The lashing FBI Special Agent J.J. McCall planned to deliver to her traitorous boss must not be tempered by common sense or conscience, and her mind churned over that thought as she arrived on the edge of the bourgeois Northern Virginia suburb. She couldn’t wait for her visit with Jack to end. For J.J., time crept by and the entire morning, dragged. Why me? she asked herself again and again like a tired, broken record. Her burgeoning anxiety was irritating at best, so she leaned on Belvedere despite her promise to Tony. Only a small sip, though. Just enough to soothe the nerves and loosen the tongue.
Except for the barbed wire and armed correctional officers, the state jail looked more like luxury condos than a place to imprison hardened criminals. She took a deep breath, flashed her credentials and ambled inside the detention facility, dreading the moment she’d be forced to see his face, hear his voice. Her heart thanked Tony, the best co-case agent she could ask for. He was already inside waiting on her to arrive, refused to let her go it alone.
A sheriff led her through a series of security doors to the interrogation room where Jack awaited her arrival. The door buzzed, and the lock popped before she walked inside. Her teeth ground as she headed toward her seat, the one farthest from him and closest to the exit.
Jack sat solemn, pensive, shackled at the wrist. He rapped his hands on the table and waited for J.J. to sit down and speak. Seemed relieved, a feeling that no doubt dissipated when he realized the sentiment was in no way mutual.
“Jack,” she spat, unsmiling and cold. She fought the urge to tell him how well he looked in orange. She couldn’t force even a microscopic modicum of sympathy, not after he’d destroyed so many lives and treated her like shit for so many years.
“Didn’t think you’d show up,” he replied, in no position to spout his usual venomous remarks.
She pursed her lips and folded her arms across her chest, gave him “The Hand” with her hardened stare. “If Cartwright hadn’t asked me to come, trust me I wouldn’t have bothered. Now, can we please dispense with the idle pleasantries? Tell me whatever it is that you need to say so I can get the hell out of here. Confinement depresses me.”
Jack’s shame-filled gaze fell onto the table. He nodded and laced his fingers together. “The thing is...”
Then nothing. For seconds that seemed like hours, nothing.
Her patience had dwindled to non-existence, especially given that he’d done nothing but show her his ass over the years. She couldn’t wait to show him hers.
Karma’s a bitch.
J.J. had already decided to swiftly vacate the premises if she experienced even the slightest hint of an itch, any minor discomfort. He could spout his lies to someone stupid enough to believe him, find someone else with whom to share his sob story. She had a source to save and neither the time nor patience for his antics.
“You had every reason not to come here today. And now you have every reason to leave, but I’m asking you to please hear me out.” He rubbed his hands together in a rapid, nervous motion. “Nothing is what it seems.”
What’s this? she thought. Jack’s shoulders slumped and red veins peppered his eyes. He appeared sleepless and pathetic—not a good look.
“I know I’ve been a prick.”
“Uhhh. . . correction,” she interrupted, wagging her index finger. “A racist prick.” Her hand began to tremble so she clasped both together under the table. She attributed the shaking to her welling anger toward Jack.
He nodded and hung his head in shame. “All right. I’ll accept that. I’m a lot of things, not all of them good. But God as my witness I’m not a spy.”
Please, Lord, bring on the itch.
She hoped, wished, and prayed. Just one little sign that he was lying. She’d dash out of the interrogation room so fast there’d be nothing left but skid marks and vapors.
She waited and waited. And waited and waited.
Son of a bitch!
He lifted his head and locked his eyes squarely onto hers, didn’t falter, didn’t back down, didn’t cower in the face of her evident doubt. “Somebody framed me, J.J. and I think it may be someone close to us.”
She shot him a skeptical glare and turned her head toward Tony, certain he was standing behind the one-way glass listening to every word. He’d never believe Sabinski. J.J.’s only consolation was that Tony would stand behind her decision, whatever that may be. That was the nature of their relationship, something she could always depend on. “What about the poly? You failed miserably. Twice I might add.”
“I don’t know what to say. They hooked me up and my heart wouldn’t stop racing. Never happened to me before. I have no idea what could’ve caused me to experience such a reaction.”
J.J. wanted so desperately to tell him that being a mean bastard who pops Snickers bars like popcorn might have something to do with his condition, but she resisted the temptation. After all, her snide remarks would serve no useful purpose and certainly wouldn’t repair the damage he’d done to her career or her sources.
“Did you take any drugs, alcohol, or anything that might’ve caused a negative physiological reaction?” she asked.
“No, nothing that I didn’t report.”
Still no reaction, she thought. Damn! He’d probably never been this honest in his life and, just as J.J.’s luck would have it, he batted a thousand at that moment.
“What about the money? I’m told your prints were all over the bag.”
He exhaled, cupped his reddened face in his hands. “I don’t know what to tell you except that I buy trash bags for the house. Maybe the person who framed me got a hold of one I touched and used it to hide the money. Trust me, if I had all that cash, I wouldn’t be living in that piece of shit house or driving my piece of shit Hyundai, that’s for certain.”
Even if he was lying to himself, he certainly believed he was telling the truth. Still no reaction, much to J.J.’s dismay.
“After everything you’ve said to me, put me through, do you really expect me to trust a word you say? To help you?”
Without hesitation, he nodded.
“Guard!” J.J. called out. “Could we get this man an ice pack, please?”
“Ice pack?” Jack asked.
“Yes,” she snapped. “Because you’ve bumped your head if you think for one moment I’m going to risk what’s left of my shitty little career—no small thanks to you—to help save yours!”
Jack wrung his hands together, desperation seeped through his pores.
“The FBI has a mole. And this one is even more dangerous than Hanssen.”
“Yes, you are.”
“It’s not me!”
She cut him a wicked sideways glance. “We’ve been trying to tell you about this problem for years. And you didn’t want to listen, at least not until the chicken came home to roost. Now it’s roosting like a motherfucker, huh?”
“J.J., he’s compromising every sensitive HUMINT operation we’re running. At this rate, all FBI assets will dry up. We’ll never get another well-placed recruitment. Human intelligence in the FBI, as we know it, will cease to exist. This is serious. It’s no game. And it’s because of our history that you’re the only one I can trust…if you agree to help me.”
Everything in J.J. wanted to smirk, but deep down she knew Jack had finally come to his good senses. He’d spoken a lot of hard truth. Nobody would trust working with FBI counterintelligence. The Bureau’s foreign partners would no longer share intelligence. The CIA was just looking for a reason to cut the Bureau off from their most sensitive human intelligence. The FBI would be isolated and unable to effectively conduct any kind of intelligence operation. And at the end of the day, the country would suffer. Even though J.J. knew her days at the Bureau were numbered and she fought every urge to give a damn, the truth could not be denied.
“Mhm-hmm. I see. So why’d you ask me to come here? What do you expect me to do? Run some rogue investigation to help free you from the bondage of your own willful ignorance?”
“If you’re half the agent I think you are...then, yes. I do.”
A slight sensation emerged behind her eyes, causing her to blink. Of course, that would be the one answer he’d lie about. Made perfect sense, though. Why would he believe she’d trust him under these or any other circumstances?
“Flattery doesn’t suit you, Jack.”
Without another word spoken, she stood and raised her arm to signal the guard to open the door. She wanted his jaw to hit the floor; she wanted him to feel a fraction of the hopelessness and frustration she’d felt over the years.
When she turned to make her grand exit, Jack said, “Walk away if you want, but take this with you. If he set me up, do you think he’ll have any problem doing the same to you?”
J.J. froze where she stood. Jack’s remark, however desperate, got her attention. She returned to her seat so she could ask a few more questions. After all, he must’ve had some inkling or suspicion that drove him to believe the mole was in the FBI as opposed to the CIA or some other agency. “So, if you had to guess—”
“The bigot list,” he said. “It’s someone from the bigot list.”
Director Russell Freeman controlled a “bigot list” that contained the names of personnel with access to “the vault,” an ultra-secure Headquarters facility. Agents planned and executed the nation’s most complex and damaging espionage cases from this space. Only employees with “need-to-know” could enter. Inside, secure file safes locked in four secure breakout rooms held key intelligence from the most valuable counterintelligence sources. One compromise, one dead source, one slip of the tongue to a dimwitted congressman with no sense of national security, and hell would be paid—and the bigot list ensured the FBI knew exactly where to start the search.
An innocent man, prick as he was, had been unjustly arrested, and there was little she could do to spring him. Certainly couldn’t stroll over to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office and say, “Drop the charges. He’s not lying. How do I know? Well, my generational curse gave me the power to detect lies, and he didn’t make me itch. No, really.”
That idea was a non-starter. Taking on this mission meant conducting an unsanctioned mole hunt for the man who made her work life a living hell. She shuddered when she thought about the vile comments he’d made about her and the McCall family name just days ago, and now he expected this? She’d be required to gamble with what was left of her career. Going rogue to help him? Not a chance she was willing to take.
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