|janecarnall (janecarnall) wrote,|
@ 2008-11-13 21:50:00
The Players: George
This is part six of the second section (seven parts) of the story (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five) that began with The Games (six parts) and continued with The Network (one part).
The story may be regarded as fanfic set in poisontaster's Keptverse. It is being written as part of wrimowrimo. I also updated the cast list here.
The Players: George
Eight years and nine months residence had not greatly changed George Cowley’s opinion of the United States of North America. Except, at moments like these, for the worse.
“You do know that these are not actual interrogations?” Gerard was tapping the print-out against his knee. He looked tired and sounded bad-tempered, but it was not long after six in the morning. “Willow and Adam had no access to the subjects of the report.”
Cowley waited before he spoke: when he was angry, getting the words right was an effort. “I’m fully aware of that, Sam, but they did have access to the company and Commerce files on these subjects. Willow is a very good data analyst. So is Adam. I am asking you to consider the possibility that Willow may have got it right.”
“And if she did?”
“Consider the situation this report outlines, Sam. They have no contact with the outside world. We took it as read that meant they have no connections we need to protect.”
“Yeah,” Gerard said. He was frowning.
“But they have connections with each other. This company owns nearly two million people.”
“Not in any one location,” Gerard said.
“How important is that, if they can communicate between company sites?”
“These five came from the same site.”
“But different workgangs. The workgangs are moved around the company as a unit.” With an effort, Cowley pulled himself away from arguing details. “I think we need to see this as a network that deserves our protection.”
Gerard sat in silence for a while, staring past Cowley. Gerard was not, in Cowley’s estimation, a quick thinker where abstracts were concerned: he reacted lightning-fast only when he had something concrete or definite to respond to. It was infuriating and frustrating not to be able to snap out an order, but it was something Cowley had known he would have to get used to, years ago: and had, for the most part.
“Well,” Gerard said. “Say you’re right. Let me clarify the position here. We promised Commerce we would give them a whole stack of information on these five subjects. We got the information. Now you say it’s too good to give them. Maybe so. But long term, what’s the effect if we give them a report that’s got nothing? Are they going to send us their subjects again?”
“We’ve never given up a major network in the past.”
“No.” Gerard was still not looking at Cowley. “We’ve always been able to give them something else to keep them happy. We’ve got nothing here except…” he tapped the paper against his knee, “…what we do have.”
“When do you have to send them this report?”
“I was planning on sending it today,” Gerard said. “Soon as Dana can fill in the details of how each of our subjects died.”
“Give me a day. Let me work with Willow on this. If we can’t amend this – ”
“You’re still going to fight me on this,” Gerard cut in. He was looking at Cowley again, and he was amused. “Yeah. How close to the edge do you think we are?”
“I think we’ll be twenty years further off if you send in this report as it is.”
“Okay.” Gerard’s gaze was steady, assessing. “You and Willow can have till tomorrow morning.”
Cowley nearly bit his tongue. He had another persuasive speech planned, which didn’t seem necessary. He knew what any of Gerard’s other people would have said: a grateful, even awed, Thank you, Sam. Gerard was his superior officer, the line of command was clear: it would have been much easier to nod a polite “Thank you, sir,” than it was to say, aware he hardly sounded grateful, “Thank you, Sam.”
“Call her in right now,” Gerard added. “You had breakfast?” He stood up. “I need coffee. Let’s eat before Ray and Benton wake up. It’s gonna be a full house, again. And I need to talk to you after breakfast about this e-mail I got last night. It can wait till I’ve had coffee, though.”
Giles answered the phone. He sounded, if possible, in a worse temper than Gerard: but he conceded they could be at the house in an hour.
When Gerard came downstairs again he had Richard in tow. Literally in tow; he was holding him by the wrist, as if he thought Richard would get away. The man showed no sign of wanting to escape. He stumbled along beside Gerard, looking simply not quite there. When Gerard pushed him at the table where Cowley sat drinking tea and eating toast, Richard sat down without ever lifting his head.
Cowley couldn’t remember ever having been much angrier with Gerard when he’d thought Richard had been bought as some kind of dangerous sex toy. Buying a person – buying a dangerous convicted criminal – to keep as property would have irritated him to a vast degree of annoyance no matter who had done it, but for his commanding officer to do it, at this critical juncture when so much depended on him – that, had driven him to real fury. In principle, according to the terms of the agreement the British Government had made with the US Marshals service nine years ago, Cowley was Gerard’s replacement if Gerard were killed or taken: but in all honesty, Cowley knew, he could never hold this disparate group together. Gerard had chosen them: as Gerard’s team, they worked. For anyone else, they would fall apart.
The overtones of that anger were still there when he looked at Richard. Gerard had not bought him out of simple lust. There was a tactical reason behind his purchase, Cowley was certain now, and Gerard wouldn’t want to share it till he was sure it would work – and if it never did, Gerard would dispose of Richard and never share the reason why. Cowley drank his tea. Humanely, of course. The humour tasted sour in his mouth. Richard Kimble was a murderer: execute him or send him to gaol for life, Cowley would not quarrel with either one, but this endlessly-drawn-out game of three years here and six months there, was… unnecessary.
The story about the governor was probably true, too. The requirement to own a slave had been getting more and more stringently enforced over the defined sufficient income level. Even over the past eight years, Cowley had noticed the change. About the only way to escape it now was to live somewhere literally too small for a slave to be fitted in, and to deliberately lose enough money each month by some legitimate means (gambling was good: as was heavy drinking, drugs taken… charity wasn’t favoured) in case the IRS began to look at you. Sam Gerard had managed the trick of not owning a slave without arousing suspicion for a long time, but no one could do it forever.
And maybe, Cowley thought, watching Gerard put a plate of food down in front of Richard and shove a mug of coffee into his hand, there was something of simple lust in it as well. Insofar as lust was ever simple: Cowley had never found it so.
“You’re going to eat it, Richard,” Gerard said. He sat down with his own plate of food, and glanced at Cowley. “Yesterday, with eight other people in the house, all of them eating at regular intervals, Richard managed to get by on a bagel and a bowl of soup till we had supper.”
Cowley shrugged. “When I was a boy, the usual problem the lads in my street had with keeping rabbits was that sooner or later, they’d forget to feed them.” He kept his voice at polite disinterest. There had been twelve people in the house yesterday, and if Cowley had any doubts about why he was here, he only had to look at the last three. “There was something else you wanted to talk about?”
“Yeah.” Gerard eyed Cowley. “There is. It can wait. What d’you think about the Cubs chances this season?”
“About the same as you do about Rangers winning the cup,” Cowley retorted.
Gerard laughed. He began to talk, looking at Cowley, about a string of baseball trivia: players exchanged, games won and lost, weather and strike action. Gerard intended what he was saying for Richard, Cowley realised: and the man was eating as he listened. Cowley held his peace.
Vecchio and Fraser came downstairs together while Richard was still finishing off the last of the food on his plate. Gerard put more coffee on to brew. “Get Adam, will you?” he said to Cowley.
Pierson was getting dressed when Cowley knocked on his door. When they came downstairs again, Vecchio and Fraser were eating at the table without looking at either Gerard or Richard, and Richard was sitting with his head bent over his folded arms, not looking at anyone.
“Adam, what are you doing this morning?”
“Checking Commerce reports,” Pierson said. “Setting up contacts for Willow to process. Taking breakfast over to Dana.”
“Ray can do that,” Gerard said. “Keep Richard with you and keep him awake. Okay?”
“Okay,” Pierson said, sounding mildly surprised. He glanced at Richard.
“Let’s go, George,” Gerard said, and pointed. Through in the lounge, Gerard closed the door and walked over to his desk. He didn’t sit down. “We’ve got a leak.”
“What?” Cowley stared. There was a cold buzz up his back. “What kind of leak? Where?”
“A leak about Richard,” Gerard said.
Cowley sat down. He bit down on Is that all? Richard could be sold to Commerce interrogators as of today, and the only thing he’d be able to tell them – if they bothered to ask – was the sheer volume of coffee drunk by Deputy US Marshals. But any leak of information, however unimportant in itself, was potentially serious.
“I got an offer to buy Richard yesterday. From a former colleague of his, a Doctor Nicholls. It would be a legal sale – Nicholls runs a Final destination lab in Chicago Memorial Hospital, they tried to buy Richard back when he was first sentenced – but I think it was instigated by someone here as a rescue mission. Either that, or someone from outside has penetrated our security in ways I am very unhappy with.”
“Or someone saw you leave the arena last Saturday with Richard.”
“If that’s what happened, we won’t find it out without interviewing Doctor Nicholls. That’s a last resort. Even if that’s what happened, we’ve got to eliminate everyone here as a source.”
“If you wanted rid of Richard that badly, he’d be dead by now,” Gerard said. “Everyone else would want him out alive.”
Cowley folded his hands together, and looked up at Gerard. “Whatever your reason for buying him, it’s not worth losing any one of your team.”
Gerard sighed. He rubbed the back of his hand over his face. “If I can avoid it, I don’t intend to lose anyone over this. I thought it might be Ray and Benton, but I talked to them last night. Hoped it might be. If it was them, they were just being damn-fool abolitionists wanting to get Richard out of my evil clutches.”
“You don’t trust us with your reasons for buying him,” Cowley said.
“You, yeah,” Gerard said. “I want a slave to live here and sleep with me who wears a convict collar.”
“Why?” Cowley stared up at him.
“Oh, you know why, if you think about it,” Gerard said. He sat down and leaned forward. “But I don’t want the others to think about it. Not even Adam, and he’s got the best poker face, after you and me. What’s the first thing Commerce are going to do if – ” Gerard shrugged and grimaced. “If and when. You know.”
They had no word for the event they were working towards. You have words for what you discuss, and by policy they did not directly discuss it. “The hoped-for change”, the ministers had called it with whom Cowley had discussed the assignment before he left.
“The first thing?” Cowley frowned. Call out the army, send for the air force, summon the US marshals, have Congress declare martial law, have the President declare martial law and send troops to occupy Congress – there were so many ‘first reactions’ possible. The British government had reasonably certain estimates that there were ninety-seven million slaves within the USNA borders, and the one thing everyone felt certain of was that no one would take on the unacceptable task of killing them all – they were protected, quite simply, by the sheer scale of such a goal. Some would be killed. Many if not all of those who lived outside the walls of corporations would be killed by their panicked owners, if a network could not protect them. But not even Commerce could sanction killing every slave, or even planning to do so…
Not every slave.
“They’ll kill the convicts,” Cowley said. “Activate their collars.”
Gerard nodded. His face was very bleak. He smiled, joylessly. “Richard is my canary. If and when – I’ll know.”
Cowley stared at him. “Jesus Christ,” he said, and it was more prayer than curse. “That was why you bought him?” It made sense – if you could stomach the brutal practicality of it, it made perfect sense. They had always known their greatest risk came from their inability to place anyone inside Commerce – that they would not know that Commerce was reacting until it might be too late.
“Yeah,” Gerard said. He paused,watching Cowley.
Cowley stared back, literally speechless. It was brutal and practical, direct and effective: it was pure Gerard, but Cowley hadn’t seen it, because –
I couldn’t do it.
If it turned out to be necessary to accomplish their goal, Cowley could kill any one of Gerard’s team – even the girl, Willow, if she turned out to be the source of the leak. In past years he had handed over whole familes to Gerard to be rendered to Commerce, families whose only crime was to have taken in a hungry, hunted slave and given food and shelter and sent them on their way, who weren’t worth saving in their brutal numbers game because they’d done so out of pure kindness, not because they were linked to any larger network –
But he could not have taken Richard to his bed knowing what would happen to the man when – if –
I couldn’t do it.
“Dana asked me, couple of nights ago, if I minded that the only slaves we ever get to rescue are the ones who don’t deserve it – the killers who get sent to us, the ones we’re supposed to kill. Minded. Jesus. What am I gonna deserve, when this is all over, to eat my own gun? You can take that look off your face, okay? Just forget I told you. I’m keeping Richard for my own good reasons, which you can continue to assume are just because I want to screw that big dangerous hunk – and I want to find out who leaked that I got him.”
Cowley imposed calm on his face, and when he knew his voice would be steady, he said “I’ll pull the phone records.”
“Everyone’s. Check every laptop, too. Mine and yours. Someone might have borrowed one.”
“The report’s a priority,” Gerard added. “I don’t think whoever leaked about Richard is much of a threat, but I want to find out who.”
They sat there staring at each other. The morning light was naked on Gerard’s face.
to part 7