something?" Jane asked, trying to ease some of the tension.
The girl nodded. "Mr. Porter has a house by the lake. He told us once. He takes his kids there in the summer."
Jane furled her brow. "There's no lake house listed in his files anywhere."
"I don't think he meant to tell us," Tabby added. "A bunch of us were hanging around, just talking about camping trips and stuff, and it just kind of slipped out I guess. He changed the subject pretty quick after that."
Ethan walked back into the room and knelt down in front of her. "What lake, Tabby? Did he say?"
She shook her head. "It's a private one, I guess. I remember he said he liked it 'cause there weren't a bunch of people crowding the beach."
"Benji, look up any privately owned lakes in the area," Hunt ordered, snapping his fingers. He then turned to speak to the girl again. "Okay, this is important, alright?" He waited for her nod. "Do you think he remembers that he told you?"
She thought about it for a minute. "I doubt it. It was a long time ago, like a couple years, and there were a bunch of us. I don't think he even knew my name back then."
"Good. That's good," Ethan said with a genuine smile. "Thank you, Tabitha."
"Will this help you find Will?" she asked softly.
He reached out and squeezed her shoulder lightly. "I hope so. Why don't you stay here with Jane and see if there's anything else you can tell them about Porter or Professor Larson that might help, okay?"
"Richards," she corrected. "Will said his real name was Richards."
"Right," Benji said with a grin. "Do you want to tell me about him?"
She rolled her eyes in response. "I can tell you a ton about him. I hate that guy."
The three agents laughed. "Good girl," Ethan said, and got up to leave. "I'm still going to check out Porter's house, see what I can get from there. Benji tell me when you get that lake."
The tech nodded, preparing to multitask the lake search with gathering information on Richards from whatever Tabitha could tell him. Time was their greatest enemy at the moment, so he couldn't afford to take things one at a time.
"Jane," he alerted, interrupting what Tabby was saying. "Run a check on all the office buildings in the city and surrounding areas."
"Brandt's comment?" she asked.
"Brandt's comment," he agreed. "It'll be a very long list, but maybe we'll get lucky."
"On it." She had never prayed for luck so hard in her entire life.
His eyes felt heavy as he worked incredibly hard to get them to open. The room blurred in and out in front of him, and it took a few minutes before he could focus on the legs of what looked like a metal table in front of his face.
The memory hit him like a bullet in his gut, and he instinctively reached for his stomach at the though. Blood, drying and sticky, still covered his torso but the gaping hole he swore had been there when he'd passed out no longer existed. It was back down to just the scabbed-over cut he had a brief recollection of discovering before real life seemed to blur with memories of being locked in a gory myth.
He still felt weighted down, fought to try to keep his focus on what was actually going on around him, but the drugs in his system were warring with his rationale for dominance. At least he could think with some sort of clarity again, could decipher the fact from the fiction…sort of.
The seagull that he thought he saw fly over his head – that clearly couldn't have happened inside an old building. The waves he was still hearing – the sound hadn't been there when he was coherent. In fact, he couldn't recall hearing much of anything filtering in through the busted windows…not even the sounds of traffic. Not in the city, then. Where the hell was he?
Oh, that's right. He was on the edge of a cliff.
Wrong, Brandt. Office. You're in some grunt worker's old office, remember? There's an outline of the copy machine still on the wall where the paint's all sun-faded around it. See the scuffmarks on the floor from chairs being rolled across it a million times? They don't use rolling chairs on cliffsides.
Catching all those little details was helping to keep him in the proper setting. That was phase one. Phase two was to get his ass off the floor. Phase three was to get to the door, and keep right on going until he got the hell out of the building.
Though the window was closer…
Phase two adjusted to not necessarily getting all the way up, but settling for dragging his barely functioning legs behind him towards the closest of the three windows. It occurred to him as he caught site of his torn wrists that they should probably hurt, and hauling himself across a room should probably hurt his shoulders even more. Apparently the drugs had some advantage, at least.
That looks so high up from here.
He'd have to grip the bottom of the windowsill to pull himself up. Why were there windowsills, anyway? Roux couldn't stash him in a more modern building where the entire walls were made of windows? Like in Dubai? That had been fun, standing there staring out at city and desert, nothing between him and the longest drop of all time.
"What the hell is that?" he whispered as he got his elbows hooked around the sill enough for him to look outside.
A cloud. A huge cloud was headed his way. That's right – the sandstorm. There was a huge fucking sandstorm coming straight at him, and it was already blowing tiny, stinging particles into his eyes.
With a curse, he let go of the sill and curled himself into ball beneath it, covering his head and trying his best not to rub at his face. His eyes stung with the sand trapped beneath his eyelids, but he knew he could risk scratching his corneas if he didn't let his tears wash the foreign bodies out naturally. It'd be fine. Jane probably had eyewash in her purse or something. Did she carry a purse? He didn't think he ever saw her with one…
Brandt's mind drifted in and out of nonsensical thoughts as he lay curled beneath the window, waiting out a sandstorm that didn't exist, crying out the dust particles that had wafted up from his own breath hitting the aged windowsill. If he could've kept his mind focused for just one more minute, he would've been aware of the fire escape that lay just within his reach. Instead, he passed out again, blissfully unaware of just how close he had come to effecting his own escape.