The Third Man / FW
Chapter 17: Epilog
Wednesday, Day 24: Gettysburg, PA
In her persona as FBI Special Agent Betty Lou Tarantino, Annie had contacted HR in the Philadelphia office, found out where Jo Bell lived, and then made contact with her early Tuesday morning. Once Jo got over her surprise that Annie called her at home, Annie asked if she would like to meet with her and talk.
Jo had replied, "Yes, Annie, I think I need to talk to someone. My head's a mess."
They had arranged to meet the next day in Gettysburg in the park near the place where Lincoln had given the Gettysburg Address. Both Betty Lou Tarantino and Jo Bell were on administrative leave. Betty Lou's was required because she'd discharged her weapon and killed. Jo's was a decompression leave. Neither woman was anxious to have anyone else know of their meeting. Annie told Auggie of course, but no one else.
Annie watched Jo approach. She'd caught sight of her long before Jo looked up and spotted her. She could see a difference in her stride and her carriage from when they'd first met by the pond south of Carlisle just over three weeks ago. The athleticism was still there, and the casual coordination, but her shoulders, the way she held her head, and the look in her eyes just before she spotted Annie told the story of a battered spirit. Annie had been afraid of that. It's what she wanted to help fix, if she could.
"Jo," she called out in greeting.
Jo looked up and with relief on her face said, "Annie, it's so good to see you." Then she walked right up and gave her a big hug. Annie instinctively recognized it as a characteristic move.
Annie hugged her back and said, "Walk with me. We need to talk."
"We do. At least I do. I am so glad you called. There is literally no one I can talk to. Larson is ... dead. Everybody outside the office and most in it are off limits. Burk is my boss, and while she wants to be supportive, she doesn't have a clue. The shrink they assigned me to is, pardon my language, an arrogant asshole that reads from a script and has never had more than a paper cut. The whole thing is classified beyond reason because you were there; that isn't your fault. You didn't ask to be there, and I owe you more than I can ever repay for saving my life. More than my life actually. But you figured that out didn't you? That's why you called? You knew I needed a friend?"
"Yeah. Been there. I ... Jo, even though we are what we are, and that means we will have huge portions of our lives that we cannot share; we can be friends. I'd like to be your friend, but not just because we damn near died together. Auggie and I think you are, what we sometimes call, our kind of people. There aren't many of those in the world, so I thought I'd reach out. Offer to be someone that will listen, who understands. But I'd like to be your friend in good times as well. Fun times."
"I appreciate that more than you know. I've never felt more inadequate in my life than I did when those terrorists captured us and ... killed my partner. I completely failed him."
"No, you didn't," Annie replied forcefully. "You were given no chance to succeed. Neither of you were. Ross sentenced both of you to die with his narcissistic arrogance and stupidity - but you survived. You made it."
"Only because you risked your life and your career to come after me. Nobody else even considered it."
"I couldn't let them win." Annie responded. "When Auggie told me where you were when the signal disappeared, I knew where you'd been taken. Nobody would hear you scream. Auggie quickly dumped the bugs I planted and confirmed they had captured you. We didn't know Larson was dead until I saw them with the body."
Jo sighed and said, "He had to be cremated; the acid had already made him unidentifiable except by DNA. His wife is barely hanging on to her sanity. Her only consolation is that she knows he was dead before he was dumped in the acid. The good news is that Ross is on administrative leave while our Office of Professional Responsibility looks into his conduct. They may call you in to make a statement. OPR is mystified that they can't find a detailed personnel file on you. It's all redacted to the Director Level, and he won't tell them anything. Megan also told me the Director's been read in on the whole story of what we did by Rossabi. But OPR wants a written statement in addition to their notes from the walk-around because you were … are … the whole story. The good news is that OPR management has agreed to the cover story. Burk is working to keep your FBI ID intact, but it isn't easy going."
"As long as my covert status isn't compromised, I'm good. At this point, it will be what it will be. Just know this; I have no regrets, Jo. I'd do it again in a heartbeat even if it meant giving up my career. Sometimes ya just gotta do what's right no matter the consequences. That was one of those times."
"Thanks. I needed to know that." They walked along, each lost in their own thoughts for a couple of minutes. Annie sensed that Jo had released herself from some of her feeling of guilt when she made a small sound and straightened up just a bit. That was confirmed when she changed the subject and asked, "Annie, I have to ask. Why are you so much better at fighting than I am?"
"I wondered when you were going to ask that. I think it's because I train to kill or disable. You train for sport fighting."
Jo walked along for a few seconds, apparently deep in thought, and then said, "I don't understand. I have a 3rd degree black belt in free fighting karate. I got it fighting full contact with men. What did you do?"
"I have one too. It's still current. Blind Auggie showed me in about ten seconds how useless it was. You think you are training full contact, but how many opponents have you put in the hospital?"
"How many times have they put you in the hospital or knocked you out?"
"Real full contact fights last about ten seconds max. Full contact is when one of you dies or goes to the hospital too damaged to fight on. True full contact is won by the first person who lands an incapacitating blow. The rest is just a game; sport fighting to rules designed to keep people from getting hurt. Real full contact is trying to hurt, maim, cripple, or kill with every strike."
"I hadn't thought of it like that, but now that you've said it, I know you are right. Do you train full contact by your definition?"
"Yes, but with dummies or opponents, usually Auggie, wearing so many pads I can't kill them. I never pull punches when I'm training."
"Auggie is pretty good?"
"Auggie is incredible. Unbelievable. His reflexes are so fast it's truly scary. If he makes contact with you in anger, you're dead. If he got his hands on me in anger, I couldn't take him in a hundred tries."
"I thought that might be the case. It's subtle, but how he moves had me thinking I wanted him on my side." She paused, then apparently decided to move on because she said, "Forgive me for asking, but two of those terrorists died of broken necks; one was launched down the stairs to die of a crushed skull; one choked to death in the ER with a crushed larynx, and eight were shot all in the space of an hour or so? And you left one tied up to a steel pipe that lived."
"I ... yes. I'm not sure, but I think that's right. It's a blur. Some parts of it are crystal clear and play back in slow motion, like shooting those guys that were torturing you. Other parts happened in the dark, and I have more tactile than visual memory of them, and that's confusing."
"Are you okay?"
"I've been better, but I'll be okay. Auggie and I are on two weeks of mandatory decompression leave, or as much leave as you can be on when you go to see a shrink every other day."
"They make you go to a psychiatrist?"
"No, I asked for one." Annie thought for a few seconds and then asked, "Do you want me to ask her if she can refer you to a good one in Philadelphia? I think the community of shrinks that deal with people like us might know each other - I can't think there are a lot of them."
"Yes. Thanks. I'd really appreciate that."
They walked and talked for the better part of three hours. By the time they were done, Jo was on the way back to the confident agent she'd been when she and Annie first met. Before they parted, Annie gave Jo a small piece of paper with a phone number on it and said, "Memorize that number. I can be anywhere on the planet, but you should always be able to get a message to me through it. It may take a few days to arrive and for me to respond." Jo took the paper, looked hard at it for a few seconds, closed her eyes, opened them, and handed the paper back. Then Annie smiled a little and said, "You didn't bring it up, and it's none of my business, but I have to ask, how did coffee with Rob turn out?"
Annie saw Jo's demeanor completely change from somber to an energized inner glow when she said, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I haven't said anything about it. I had a great time. He was like the best friend I didn't know I had. I dragged him from the donut shop to my condo. We had a great evening together. I couldn't resist and kissed him when he tried to leave. Annie, the man's a fifteen on a scale of ten. He kissed me back and melted me right down. Actually, it was a mutual melt down. I dragged him to bed, and we wore each other out. I've never had a lover like that. He played me like a piano.
"We went to breakfast at Cracker Barrel the next morning. I ate pancakes. We both ate pancakes. I never eat pancakes. By the time we were done, we agreed we were exclusive. Annie, I don't know for certain, but I'm pretty sure I've been on my last first date."
She looked at Annie and possibly saw the questions Annie was poised to ask because she said, "There is a lot more to that guy than meets the eye. Did you know he's a Pennsylvania farm boy? That he graduated Summa Cum Laude from Penn State with a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering? He's less than a year from being able to take his Professional Engineer's exam. The only day and night he has free is Saturday. He works two jobs: heavy equipment operator during the day. Week nights and Sunday's he's part time in a civil engineering office to gain the experience it takes to be eligible to take his PE exam. And he's single. Unattached. I didn't think I'd ever find a guy like that. I can't believe I was lucky enough to find him."
Annie was so happy to hear what had gushed out of Jo when she asked about Rob. She knew right then that Jo was going to be fine. She said, "I had no idea. I know he's well spoken, polite, treated me with respect, and has a sister, but that's it. He and Mike both were totally supportive in the encounter with the Union Rep."
"He mentioned that. You really blew him away."
"He and Mike came over and stood right by me, one on either side, when the deputy union representative showed up the next morning. They both treated me well. No male chauvinist pig stuff, no locker room humor, no hitting on me at all."
Jo laughed and said, "Neither one of them wanted to take a chance on pissing you off." She paused a second and then said, "He's called me a couple of times since. We're going out this coming Saturday night. He's picking me up in his truck – don't laugh, okay? We're going to a tractor pull in a pickup truck. I'm going to a tractor pull in a pickup truck, and I can hardly wait. Apparently, he's had the tickets for a while now. I've never been to one, so it will be a bit of an adventure."
A short time later, they parted and headed off to their respective homes.
9:30 a.m. Monday Morning, Two weeks later: Civilian Conference Room, Langley
Annie and Auggie returned to the DPD, after their two weeks of decompression leave, to face Joan. As Joan expected, Agents Rossabi, Burk, and Bell showed up at the civilian visitor entrance to the building. Joan had arranged for them to be escorted into the same civilian briefing room where Annie had briefed Danielle about five weeks earlier.
When Joan, Annie, and Auggie walked in to meet with them, Agent Rossabi greeted them with, "It's good to see you folks under less stressful conditions. Agent Burk and I thought we should bring you up to date with the aftermath of the events in Philadelphia; and we felt we owe Annie an apology for Ross's and Weisner's conduct. And the other OPR agents conduct as well, though their report came out complementary to Agent Tarantino."
Joan replied, with no trace of animosity, "Agent Rossabi, we know Ross is under investigation and on what has become unpaid leave. He's toast. He should be fired. We get the FBI intelligence terrorist reports, so we know what's happened with Nassir and his cell and at least some of the overseas sponsors. We heard through the grapevine that Weisner was allowed to retire with benefits. We're good with that. What's really on your mind?"
"Annie and her FBI credentials," Agent Burk replied.
Without a word, Annie opened the folder she had with her and reached to hand back the FBI credentials. Joan and Burk both looked at Annie. Annie said, "What?"
Agent Burk answered, "We don't want them back; we want you to keep them. We may want you and Agent Bell to work together on a case that's building if it goes like the evidence to date suggests."
"What case?" Annie asked.
"I hate to say this, because there are no more trustworthy people on the planet than you three, but we can't tell you that yet. I can say it has points of interest in countries where you speak the language, Annie. You and Agent Bell have worked together, and we believe there is a basis for mutual trust. In addition, we'd also like to have you available to act as an FBI/CIA liaison should that be useful in the future."
Annie shook her head and said, "Agent Burk, I don't want a liaison role. Period. It will cause me to meet too many people, compromise my covert status, and I do not want to give that up. At least not any time soon."
Agent Burk asked, "Are you okay with working only with those of us who already know your status?"
"Maybe. Except Ross, of course. That depends on more than me."
Annie looked at Joan to see what her reaction to this unexpected, to her at least, development might be. Joan said, "Annie, Director Ramsey, the DCI, Arthur, and I are all okay with this, if you are. None of us wants to compromise your covert status. We have already agreed the liaison role would be with you in your FBI NOC, not your CIA Covert Officer persona. You would be an FBI liaison to the CIA."
Annie replied, "Ah ... I understand. That definitely limits the exposure. I'm okay with that as long as it doesn't compromise my covert status. It will mean the CIA personnel contacted would all know of my NOC, but that's less risk than the reverse situation, or, at least I think it is." Then she looked at Rossabi and said, "You're really quiet, Agent Rossabi, are you okay with this?"
"I find myself in an interesting position. I have incredible respect for you, for your abilities in conditions of stress that would paralyze me, or most normal people, maybe even Jo here. You do your thing, which is usually the right thing, and vanish into the dark until I see you again, when I least expect it. But, you go so far off the reservation we don't even have a clue what you are up to, and you sometimes return having left behind a pile of dead guys. Arresting people isn't something you do. As a CIA officer, you don't even have arrest authority. Conversely, it's all we do. In a way, partnering with you, and working with your agency, is totally against my way of doing things. In another way, you complement us, strengthen us where we are designed to be weak. I guess I'm for giving this a try, but, if these last few months is any preview of coming attractions, I know I'll regret it as much as I'm glad we did it."
"Man up, Rossabi, take a gulp of Mylanta, get a firm grasp on your bureaucratic insecurities and give me an answer. Is that a yes, or a no?"
"Yes. But I'll probably regret it?"
"Not good enough. You folks have to be all in, or I'm out. You will need to trust in me, back me one hundred percent right at the very moment when it looks like I'm the last person you should trust. You have to believe in me when everything says you shouldn't, because that's what it will look like when I'm doing my job the way it has to be done.
"I'll be putting it all on the line out there, and I don't mean paper cuts or budget skirmishes, or bureaucratic pissing contests. I mean surrounded by ugly people who want to kill me, or worse. I need to know if you have my back, or not. You, the FBI, did not have Jo's back. Larson is dead due to Ross's arrogance and stupidity. Jo would be dead now if she had to depend on Ross, on the FBI. Auggie and I were almost shot - we were shot at - because of FBI internal politics. You pandered to the political demands of an ambitious FBI manager and failed to warn Auggie and me of impending danger, which placed us in the cross hairs of a sniper rifle. I'm still angry about that. I can't tell you how much I hate being shot at.
"I don't know how Jo could ever trust any of you again. I'm having trouble with the concept of trusting pretty much anybody in the FBI, except Burk and Bell. I had Jo's back. I went rogue to have her back. If it hadn't gone well, and I managed to survive, it would have been my career down the tubes and maybe my freedom. So who will have my back, besides Auggie? Auggie always has my back no matter what. I have absolute unconditional faith in him. Jo would. Agent Burk reacted in minutes to warn Auggie and me when she thought we were in danger. They were the only FBI people that put our safety ahead of personal political aspiration. So, to put it charitably, from my perspective, the rest of you are on probation."
Burk said, "I will."
Jo added, "You're right. I will. I hope you never need that kind of saving, but if you do, I'll be there."
"Agent Rossabi?" Annie asked again.
"That was a humiliating indictment of my agency, but, unfortunately, both true and objective. Yes. I'll have your back."
Annie put the FBI credentials back in the folder, turned to Joan, and said, "Okay, under those conditions, with the team that's in this room, I'm in."
Joan stood up to signify the meeting was over when Jo said, "Ms. Campbell, I realize what Annie did with us is classified. We kept her out of the papers and all that. But I wanted to do something to show my appreciation, so I have something I'd like to give her. Is that okay?"
"What is it?" Joan asked cautiously.
Burk nodded; Jo opened her briefcase and produced a framed document printed like a certificate and handed it to Joan. Joan looked at it for a moment, sucked in her breath, took a quick glance at Annie, handed it back to Jo and said, "Oh yes. Definitely."
Jo said, "Annie this is a small token of our appreciation for what you did for us, for me. It's just a little certificate, a quote that I printed out and framed." Jo handed it to Annie.
Annie, curious, took it, read it through, and swallowed hard. Then she softly read aloud what it said to Auggie. "Auggie, it says:
"Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back."Heraclitus
Sometimes the warrior is a woman."
She felt her eyes fill with tears and looked up at the people looking at her.
Agent Burk said, "We are honored to know you, to be able to call you a comrade-in-arms, to tell you right out, to us you are a true warrior. We want to say thank you with this little certificate. Please accept it and put it somewhere you and others can see it. Be as vague and mysterious as you want if they ask why it's there or what it means. We know. You know. And that's everyone who counts."
Annie just nodded: she couldn't talk. She squeezed her eyes shut, but it didn't help; the tears streaming down her face and she started to shake. Auggie, quicker than the others, and always aware of her, moved over and hugged her. She wrapped her arms around him and sobbed into his chest for a few seconds as it all poured out of her. Then he eased her into a chair and took the small framed document so she wouldn't drop it. They all squatted down to be at her level while she held her face in her hands and worked to get her emotions under control.
It was a full minute before she took a shaky breath and looked at them. She held Auggie's hand tightly; her soul was completely vulnerable - exposed in her wide, innocent eyes and open expression, as she looked at all of them and she said, "Thank you so much. That means more to me than you will ever know." She paused for a moment, her eyes a window into her soul. Then, her face abruptly changed back to her Covert Officer persona. She stood up and said, as they also stood up, "I'm looking forward to working with you."
Annie saw Jo's eyes pop wide open for a split second at the transformation. Then Jo looked at Joan and, in what Annie realized was a moment of incredible insight, asked, "Is this the first time you've seen the real Annie Walker?"
Joan looked startled, then nodded and said, "Yes, I'm ashamed to say, it is. But hopefully I'll get to know her better if she's willing to open the door."
"Joan, the only person on the planet that gets in that door for more than a moment is Auggie, and he isn't talking." Auggie stepped closer and squeezed her hand in agreement. She looked around and said, "And now, if there's nothing else, Auggie, and I want to take Jo to Allen's Tavern for a beer, or an iced tea. You grownups can do whatever you want. Us kids are taking the rest of the day off. I'm gonna go play, and I'm taking Auggie and Jo with me. If you don't like it, tough." She smiled to soften her words, Auggie took one arm, Jo took the other, and they headed out of the office. As they turned to go down the hall. Annie said, "Jo, tell me about the tractor pull."