>AGENT BHATT’S APARTMENT>BEACON HILL, SEATTLE>2019.JUL.8>1830...///
The soft charcoal coloured carpet of the apartment was pristine, the last of the daylight pouring in through the large window in the living area. The suns rays were catching antique glassware that sat on tables, sprinkling out to illuminate everything else. A tall, rustic looking bookshelf - covered in books with the occasional potted succulent in between tomes as a decorative bookend.
An oblong, mahogany coffee table was the centerpiece, and the scent of the polish hung in the room. Propped atop the shiny surface was a copper bowl, and inside of that a potted aloe vera surrounded by glass beads. Across the cream three seater sofa was several throw cushions, in an ombre from the colour of sangria to a dusky pink, a thick crocheted blanket, topped with a thinner throw. Monochromed, with a detailed mandala - folded perfectly and hung over the arm.
Knick knacks adorned the shelves and other surfaces - but there were never too many. A tribal mask sat beside a glass lamp in the corner, a brass elephant accompanied a candle stick on a mounted shelf, a small Mayan pyramid on the windowsill, surrounded by potted herbs and flowers.
Perhaps strangely, the pride of place item was a long framed image depicting a series of old, anatomical drawings set on a crisp white background, framed in gold. By every sense of the word, Parinaaz’s apartment was pristine. There was not a speck of dust to be found, and even as she let her cat free from the mobile box, the cat seemed to appreciate the cleanliness too - moving softly over the carpet - her nose in the air until the snaked her way through the legs of the chairs and tables to find her house. “Go on now Audrey,” Pari said quietly, letting the cat run under her hand.
She took a moment to take in the sight of her home, pleased to be back in it. She left her suitcase by the front door - her heels tapping against the hardfloor until she met the carpet too, phone in hand as she made her way to her sofa, removing the suede sock boots so she could curl up within the upholstery, grabbing a cushion and hugging it as she dialled the number of Dawant from the business card he’d given her.
She stretched her back out, groaning as she did so - flying played havoc on her body and she was as stiff as anything. The phone ran out in her hand, and so she waited to see if the man would answer.
The phone picked up, the aged and gravelly voice of Dawant coming from the other end, “Hello?”
"Dawant, it's Agent Bhatt." She said clearly, "you left in something of a hurry yesterday… Anyway, I'm in Seattle again, I would like us to meet and catch up."
“I’m free!” Dawant said, the smile in his voice lending him some warmth, “Where would you like to meet up?”
"Actually, I want to take you to a place called Cedars, if it's not a place you've already been - I think you'll like it," Pari also smiled at the other end, turning her head to look out of the window from where she was sitting. "Tomorrow at six? How does that suit you?"
“That suits me fine. I look forward to meeting another competent Seattleite,” Dawant chuckled, “How are you, by the way. If you don’t mind me asking, of course. You and your colleagues seemed troubled when we last met up. Especially the red and black-haired one.”
She considered his question, "You mean Davidson? I don't know that I've got quite a read on him yet, he's an intense man and nothing makes people like us more intense than a case like this, you know? We all feel the trouble of it in our own ways. I pride myself on being able to remain cool-headed…" Pari sighed, curling herself up tighter, "But, it seems I'm not immune to Blackriver, it pokes at your old sores if you're not prepared." She raised a brow, surprised at her own admission of herself. "Next time I'll be more prepared," she added with a light-hearted chuckle. Levity.
Dawant breathed a chuckle himself, “I know what you mean. One step in that place and, I don’t know. Something in me wanted to play things loose, like I used to.” He chuckled more open this time, if not a bit sheepish, “It really does make you want to be something you aren’t anymore, doesn’t it? Anyways, there’s some things I’ve been researching about Blackriver. Tapping my contacts, nights at the library. We can discuss that tomorrow though, I’d hate to take up too much of your time, Agent Bhatt.”
"Something like that, it made me feel well… nevermind." She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose, "and of course not, I'll see you then, see what I can bring to the table too. Take care Dawant." Pari waited for him to hang up before placing her phone onto the coffee table. She turned her face to the books on the shelf, all in a row. She could do some research too. >2019.JUL.9>1100...///
The cosmopolitan vision outside of her apartment window was a far cry from the endless horizon of mountains and forest she’d been entrenched in while in Blackriver. Still, as dark and mysterious as it was - the air there had been fresh and pierced through with pine. City air was just that, city air. As Pari hummed quietly, watering the plants on the windowsill, she thought of her time there, and bit down on her lip as her thoughts drifted to Laine. She had missed them, saying goodbye, anyway. With dinner with Dawant on the schedule for the evening, she wanted to check in on the psychologist, at least to talk…
Laine sat at her desk in the BAU office, her lunch break was a brown bag today, a sandwich and salad which she ate as she reread her notes about the legends. The Lord of the Forest, The Sleeper, bargains and promises. It reminded her of the last conversation she had with Pari and the frustration of miscommunication. Things had been left unsettled so finally Laine put down her sandwich and picked up her phone, swiping through her contacts until she found Agent Bhatt. Tapping it, she let it ring as she stood up and went into an empty meeting room, shutting the door behind her.
The thoughts she’d put out into the world must have made their way to Laine, Pari thought as she saw her name pop up on the screen of her phone, she picked it up quickly; “hey Laine,” she said, a smile on her face as she placed the watering cup down. “Are you okay?” she asked quickly, glancing to the side.
"Hey, Pari," Laine replied, "I'm fine, just...uh, checking in. Seeing how you were doing. I didn't really get a chance to say goodbye before I left."
The corners of Pari’s mouth tugged into a smile. “I didn’t either, sorry… I get into a bit of a mindset when I have to catch a flight… And well, I think I’m okay. It’s nice to be home. Are you doing okay too? I know it was a… hard few days for us out there.”
"I'm doing better now, thanks. And yeah, definitely a rough time. But that's...that's how this job is isn't it? But it's worth the rough spots in the end, that next sunrise," Laine replied, her last conversation with Donnelley coming to mind, her understanding a little bit more the role of the Program. "You've done this before though, I guess I don't need to tell you. Met up with Dawant yet? My contacts confirmed his information, though they didn't have much else other than victim information unfortunately not including Maria Vasquez."
“You’re right, it is. And…” she sighed, placing a hand on the windowsill, “I’ve done it before but everytime is new. I have a difficult time reminding myself it’s okay to find things hard.” Pari sighed again, running a hand across her brow. “I’m meeting Dawant tonight, invited him to dinner. Trying to keep it casual, you know? Establish trust beyond the case. He might let his guard down and let us breathe some. If I can do anything to help you all…”
Laine glanced at the blind covered glass that kept privacy from the main office. "Every case is different, that's one thing in my line of work I always have to keep in mind. Each crime scene, each victim, each suspect is different even if there are common features. The danger lies in expectations and assumptions before really looking at every piece of evidence. I'm not sure how much you know about criminal analysis but we always look at the crime scene first, we learn about the victims before we ever want to hear about the suspects if there are any because working that way it helps us avoid having other perceptions contaminate our analysis. Anyway, I'm babbling, the point is this is a new case, and a fucking hard case. We're going to go down dead ends and chase false leads, it's the unfortunate nature of the beast."
Laine sighed, "It's certainly fine to find it difficult because it is. And none of us are geniuses...uh, well except for Ava. But that's not my point. I like the idea with Dawant, he's a good source and hopefully he'll learn to trust us with his case. But I know from experience that it's hard to be left out when you've made a personal investment."
“Yeah, you’re right Laine. There’s always a new curveball in every case. You’ve got to stack up your facts before you press to anything else. I’ve seen some weird things, and then some completely straight forward ones too… And then there are the cases that are just timebombs.” Pari paused, thinking back to Montana, the pressure and tension that had been built there especially, she felt it ring over her even now. “I tend to take pride in my regime, my analysis. Everything with the case I can turn it into data in my mind, piece together the logical, and sometimes illogical. But what I find hard is how it… How these things just get past my own defenses.” Pari moved from the windowsill, making her way through to her desk, to the line of books in a row. “I’ve seen some… Real
heavy things. Blackriver is something else though, whatever is simmering beneath the surface…” She pulled her lips to the side and narrowed her eyes. “You know?”
"I feel that, it's a place with deep and dark history, bones lying just under the dirt," Laine replied. "Those heavy things can definitely stay with us, things we can't unsee or forget, we just have to find ways to compartmentalize or we can't function and do our jobs."
She sighed, the memory of Mrs Baughman flashing through her mind. She added, "You've worked other cases involving weird shit, anything like this one?"
“I’ll hold steadfast to my faith next time. Make time to check in with myself, I underestimated it, Laine, I won’t make that mistake again.” Pari smiled on the other end of the call, the warmth of it slipping into her tone. “Not quite like this. As you said, they’re all different. But, I get called to a lot of cases that involve religiously motivated crime. Whether that’s simply a shooting at a church, or well, an apparent sacrifice. With the Program? Darker things. Occult. Where the lines of what’s real and what shouldn’t be get blurred,” she confessed, taking a seat at the desk. She thought back to Laine’s comment at the prison, “had a case with some Wiccans too, once,” she chuckled.
"If faith is what helps you, then certainly hold onto it," Laine said, leaning against the conference table in the darkened room. "Wait, wiccans really? That silly shit is pretty harmless from what I remember but it's pretty broadly interpreted. What happened?"
“Perhaps calling them Wiccans is a stretch, but a few years ago now, some sorority girls attempted to drown a girl in an apple bobbing game… This happened over Halloween and we found that they had planned to make more sacrifices in the name of Samhain.” Pari rubbed her lower lip, “they thought that doing so would make them more powerful in their witchcraft. Grant them more powers, make them more beautiful… It was nothing but the vicious games of young girls in the end. But, every year is the same, I get so much more work to do in October...” she sighed, bringing her hand to her hip. “Sometimes when desperate people get desperate enough, they’ll trade lives for the chance to be recognised by their Gods.”
Laine huffed a sardonic laugh, "Damn kids. That's terrifying what greed and jealousy will make people do, in the name of religion or otherwise. I love Halloween and people like that ruin it. Same reason black cats aren't adopted out in October, there's always some chance they might be hurt by some occult types. Tortured because of old superstition. Well, I'm pretty sure they got that idea in some misinterpreted Wiccan text and ran with it. I've had a case or three with Satanic overtones. One in Massachusetts which the murderer was a legit Satanic 'cult' leader who was also a pimp. I'm not sure if he actually believed it, I think he liked the aesthetic and the fear he could use to keep the girls he pimped out under control. Which he did until one pissed him off enough and he decided to cut her head off as an example. He ended up killing two others in a similar manner.”
Laine caught herself, "Sorry about that, I start reminiscing and I forget it's not casual conversation for most people to mention murders."
“We aren’t most people,” Pari replied with a smirk. “I bet between the two of us, we’ve enough stories from the job to fill a book or two of our own. I’d like to hear more of them some day. I’m still waiting on that one you teased on my first day.” Her voice lowered, practically a quiet purr down the phone as her eyebrows raised. “Be one hell of a girls night. Toasting smores, talking murder…”
"That's true, I can't ever claim to be bored our line of work, an FBI agent's job is never done," Laine quipped, then said, "As long as it's around a bonfire in the backyard and not camping. You won't catch me out in a flimsy tent in the woods."
“Not knowing what we know, right?” Pari said, before drawing a breath through her teeth. “Anyway, before this evening, I’m hitting my own books. See if your ‘Lord of the Woods’ pulls anything for me, I’ve got a starting point for some research. I really think we’re dealing with sacrifice, Laine. Someone wants to gain or appease something -- and that’s never going to end well for anyone involved. Gods, demons, beings - they’re wrathful, spiteful, spread and sow deceit… But, how are you going with your profiling?”
Laine took a deep breath, the profiling was an issue, she was certain of a few things but other aspects were less clear especially now that there was the involvement of cartel and Russians and the strangeness that came with them, “I’m still working on it as I get new information but so far it’s pretty basic unfortunately with everything else going on, I haven’t been able to just sit down and go back over the evidence. I know the answers are there, I just need time. I’m back at work so I’ll have access to our facilities but I plan on working on the Vasquez case on my off time. There’s too much to let it wait. Once I have at least a basic profile I’ll send it over to you.”
She paused, then decided to continue, “You know, it might be a sacrifice but there’s something that’s bothering me. The Satanic Pimp I told you about? He fully believed he was a two thousand year old demon and that he could gain the powers from the Devil, at least according to all accounts. He had faith, I suppose, but you know, he killed three girls in so called sacrifices. They were sacrifices to Satan and he said himself he had tortured them with the purpose of causing the most pain to get them to an emotional point that would make the sacrifice more powerful as he delivered the killing blow. Sounds very religiously motivated doesn’t it?”
“Absolutely,” Pari replied, her eyes narrowed as she made sense of Laine’s words. “Sacrifices, they’re… Well, horrific. We all know the cliche of throwing a virgin into a volcano. It’s tale as old as time, but creating pain in a victim leaves behind an energy. It raises fear, even changes the chemicals in the blood. There are stories in folklore of demons who feed on fear itself… With sacrifice, it’s all symbolic. It’s about showing just how powerful you are. ’look at what I’ve done to this sacrifice, look at how she trembles before me’
. Perhaps a sickening show of bravado, perhaps to add… Well, seasoning to the meal.” Pari added, curling her lips at her choice of words. “Our killer wants to be seen as powerful, to stand above the rest. He really wants attention. Not just from us, but from that which he worships.” She sighed, pacing through her apartment to her small bedroom.
“Laine, we could be looking at someone who was seen as extremely inferior throughout his life. Abused, mentally scarred, always a loser - and I don’t mean in an always the bridesmaid, never the bride... I mean a complete loser.” Pari thought on what she was saying, it felt obvious to anyone who had watched a detective TV show, but it was at least worth emphasising. “But that’s obvious to you - that’s almost every serial killer ever, right? But, someone who would try to prove himself worthy to a God with such a tremendous sacrifice. Maybe he was in the background for a long time, desperate for attention... He’s sure getting it now.”
"It certainly could be, I've considered it. Still working that up so I'm not ready to speculate," Laine replied, "But what I'm looking at is the Satanic Pimp killed three girls. The first was a girl that refused to trick for him and was working on her own this in his eyes stealing from him since that was 'his' territory. The second was a girl who started to get scared and doubt his power and threatened to leave. The last was the witness who told the local cops what she had seen in the group. So yes, all the murders had ritual and he had his MO and certainly got off on the power he felt and from all accounts he likely felt Satan was pleased ay his offerings but there was a pragmatic reason to it too. Religious killing, sure but it got rid of potential threats and betrayers. He picked his victims for much less esoteric reasons. So I'm thinking maybe there is another reason other than ritual and sacrifice or just plain sadistic reason for killing her how he did. And the hiker, a few years back, she was killed in a similar way and it was covered up by the good old Blackriver Sheriff department."
“You’re right on that. Why
did he pick Maria?” Pari mused, running a hand through her hair. “Dawant seemed quite set on this being a case of an example being made to rival cartels… But, do you think that maybe she was going to blow their operation somehow? That something she did defied someone, or even greatly insulted them and this was also a punishment for her, personally? And as there’s been a cover up in the past... ” she paused, taking a seat at the corner of her bed. “I don’t know, but I want to. Did our girls know something they shouldn’t have?”
"That's what I'm thinking, I was certain she had just been a target of convenience like the hiker must have been when Frank told me about her. I still want to find her husband but that'll have to wait, now I'm reconsidering that with Russians in the hills. Maybe it'll be clearer once we get more information... Donnelley should have that information from Carlisle in a couple days and whatever more you can pull from Dawant," Laine sighed, rubbing her temple. A dull ache was developing as she was tired and faced a new case and a meeting with her supervising agent after lunch.
"I'm thinking in circles right now," she sighed, "Look I'll keep you posted, once I'm done with the profile."
“Food for thought,” Pari said in response, glancing at the outfit she’d prepared for the evening. “As long as Dawant plays ball tonight I should have good news for Donnelley too. We’re getting there, we are. Leave the Lord of the Woods to me, and maybe you keep on the husband, and digging at those Russians. I’m sure there’s something that Ava can find too…” The woman took a long breath, “and hey, if you ever want to just talk about everything or anything, well… Give me a call, and take care.”
"I look forward to what you find out, I probably should have taken a day off before coming back to work," Laine remarked, "I have a meeting with my boss in about an hour I better finish up my lunch. It was good to talk about this case, I can't mention it with the people I normally work cases with. Good luck with your research...you know, Ava and I discussed the Lord of the Woods and considered there might be a link or even that the Sleeper and the Lord might be the same being or at least related."
She snapped her fingers, remembering, " And also we should think about what we'll ask Dulane when we get him up to the mines. I really want to know what he was supposed to get for his promise to The Sleeper. What was going to be his reward for killing those miners."
“There has to be a link, you’re right there. I’ve got a starting point for it, I’ll start compiling something into a report -- in fact, when we get back the three of us should sit down and make a formal report of everything so far. Our notes, images. I don’t want anything to get lost. And, well, I get a kick out of putting together a well organised binder…” Pari confessed with a chuckle. “I’ll let you go, and finish your lunch, good luck with your meeting.”
"We definitely need to do that, and if you're offering to sort things into a case binder, go for it. Alright, talk to you later, and thanks," Laine said, glancing up as a knock sounded on the door and she ended the call. >2019.JUL.9>1330...///
The streets were always the same, and it always felt dangerously close to rain - even in summer. She’d stepped out for milk, and on her way back to her apartment she made out the figure of a familiar face in the doorway of apartment seventeen; "hey Ciaran," she said with a smile, watching as he turned around to greet her back.
"Oh hey, alright?" He replied with a friendly grin, looking over his shoulder at her. Blue eyes inviting, a slight sheen of sweat on his brow, his teeth were perfectly straight and white. As much of a Hollywood smile as one could have. "Back from yer trip then?" He asked, an Irish lilt thick in his voice.
"Yeah, just got back yesterday. Has everything been alright?" Pari asked, crossing her arms over her chest, the milk bottle hanging from it’s handle on the index finger - swaying gently. She comfortably leaned against her own doorway.
He nodded and gave a shrug. "Aye. June kicked off again 'bout me music like… Same old, Paz, same old." He chuckled, glancing down the hallway to the third apartment.
"You should be a better neighbour like I am,” she said with a wry laugh and a feline smile, as if they’d had this conversation a hundred times over. “But really, she took her meds?" she said with her smug expression before it turned concerned and serious.
"Yeah, I popped in every morning like you asked." Ciaran smiled, his expression carefree. " And speaking o'being a good neighbour - was gonna get a pizza in tonight. Up fer it?" He asked nudging his head in the direction of his lounge.
Ciaran was great company, that was for sure and she took a glance back into her own apartment - at the bookshelves, and there was also her dinner with Dawant on the schedule. "I'd love too, but I have plans already…" she pouted. "Maybe later this week?"
"Aye aye, maybe. Don't work too hard, yer looking jaded. But swing round later, I want all the craic. Later though." Ciaran chuckled before entering his apartment, closing the door behind him.
Pari's gaze lingered a little while longer as she remained in the doorway; she breathed before returning to her own room, leaving the milk on the kitchen counter before making her way quickly across the floor to the bookshelf, dragging a finger over the spines until she landed on a particular book. Ireland's Immortals
. As she turned the cover over, a note on the first page read;
Get a load of our myths for a change, nerd.
He was a good neighbour, and had just helped her in more ways than she would be able to tell him.
What felt like hours later, this time with a relaxed and purring Audrey, she stumbled upon something that suddenly and completely resonated with her. Enough for her to bolt upright and place the book down on the surface of her table. A name. A picture. A chill down her spine: Crom Cruach
He was a God in old Ireland, pre-Christian. But the etymology of his name was of interest to Pari in the moment. Crom Cruach, ‘Bent Chief’, ‘Crooked Head’ - of hills, mounds, and stacks. Legend said that Crom Cruach’s image was destroyed by Saint Patrick on Samhain eve, destroyed with a sledgehammer.
Pari ran her thumb across her lip, an eyebrow quirked in she exhaled a deep breath as she continued scanning through the stories - more and more of it making sense. The Old God, obscured by mists amongst his hills. Myth tells of the cult image of Crom Cruach surrounded by his twelve figures, falling into the ground and leaving his imprint when Saint Patrick appeared.
Before he was ended, he ruled with the Old Gods - bringing blessed harvest in exchange for human sacrifice
. Pari placed the book face down into her lap, narrowing her eyes as she recounted upon conversations she’d already had. In the modern age, a blessed harvest didn’t always amount to grain for the fields. So what was it now?
How did the Old God Crom, of fertility and of the sun become so demonised? At what point in Irish history did he transform from a wisened man to be seen as a worm to be defeated? And what did it have to do with a river?
The Lambton Worm came to her mind. The Worm that grew so big it wrapped itself around an entire hill and terrified villagers, as beasts are to do… Upturning trees with its wrath and using them as a club to fight back at those who arrived in the territory. It was slayed in the river and washed away, cursing the man who lifted his sword for generations afterwards…
They fought something in the woods. They had, and still Pari did not know what it was, she’d not had chance to ask… Could it have been a Worm from the pages of Gaelic mythology? Now it was time to ask, which of them had been closest to it? Who knew the most about the ‘Lord of the Woods’
? If not Crom Cruach, then another similar to him. If not of Irish myth then of Scottish, or English... Whoever it was, she would find his name.
“We’re not dealing with a demon,” she whispered out in front of her, and while maybe it shouldn’t have sparked a sense of excitement, it did. Her eyes flashed with it, and her front teeth pressed into her lower lip.
“We’re dealing with a God…
” >CEDARS RESTAURANT>CAPITOL HILL, SEATTLE>2019.JUL.9>1755...///
Pari entered the restaurant earlier than she’d arranged with Dawant. She was dressed in plum cigarette trousers, and a loose silk cream shirt. A chain hung around her neck but whatever was the centrepiece was out of sight, dropped below the gold buttons. There was a slight shimmer across her decolletage, matching the same golden hue that glistened across the heights of her cheekbones.
For a change of pace, she’d styled her hair to be straight, and it hung free to her elbows, an almost mirror shine on the surface. She walked steady on the high-heeled pumps as the wait staff escorted her to her table; “this way,” the young man said - most definitely a student. “Will it be your usual tonight?” he followed up with a smile and a tilt of his head.
“I’m actually to be with a friend tonight, so I’ll save ordering until he arrives,” she replied with an easy smile, placing her handbag on the corner of the table, the books inside it made it bulkier than usual. For a moment, the waiter looked surprised to hear that the woman wouldn’t be eating alone, but that expression quickly smoothed into a neutral smile and he wandered across the floor to serve the other diners.
Pari, meanwhile, gazed lazily out of the window, drumming her fingers over the table absentmindedly.
“Hello, Agent Bhatt,” Dawant’s smile was warm, almost seeming to be a different, more soft man now that he was away from Blackriver. Perhaps there was truth to his claim that something in Blackriver made people harder, “This is a nice place. Lighting’s good. My real question is if the drinks are just as fine.”
He chuckled, “How are you tonight?”
“Detective Dawant,” Pari replied, his difference in demeanour did not go unnoticed by her soft gaze. “I thought you might like it,” she remarked with a smile, “and I’m fine, glad to be back home for a while. How about yourself? You seem well.”
He straightened his tie with a self-assured smile, “I am well, after leaving that place.” He cleared his throat and looked at the menu, talking as he did, “Did you want to immediately discuss the case? I’d like to get everything out on the air as soon as I could.”
"Of course, I understand that. I want to discuss the case with you, so let's get it out into the open between us. But first..." she said with an affable smile, waving a hand to grab the attention of a passing waiter. "Can we get drinks please? A soda water for me, please" she said before she turned back to Dawant, "what would you like?" Pari asked, placing her hands in front of her.
“I’ll take an Old Fashioned, please and thank you.” Dawant smiled at the waiter before they turned away to take their orders to the kitchens. He turned back to Pari, “So, what would you like to touch on?”
"You've been on this case for a long time. Maria's case. Now it's become so much worse. It's not yet closed…" Pari sighed, crossing her arms. "We've got her body, but just so many questions and no answers…" Pari's eyes closed momentarily, her voice quiet, the soft music and ambient chatter of patrons masked their conversation and prevented it from leaving their table. "I want to find the answers for you, but I need to know what you're expecting of me, of our team." There was nothing sour in her words, and the way her brows fell soft was telling of a woman reaching out, not putting someone into a corner.
"I can talk the case with you all night detective, but… we both know it's not going to work unless there's trust. Do you trust us, Dawant?" Pari asked candidly, her head tilting to the side.
Dawant pursed his lips, looking around the restaurant in front of him. When he thought he could speak freely, he leaned in close to Pari, “I know
I can’t trust anyone. I know
this goes deeper than just Maria Vasquez.” His eyes searched Pari’s, “And I know
you and your team aren’t just FBI.
He shook his head, “And maybe that’s why you’re the only ones I can
trust.” He leaned back, a smile back on his face like switching demeanors was easy as flipping a switch, “I’ve seen it. On the force. Years and years before I was retired those peckerwood fuckin’ cops harassin’ people ‘cause they were like me and you.” He nodded slow, pointed with his index and middle finger to his eyes, “These have seen it all. You ever hear about those missing children cases in Seattle? No? Ain’t that weird?”
He spoke in hushed tones, but harsh as his eyes all the same, “I’m old, Agent Bhatt. I been around. You ask me if I trust you? Trust your team?” The drinks came and the glasses clinked onto the table, but he didn’t break his stare. He mouthed silently, “Real question is do you
Pari's answer came quick; "yes." Her hand reached towards the tumbler with the sparkling water. A slice of lime as garnish and a cocktail straw a piece of colour. "Yes, I trust you." Her own deep and dark gaze was fixed to his and she matched his intensity.
Pari smiled and placed the tip of her finger against the rim of her glass, "I trust you detective Dawant. I wouldn't be here otherwise." She broke her stare with a blink. "Maybe that might come back around to hurt me," she sighed, waving a hand carefully, "but yes, I trust you."
“Your Team Lead doesn’t seem to.” Dawant snorted, regaining a more friendly composure, “Can I ask you something? Without you getting offended?”
"Of course," Pari answered with a slight nod, suddenly intrigued. Making a mental note to circle back to Donnelley and Foster later in the conversation.
“All this talk of trust.” He smirked, taking a sip of his drink, “I can guarantee they already went and captured Carlisle without me. I knew they would, that your people would. I want a yes or no answer, if I can trust you. You’re not all really FBI, are you?”
She thought on his question, lifting her own glass up, turning it about in her wrist, she purposely averted her gaze from him and lowered her shoulders. Speaking quietly, "if they've gone to Carlisle, it's not something I know about." If they had or they had not, that was the truth, her truth. She furrowed her brows, as if musing on it.
"Your second question," she brought her composure back, leveling her posture as her fingers held tight to the glass. "We are all FBI," again, a truth. For the purposes of the case, they were all FBI. Pari didn't know any of them enough to speculate where they were really from, or of what background they were from originally. She knew of the dangers and risks that came to people who spoke too much about the Program, but still, she could soften that blow for Dawant - file down the sharp edge some. "But… I'm not FBI," she began, bringing the straw to her lips to take a sip of the drink -- holding him gently on her string. "I'm a Stanford graduate… Now an occasional professor there… An academic…" She took another sip, running her tongue slowly over her lower lip when she was done. "I'm a practicing Hindu… A daughter… Hell, I'm an Alcoholics Anonymous member too," she scoffed with a feminine laugh, shaking her wrist to rattle the ice her glass. "Most importantly Detective Dawant, I'm qualified to solve this case."
Pari's lips formed a smile, and she placed the glass down, resting an elbow upon the table to place her chin against a closed fist, "can I now ask you a question, without you being offended?" She blinked softly, the dim lights catching the shimmer across her eyelids, setting gentle simmering flickers in her irises.
Dawant nodded appreciatively, “I would’ve accepted yes or no.” He smirked, leaning close as if sharing in a great conspiracy, “Ask it.”
"Well, I'm also a talker," Pari replied, placing her glass down again and relaxing somewhat. "Why are you so interested in who we are?"
“You said it yourself, Pari. You’re a talker and you’re talking me in circles. I talked to Davidson and he seemed real damn offended when I insinuated you people weren’t just FBI.” He chuckled, shaking his head, “You think I’m gonna blab on myself? I gave Davidson the whereabouts of Carlisle so he could interfere in an official Federal Agency’s investigation into the Sinaloa.”
“I’m an accessory. An accomplice. And I’m okay with that. Because if my theory that you people are more than FBI is true,” His smile faded as he got closer, leaning on his elbows, “Then that means we can do whatever the fuck we need to get at who’s really
responsible for taking girls just like Maria and turning them into fucking whores.
“I could give a shit about due process anymore, Agent Bhatt.
I’m goddamn ready to show my fucking teeth to these sick fucks.” He hissed, “No more due process and bribed judges and dirty cops. Just us and them. I’m old as fuck, Bhatt. My clock’s ticking. If this is gonna be my last case then I’m gonna get my hands dirty with you.
Pari spent a moment digesting his words, keeping a lock on his eyes, looking deep in them for a crack in his veneer. But it was all him, the slow burning flame of a career spent humming through the wells of due process, surrounded by the dirty cops he despised. His aura changed, as if in the candlelight of Cedars she was seeing the real Dawant after the last shaky encounters. The corners of her mouth tugged into a smile too, whatever was on him was contagious and she clucked her tongue at last, raising her glass in his direction, with a huffed breath. "So let's raise a glass to showing our teeth then."
He smirked and raised his glass, taking a mouthful of his drink and swallowing it down. He sighed, sitting back in his chair, “So,” he began, “What do you know about the MacOnies and their family in West Virginia?”
Pari felt better. Like Goddamn Betty Crocker
in fact, she could soften the act now. She and Dawant had furthered their rapport enough and she didn't want to keep poking at that hole for much longer. "MacOnies? Blackriver's Royal Family from what I gather… William MacOnie is the Sheriff of Blackriver, currently his whereabouts are unknown. Beyond that, I know very little, sadly." She remained straight backed in her chair. It was business now, and she was listening. "Do you have something for me?"
“His brother is the County Prosecutor. You know what that means? The Sheriff can do whatever the fuck he wants. They put Dulane away in a jail cell instead of a mental ward.” Dawant chuckled bitterly, “It’s so fucked up I can only laugh at it. I’ve never seen corruption so efficient and I thought I’ve seen it all.”
“Their cousin, Simon MacOnie, is a wealthy real estate mogul that owns lots of properties in northern New York. He bumps and grinds with wealthy people and no one knows about his corrupt family. Or they don’t care.” He sipped at his drink, shaking his head, “He owns a hotel ten miles outside of Charleston on the way to Blackriver. It’s marketed as a mountain getaway, nothing for miles and scenic views with upper-class tastes. Five hundred dollars per guest and the guests are almost always the same. That is, a bunch of goddamn oligarchs.”
He leaned in close to Pari, “And there’s a few wealthy Russian business people that stay there every year to meet with Simon MacOnie. I have a guy on the inside, his name’s Francis Hughes, another Specialist with CMC with a shitload of money and…” Dawant raised his eyebrows, “A reservation at the River Valleys Retreat. He checked in under the name Frederick Hohenzollern and his last few emails have confirmed
Nikolai Gorochev’s daughter and her husband and their hired goons staying there.”
“Ask Davidson Who Nikolai Gorochev is and you’ll know why this is important. I can’t really stay there because I’m more black and middle class than I am rich and white.” Dawant smiled, sharkteeth in his lips. “But there’s a few of you that can.”
“Wait until the thirteenth to share this with anyone. Make sure no one sees us exit this restaurant together.” He slapped a fifty on the table, “I hate to cut this short, but our meetings have to be quick and seldom. These are dangerous people. They’re not to be fucked with. And we’re fucking with them.”
He rose, straightening his coat and pushing his chair in, “Thank you for meeting with me Pari. Next time anyone says Seattleites can’t do shit…” he winked and turned, pausing on his way, “Wait thirty minutes before you leave. Check the wheel wells of your car for anything suspicious and do not go home if you think someone’s following you from here. I’ll be in West Virginia on the fourteenth.”
He walked away from her and disappeared past the doors of the restaurant, evaporating into the night.