you can do is make your decisions based on what you know now."
CID Headquarters. Nairobi, Kenya.
Aaron Hotchner was barreling through the halls of the Anti-Terrorism Unit, his determined gait causing people to part like the Red Sea. Emily was at his heels, her long strides easily catching up to him. "Do you think that while they were rushing screaming hostages to safety, the cops took the time to do a head count?"
"If we're lucky," he replied brusquely, the tone of his voice informing her that he didn't have much faith in their luck. "Either way, it's worth a shot."
When they reached John Mosi Jeptoo's desk, he stood up, slightly concerned at their rapid pace and determined expressions.
"We need any reports made before you brought the hostages in for interviews," Hotch informed him in his usual no-nonsense tone. "As well as any news footage from the event that's already in evidence. We're also going to need records from any other emergency services, such as the medical teams who were on-site when the hostages were brought out."
"I can have all that ready in half an hour," Jeptoo promised, picking up his desk phone to begin making the necessary calls. His dark eyes were filled with slight chagrin as he mused, "I'm guessing this means we missed something."
"Something that none of us would have caught," Emily assured him. He gave a small, grateful smile. Emily returned her attention to the man standing beside her, "How far do you think he would take it?"
"What do you mean?" Hotch's brow quirked. "You think he might have even come back to the police station to give a report?"
"It's possible," Emily's eyes were wide as she shrugged her shoulders. "I mean, it would be the ultimate thrill—to literally sit across from the person hunting you, tricking him into thinking that you were someone else, getting to relive your crimes in a room full of people who have no idea who you really are."
"It's risky," Hotch's mouth formed a thin line.
"But is it too risky?"
He contemplated the question—Emily had a point. The main aspect of thrill-seeking personality types was getting oneself into seemingly inescapable situations. The adrenaline rush that came from escaping was the real high that the UNSUB sought. It wasn't about calculated risk. It was about risk.
Emily turned back to Jeptoo, "Who has the hostage interview tapes?"
He motioned to the other conference room, where the Canadians, Israelis, and Germans were currently stationed, "They are going over them now."
Emily gave a curt nod, turning on her heel and heading to the closed door. She gave a quick perfunctory rap on the metal doorframe before entering.
"What did you find?" George Whitting was on his feet, alert and ready. He really didn't miss a beat.
"We think our missing man is Mariatu Wasaki," Emily announced. She motioned to the TV screen, which currently held a frightened young woman's face. "And we think that he escaped by posing as one of the hostages. He might have even given an interview."
"Wouldn't one of the actual hostages recognize him as one of their captors?" Ahoo asked, her face skewing in confusion.
"The final assault was loud, fast, and traumatic," Emily pointed out. "Hostages were taken out and immediately put into ambulances or other emergency vehicles. They'd survived several days of captivity, then they were shocked by bomb blasts and ammunition rounds, and then whisked away with blaring sirens—if anyone was in the same vehicle as Wasaki, they most likely would have been too dazed to really notice anything about their surroundings. Not to mention, in several interviews, the hostages couldn't describe the two non-East African men—it's possible that Wasaki kept his face hidden from them, for this very reason."
Eric Silver motioned towards the German agent who currently held the remote, "Fast-forward until you see anyone matching Wasaki's description—African, male, early to late forties."
George Whitting stayed on his feet, anxiously pacing the thin strip between the conference table and the wall. Everyone else leaned forward in their seats, holding their breaths as they watched the faces on the screen change from one hostage to the next.
Emily crossed her arms over her chest, bringing her left hand up to chew her thumbnail in nervous anticipation. Aaron watched her, slightly intrigued at how easily she shifted from self-assured Interpol chief to anxious and uncertain agent again.
Thirty seconds ago, she'd been a sight to behold—direct, commanding, certain, strong, all the things that he knew she could be. Sometimes those traits had shown through when she was still in the BAU, but never like this. She truly was a leader, and she wore her authority well.
He suddenly saw why Erin Strauss had brought her into the BAU in the first place—Strauss' original plan had been to use Prentiss to bring down Hotch, and now he realized that if Emily had played the game as Strauss had expected, she would have made a hell of a unit chief.
Of course, she was more than just her strength and commanding air. She was heart, and morality, and fair play—things that tempered her sharper edges and made her a better leader, things that he admired more than her authoritative abilities.
He gave a slight shake of his head and looked away. He had to stop mooning over her like some sappy little boy.
He couldn't idolize her like that. Not anymore.
It had been his idolization that had put them in this ridiculous predicament in the first place—he'd been struck by her noble actions, the first time she'd stepped down from the BAU (I hate politics, she had told him, but he'd sensed it was her moral compass that had dictated her decision, not her dislike of paltry office politics), and his respect had further deepened every time that she had put herself in harm's way to protect her team or other innocent lives (sparing Reid at the Separatarian Ranch, going in to Joe Smith's house without a vest to save David and the school nurse, letting Doyle almost-kill her rather than reveal Declan's location, disabling the bomb strapped to Will's chest during the Lady X case).
When she had been in witness protection, he'd thought about her every day—about the silence, about how she lonely must be, endlessly waiting to return, about how she was suffering the consequences of his decisions. He had remembered all of the other sacrifices she had made, all the other times that she had put her life on the line, all the ways she had been a good and faithful servant to the greater good. Even now, he could admit that he'd painted her in a rosy light, turning her into some patron saint of good soldiers, making her something far holier and more pristine than she had truly ever been. But he couldn't stop himself—he had been the villain in this scene, sending her away, deciding her death without even asking her, and he couldn't allow himself to see her as anything other than a pure and innocent victim.
Then she had returned in a cloud of miracles, in living, breathing flesh, and he still couldn't bring her down from the pedestal that he'd built for her. Even when he witnessed her faults and failings and all her annoying little quirks and habits, he couldn't help but feel a soft adoration.
Of course, he'd let it show, when he first knew that she was leaving—at JJ's wedding, when he'd pulled her close as they danced together, when he'd gently rested his cheek against her dark hair and simply felt the warmth of her body radiating into his. He'd let it show again when she was truly leaving—in the bullpen, when he had held her tighter than he'd ever held her before, when he had let his lips rest for the briefest of moments against the skin of her neck, when he had allowed himself to be physically closer to her than he'd ever dared before, trying to commit the feel and lines of her body to memories that had never truly been made.
Once she left, he placed her back on her pedestal for good (or so he thought). She was brave and beautiful and gone forever, and that was safe and good.
Except she wasn't gone anymore. She was three feet away, her big brown eyes locked onto the TV screen as she held her breath.
"Wait," her voice shattered his thoughts, and he turned his attention back to reality.
The German stopped, rewound the tape a few seconds, then hit play.
George Whitting stopped his pacing. Ahoo Shir-Del let out the breath that she'd been holding. Eric Silver swallowed the lump of adrenaline building in his throat.
"It's him," he announced quietly. "That's Mariatu Wasaki."
Constance Connelly was a cat in many ways. She didn't mind waiting for hours on end, but once her prey was in sight, her muscles started tensing and pulling in odd ways, preparing for the final pounce.
This was no exception.
The numbers scrolling at the bottom of the computer screen indicated that they were almost through their entire database—in a matter of minutes, the next unknown face would either be identified or labeled as not on record (a fate she prayed against, though part of her knew it to be a futile orison).
She hadn't moved for at least thirty minutes, simply standing over her analyst's shoulder as they watched the database scroll through options, arms crossed over her chest in a self-contained gesture. But now the end was near, and the odd nervous energy was seeping into her veins again. She shifted, ran her thumbnail under the edge of her upper teeth, swayed from the ball of her right foot to the ball of her left, stepped to the side, looked back, moved again in a slow, lazy circle, hooded eyes glancing over her shoulder, always focused on the computer screen, as if she could mentally will the program into giving them a match.
The program began to slow down. One face was staying up, more points of connection being made between the two—Constance stopped, leaned forward, shale-blue eyes following the darts between the two photos, lining up the shapes and contours of each face.
"I think we may have something," the analyst gave a slight smile.
"Don't count your chickens just yet," she softly warned. "The photos are so grainy; we won't get anything beyond an eighty percent match."
"What percentile does protocol require?"
"For full-ops? Ninety-six." Constance paused as she watched a few more points of connection line up. "But we aren't technically running a full-op on this one. This is just a basic pre-run. Once we get our specialists into the morgue, they can do facial reconstruction and measure features for an almost one hundred percent match."
The program flashed the results.
"Seventy-five." The analyst tried to hide his disappointment.
"As the saying goes—close enough for government work," she gave his shoulder a slight pat. "Transfer the information to my panel. Then start on the next one."
"How many do we have left?"
"As soon as I show this to Mr. Easter, I'll go buy you a lovely cuppa," she promised, her tone laced with almost-motherly affection. There were a total of four analysts under Constance's supervision, but only two were currently in the office, which meant they were both working a lion's share—one managed facial recognition and further video enhancement while the other tried to track down Mariatu Wasaki's latest movements and procure security feed footage from local airports, bus stations, and traffic cams. They were working hard, and would continue to do so for many more hours. Overall, her team was diligent, dedicated, and slightly addicted to all sorts of energy drinks and caffeinated beverages—she didn't mind rewarding the first two traits by indulging the third.
"Deal." This earned her a grin.
"However, if you don't find me anymore positive matches, I'll take it away again." She warned with a slightly-reprimanding arch of her brow.
"Understood." Another grin. "Info's on your panel now."
She scooped her tablet from the desk behind her, tapping the screen to bring the image up again. "Perfect. Take yours with two sugars, aye?"
"That's it, to a tee."
She gave a small smile as she swung open the heavy glass doors of the information intelligence wing, clipping down the hall with an effortless ease.
She navigated the tangled world of hallways and bullpens, keeping her head down and her eyes focused on the tablet—not because the information on it was terribly interesting, but because even after being in this office for almost three years, she still felt awkward and fumbly around her coworkers, and she looked for any excuse not to engage with any of them. She'd always been what her mother had called an odd duckling—quiet, reticent, off-balance around large groups of people (especially ones whom she didn't know very well), socially inept. Her father had always told her that she was a person of layers, and if anyone took the time to get to know her, they'd see how deep she truly was—intelligent, insightful, warm, caring, passionate, humorous. While he meant his words as encouragement, Constance had always known that there would be few people who took that kind of time. But she didn't mind, not really. She'd always been on her own, in her own head, and she found that she preferred it that way. Also like a cat.
The soul selects her own society….then—shuts the door.
She liked her analysts—her four plucky little darlings who would all go on to bigger and brighter things, one day—and they seemed to like her back. But she didn't have much care for any of her other coworkers. She stayed in her little office in her little wing, only emerging when duty called.
She glanced up at the second story, which looked out over the main bullpen—the large open windows of supervisors' offices, most of which were still dark, due to the early hour.
Clyde Easter's light was on. He was turned away from the window, his slumped posture indicating that he was currently on the phone. By the looks of his body language, it wasn't a thrilling or pleasant conversation.
She ducked her head again and doubled her pace—it was still fairly early, but agents were starting to arrive, calling out good-mornings and how-do-you-do's and various other mundane sentiments that always seemed like a direct assault upon her personal bubble (it was always so tedious, so contrived, so inefficient, so pointless—why must people engage in such draining mundanity?).
By the time she reached Clyde's door, he was staring back out at the bullpen, countenance set in a slightly disgruntled expression.
"Got another match." This time, she didn't bother with knocking. Instead, she politely waited outside the door until he looked back at her.
"Speak of the devil," he motioned for her to enter.
"Beg pardon?" Her face quirked into a quizzical expression.
"I just got off the phone with the higher-ups," he leaned further back into his chair, not even bothering to look at the tablet that she set on his desk. "The discovery of Wasaki's involvement has raised the priority on this case—as well as its profile, naturally."
"So they're finally going to go after Wasaki?" There was an almost-hopeful note in her voice.
He looked at her with a mirthless smile, "Not they. We are."
"We? As in Interpol?" Easter's words were not making sense.
"As in you and I," he informed her. Now he sat up, pulling the tablet closer to him. "Our flight leaves in two hours—that should be enough time for you to go back home and pack a bag."
She slowly cocked her head to one side, crossing her arms over her chest, "If this is your idea of a joke—"
"It's not," he assured her, leaning forward so that she could look into his eyes and see that he was utterly serious. Then he pasted on his brightest false smile.
"Pack your bags, darling. We've just won an all-expenses paid trip to Nairobi."
Central Shopping Center. Nairobi, Kenya.
Yonah couldn't breathe.
One of her agents who was currently back at CID headquarters had called to inform her that one of the men on the security footage had been identified as Mariatu Wasaki, and the leading theory was that he was the missing man.
Of course, her agent was completely unaware of just how this news was affecting Major Zamir—sure, it would be a shock to most, but she didn't feel shocked.
She felt sick.
They knew. The window was closed. All those years, all those dark and angry prayers, all those nights of seeing the burned child's face…would it all be lost? Had her chance for some kind of solace and peace of mind slipped away, squandered by her own foolishness, by her own stupidity for waiting so long to tell Ha-Mossad?
Oh, God, do not let it be. Every other calamity upon the earth I can bear, but do not let this be.
Her throat was dry. Her tongue felt two sizes too big. She could smell smoke and burning flesh.
She barely made it to a waste bin before she retched, quickly and violently. She waited a few moments, regaining her breath before turning to see if anyone had noticed. Thankfully, everyone else was too preoccupied with trying to find the next big break in the case. She slowly walked outside, hoping the morning air would calm her nerves.
She knew it could come this—she knew it would, on some level. She just hadn't expected it to come so quickly.
The fear she felt trembling in her gut was not for the repercussions of her actions, for what her fellow task force members might do if they discovered her deception—no, her fear was white and hot and purely focused on what would happen if the others got to Wasaki before a Kidon Agent could.
She'd made the call about six hours ago. It took over five hours to fly nonstop from Tel Aviv to Nairobi—perhaps four, if using a private jet. But an agent would have to be called in, briefed, given time to gather necessary supplies….he or she could still be en route. And then, of course, one must take into consideration the length of time it would take the agent to track Wasaki down, to orchestrate the perfect attack—how long would it take the task force to find him, to pull him off the streets and into custody?
No, no, no. It couldn't end this way. Yonah would rather go on chasing him for years than to have it end like this—at least if she were still chasing him, there was some possibility of something closer to justice. If he were taken in by Interpol, he'd spend his life in a prison somewhere—and honestly, he'd probably find a way to escape. Either way, he'd be alive. That was not justice. That was sheer cruelty to his many victims.
A noise behind her stopped Yonah's racing mind for a moment. She looked over her shoulder to see Chava Azoulay approaching, tan face etched with concern.
The major was not surprised, "Of course, it is you."
"It is me," Chava returned quietly. She wanted to say you are unwell, you should rest—but she knew better.
"They know." Zamir grimaced as she squinted up at the sun.
Chava didn't have to ask who knew or what they knew.
"What shall we do?" She asked simply, looking so much like a child that Yonah felt a pang of pity for her.
"There is nothing we can do," the older woman admitted with a heavy sigh. "We will not be a hindrance to the investigation—I won't allow it. We will devote our full efforts to finding Mariatu Wasaki, like everyone else on the task force. We must do our jobs, and hope that the Kidon does theirs—and does it faster than we do."
Chava summoned her courage to ask the deepest question, "And what if they don't?"
Zamir grimaced again, her shoulders slumping in tired defeat, "Duty before desire, Azoulay. We do not always get what we want—it is in God's hands now. We must trust."
With that, the major turned around and went back inside. Azoulay's malachite eyes looked heavenward.
God let all of this horror happen in the first place. She wasn't sure that He was worthy of Major Zamir's trust.
"'You can't conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,' says Graham Greene. I don't know whose ass he was kissing there 'cause I think You're just vindictive….Have I displeased You, You feckless thug? ...Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto? A deo scito? Cruciatus in crucem! Tuus in terra servus nuntius fui officium perfeci. Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem! (Am I to believe those were the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with Your punishments! I was Your servant on Earth - I spread Your word and did Your work. To hell with your punishments! To hell with You!)"
~Aaron Sorkin, Two Cathedrals (The West Wing)