"I can't get inside," Decker said over the phone to Auggie. "No matter what, I'm gonna look suspicious to both sides. But I know where one of the warehouses we've been looking for is. I know they have trucks that travel at night to the north from here and back. I know they do firearms deals in the yard. But nobody goes in. We can't tell what's inside. It's so goddam tight, Man, you can't pick up a scent if you wanted to."
Auggie had had an idea before, and it just became clearer. "Decker, where is Belenko."
"I'm working on that. Word is he's due to hit U.S. soil on Wednesday. Amazon business is what my guys say. They don't know anything, Auggie. They know the guns, and they know their business. They don't want to know if there are environmental weapons, don't ask, don't tell."
"I need you to set me up a deal."
"You. Who are you sending?"
"Shit, Auggie, this is not your mission."
"You can't get in, Decker. You got us the intel, that's what you were supposed to do. If you go to that warehouse and nose around, as you say, both sides are going to suspect. I need you to set me up a deal. Tell them your connection only uses their blind contact because I can't see where I get the goods, and therefore they get an extra security gratuity doing business with my man."
"No, Auggie, this is not gonna happen, they're not going to let you do this. How the hell would you be able to figure out better than me what's going down in that warehouse. No offense."
"None taken, look, Decker, it isn't me that will know. But I have the perfect excuse to use Tosca," Auggie said, a grin on his face.
"What's TOSCA?" Decker asked, obviously thinking it was a new programme of some kind.
"Not what," Auggie said. "Who. And Tosca is a dog. Specifically, Tosca is a secret weapon against secret weapons."
"Yeah, well, that might look a little obvious, Auggie, bringing a dog, an intelligent dog at that, to a deal site where there is more suspicion and scrutiny than anywhere. I think they'd shut that deal down pretty fast. Nobody takes a dog to a deal."
"A blind guy might," Auggie said.
There was a moment where Auggie knew Decker was working out the logistics and weighing the outcomes, but then he protested again. "Auggie, no. You are not going there."
"It's the best way to know, Decker. Think about it. We get that dog in, we know what we're dealing with. If they are importing biological weapons, we need how to proceed. You can't just blow that stuff up. This is what we've been looking for, Decker, and we have to find out what we're dealin' with."
Decker continued to protest, but Auggie told him he'd call him back to set up the deal, and hung up. He grabbed his laser cane and headed out of his office toward Joan's. This could be the hardest part of his next mission, he thought, glibly.
He knocked and the door opened slightly as he tapped it.
"Come in, Auggie," Joan said.
Auggie closed the door behind him and strode purposefully across to her desk, stopping as both his memory and his laser cane alerted him where it was.
"I have a way in," he started off. "Before you say anything, hear me out."
"I don't like the sound of this," Joan said, folding her hands in front of her, ready to listen to him, as she always did. Even when she vehemently disagreed. As she did this time.
When Auggie was finished laying out his plan, he stopped, and he waited for it.
"I know Joan, I'm not signed off for field work any more. I know. You all tell me this every minute of every mission. But who else can get it? Tosca is our best bet. If they are bringing those weapons here, to this warehouse, they mean business. It's bigger than smuggling in guns for a rogue Russian army. That dog is trained for this. For this exact thing. You used her last year with the Arundel mission. You used her for the Hutchner thing. Come on, Joan, you know this will work."
"She's not a Guide Dog,"Auggie.
"I don't need a Guide Dog, Joan. That's the best part. She doesn't have to be a Guide Dog. She has to be able to tell if there are biological weapons. I just need to be close enough to be able to make it to the meet on my own. She'll have a harness; it will look good to anyone who isn't trained in Guide Dog behaviour. And I don't think these guys have that. Joan, y'gotta let me do this. It's the only way in. I go in as a contact for Boden. It's perfect. Word won't have gotten out that we caught him and have in custody. We can use him as my boss. He doesn't want to get burned again, so he uses me as a sign of honour. I can't look, I can't tell. I can be indebted to Boden after a bad meth experience or something. Maybe he took me in after I went blind. Look, Joan, it can be quick, I can get in with the dog, and get the yes or no. If it's potentially dangerous to the environment on exposure, we can't go gunning in there with a team. And we can't get the warehouse they're bringing them to if we can't track them. And if they're bringing them here, Joan, I don't need to give you any warning about what they plan on doing with them. Let me go, Joan. Let me set this up. Decker has the in. He'll be there. It'll be okay."
"And if it goes sideways? What do I do then, Auggie? You are not safe; I won't risk you being there in the middle of a bike gang with guns all around you. You'll blow Decker's cover; he'll have to get you out."
Auggie clenched his fists, biting his lips. "No, he won't, because it won't go sideways. I go in, I get the yes or no, and she gets the scent. We can use her in every warehouse in DC after to find the other one if we have to."
"Auggie, I'm sorry. I can't sign off on this."
"I said no, Auggie. End of conversation."
Auggie thought about saying something else and then he shook his head in frustration and turned a one-eighty. He found the doorknob and opened the door, passing through without another word.
Barber obviously knew what was good for him when he didn't ask Auggie any questions as his boss returned to his desk and got back to work. Auggie didn't bother to sate his curiosity. He put his headphones on but instead of using them for screen reader feedback, he plugged into some Mingus. He hadn't listened to it at work for a long time, and he needed something to calm him at the moment. He leaned back in the chair, his fingers sliding expertly over the Braille display between his command typing. He lost himself in his work but not his intention. He researched Boden, the one connection they managed to grab. Boden knew nothing of Belenko, only that he was working for a man named Ortsa Maskhadov. He'd only spoken to him over the phone to arrange shipment and payments.
It would be so easy, thought Auggie. They had Boden in custody. They could get him to make the arrangement. They had a good hand and Auggie wanted to make the deal. And here was Joan, putting the kibosh on the whole affair without even thinking about it. Like every time. The big paper pushers from the seventh floor slapped his hand and pushed him back to his desk. After the missions he put in the bag for them, they treated him like he had never done a mission in his life. He had been valuable to them before and after that bomb, both on and off the field. He'd proved it more than once. And then, every single time, they gave him this runaround.
Around two, the door opened, and Annie walked in.
"Hey," Auggie said, smiling at her.
"Never fails you, does it?"
"My Annie radar? Nope. Never does. What's up?"
"I'm translating some documents. I was at the Smithsonian all morning."
"Well, that's good, you need to keep your NOC safe."
"Yeah, but it was sooo boring," Annie said, sitting against his desk. "I'm dying for a coffee. Wanna take a walk?"
Auggie felt his watch, and then opened his drawer, sliding the laser cane in and then pulling his white cane from the other drawer. He put his computer to sleep and Annie wrapped her arm around Auggie's as they headed down to the Starbucks and then out for a walk on the grounds.
"You're quiet," Annie said, heading towards a bench.
Auggie held his coffee and his folded cane in one hand and her elbow in his other. He wasn't sure whether he even wanted to tell Annie his brilliant plan and it's fast shut-down. It slammed his pride. He still wanted her to look up to him as a capable man, and when they closed the book on him, it was a gut-punch to his pride. He didn't want Annie to see him being told he was too disabled for action.
"It's just been a busy day," Auggie said. "We got some good intel and I'm working on a plan. Decker's a good operative. I think we'll have that local warehouse here in our hands in no time. But there's been a hitch and I don't know how to work around it. I've been trying to work it out all morning. Joan shut me down."
"She knows you and Decker have good history. She'll come around. He's safe, right?"
"Yeah, he's safe."
"You want to keep him down there? Joan wants to bring him back, right? I know she has a hard time believing he won't bolt on her."
"No, not quite."
"Here's the bench. So, can you tell me this little plan, or is it above my clearance?"
Auggie reached down and grazed his fingers along the bench, and then he turned and sat, putting his cane beside him. He took a sip of his coffee and sighed.
"It's a perfect op," he said in a low voice. "Every time, she turns me down."
"You," Annie said, with intuition as usual into Auggie's mind.
"Don't say it."
"You are a good operative."
"Don't you mean were?"
"No, I mean you are. I've seen it. And I know you plan better than anyone I know. For everything. It's what you do. Me, I have no plan, I make it up as I go, and maybe that's more reckless then sending you. But, Auggie, she does have reason to worry. As much as you hate to say it, you do have a huge disadvantage going out there now."
"Not this time," Auggie said. "This time, it's an advantage. I can use it to our benefit for this one."
"Okay," Annie said. "Tell me this plan. If I think it makes any sense for you to do this, I will go to Joan myself and go to bat for you."
\ "Thanks, Annie, but this one's mine. My constant battle in this place. Seventh floor bureaucracy. I could have the cleanest, clearest plan to take down a terrorist cell, with a no-fail back-up plan to go with it, and they would still tell me I can't do it. Hell, there could be a mission in the darkest caves of Afghanistan with no lights and they'd pass me over for a sighted spy who couldn't figure his way out of a corner."
"I believe in you, Auggie. I've seen what you can do in the field. But I worry when this gets into your head. You frustrate yourself and it makes you angry. If she did let you do whatever this plan you have in your brilliant, genius mind, I would worry about you."
"Because I'm blind," Auggie said. "If I were like Ryan McQuaid, you'd be all in for me being out there, and you being impressed."
"That's a low blow, Auggie. I never felt that way."
"He wasn't hindered like I am. Didn't that make it exciting? Annie, I just want a chance."
Instead of getting angrier, Annie took his coffee from his hand and set it down. She took both of his hands in hers.
"I believe in you, Auggie. I'm with you, because you excite me and impress me. I would worry about you the same way you worry about me when I'm out there in the field. You're my fiancé, August Anderson, and that changes everything for me, not whether you're blind. I worry about my fiancé. Is that wrong?"
Auggie took a huge breath. He'd said the wrong thing, and he knew it. "I'm sorry, Annie."
"You're talking out of frustration. Look, what you and Decker are doing is getting us lots of information. If there was a way he could get a detector in there, somehow. I mean, you guys will figure it out, two smarties like you."
"That's just it," Auggie said. "I already have figured it out."
He could tell Annie had the same misgivings Joan had. It didn't matter who it was, they still saw that he had way too much going against him to be out in the field. And why the hell wouldn't they? He would have misgivings about a blind operative going out in the field. But this wasn't someone else, this was him and he knew he could do this.
The coffee cup was placed back in his hand and Annie picked up his other hand and held it as she sipped her own coffee, looking over their surroundings calmly. Auggie felt that ground him to her calmness. He patiently waited to hear what she would say.
"Auggie, clearly you have this one figured out. Which doesn't surprise me. You always do. I believe you know exactly how to do this and win. But you going in alone, Hun, none of us do this. Even Decker has two agents on call at all times down there."
Auggie let her pragmatic side wash over him for a moment. She was right. He could not go in without backup. That would be foolish.
He took a breath, squeezed her hand, and proceeded to tell her in a low voice all the details he'd worked out and replayed over and over in his head until they were sound and tight. Annie didn't interrupt. When he was finished, he heard a smile in her voice when she spoke.
"That's a pretty wicked plan, Auggie."
Auggie sat up a little and turned his head toward her. "Really?"
"Yeah, it's go-ood," she drawled out.
Auggie finished his coffee. "It's too bad Joan pulled the plug on it before I had a chance."
Annie said nothing. She drank her coffee instead.
Auggie unfolded his cane and stood. "Yeah, I'm ready," he said, holding his hand up, waiting for her contact.
They headed back into Langley, and back to the DPD. Annie walked with Auggie back to his office, like she always did, unless he walked her back to the one she shared with a couple of others in her department. He found the doorknob and let Annie through first, but he stopped as he felt both her and his laser cane alerting him to her stopping.
"Joan," Annie said.
"Joan," Auggie repeated, wondering why Joan Campbell was waiting for him in his office.
"You were right, Auggie. What can I say, but you're right on this. It's our fastest and easiest way of figuring out what we're dealing with. I don't like it, for the record, that this is what we have to do, and I do not condone you being in the field. Usually. I value you too much here.
"But, as usual, Auggie, you have put forth a pretty damn good case. And so I put in a request for this to go through. I want details, Auggie. Every last detail, typed up, and on my desk by tomorrow. We do this, we do it right. You'll have back-up and if I have to, I'll haul your ass all the way back here myself if you decide to go outside the plan. If it fails, you come home. We'll get you out, but Auggie, it needs to be exact. You can't divert from a plan, you don't have the wiggle room that someone who can see has. At all. This dog is not a guide dog; she can't keep you from falling over things or going into danger. And while you have more skill than anyone I know at thinking on your feet, the logistics around this all come back to you being blind. You have limitations. I do not want you to be reckless."
Auggie tried not to smile at all during this lecture. Joan always came through for him, despite her protective nature over her favourite operative and co-worker since he'd come back to work in her department. The whole speech was part of her job, she needed to rap his knuckles and push him out the door to success in one fell swoop. She also did not want this coming back on her if something should happen. So nothing could happen, thought Auggie, he would not be Joan's liability.
"I'm sure he read you in," Joan said to Annie.
"Then keep some sense in him. I need no cracks in your cover. Not one."
"Got it," Auggie said.
"Tomorrow. On my desk." Joan passed by them both, and left the office, closing the door behind them.
Auggie turned to Annie. "That happened, right?"
"That happened. Looks like you're going to Texas."
Auggie's grin grew as he headed over to his computer. "Barber?"
"No-one's here," Annie assured him. "Joan must have scared them off."
"Annie," he said. "You wanna help me do some research on Guide Dogs tonight?"
"You bet," she said. "This should be good."
"Hey, I catch on fast."
"I never doubt that. I'm more interested to see what Tosca does."
"It needs to look real enough to a bunch of bikers, that's all."
"Maybe one of those bikers has a blind mother, Auggie," Annie teased him. "Facts straight,"
"I know. That's what I'm saying, Annie, tonight, we need to do some homework. As for right now," Auggie sat in his chair and started typing on his keyboard. "I have to work up a dossier."
He imagined Annie grinning a little as he heard her heels step toward him. She put her hand on his back and leaned in and kissed his cheek.
"Go at it, Mr. Bond," she said, giggling, and turned back out of his office. He smiled, remembering all the pep talks she had given to him over the years. He hated that he'd just doubted her belief in him. She never had before, if he didn't count the one time in Paris. He didn't count that. He counted before the bullshit, and then he counted after the bullshit. The part in the middle he chalked up to the chaotic-evil roll of a twenty-sided die. It all went murky for a while, and all blame got lost in the black hole that was that whole year. They had let it go.
"Can I get you anything, Mr. Shamper?"
"No, thank-you. I'm fine." Tucked under his chair, wearing a Guide Dog harness, was the biological weapons-sniffing dog, Tosca. Auggie had felt a split-second of guilt, having the dog imitating a Service Dog, and then he realised that he wasn't taking advantage of anything since he was really blind.
Decker was briefed to not make any recognition of Auggie, not to help him in any way. They were not to make contact to each other, only through Eric Barber back in Langley. Auggie was to go in by cab to the meeting place. He would get out at the gate and walk to the warehouse. He had the coordinates in his phone, in case, but he wasn't counting on needing it. He'd get close to the loading zone, and he'd keep very close contact with the dog. He'd trained all afternoon with Tosca's partner on how the dog reacted to finding traces of biological warfare of several varieties. The dog sat, then stood, then sat, and whined. The dog scratched her front paws. Auggie learned to tell what was Tosca's training, and what was excitement over her partner bringing her a treat. The smallest amount, a vial with a stopper, and Tosca reacted. Auggie was amazed.
He then learned rudimentary Guide Dog training, as did Tosca. She was an intelligent dog, but she had never worn a device with such a responsibility. She wasn't sure what was expected of her. Auggie felt okay about that, too. That part wasn't her responsibility, she already had a job. In fact, thought Auggie, he was her cover.
Decker had set up the meet. Or rather, one of Decker's club brothers had set it up by way of a phone call placed from an untraceable phone call from Langley by Boden himself, who had had a small bit of encouragement by way of a conversation about relocating his wife and three kids to somewhere under protection and never letting him see them again. He only dealt in guns, he said. None of this was worth this higher-up secret government shit. He was only interested in strippers and getting a hit of a bong every now and again, maybe a bit of target practise, but this stuff they were talking about, he had no interest in. And so he made the call.
"You don't want eyes and ears on your operation," Boden told them. "What could be better than my buyer? He's blind. He won't see any single man on your site. He won't see the warehouse, or any of the surroundings. What more can I say to show you I'm trustworthy? You think I've gone legit? Where do you think I've been, I was hauled in for possession of a couple of kilos, but I don't talk, I serve and I get out. And now I'm out of there, and I want back in here. I've known this guy three goddamn years, he worked for my production team over in San Benito. You know... poor bastard, the methanol in the lab, you know. Make the deal. You take the goods to Mathis, we pick them up from there. My man comes away with no scratches, you get my word, his word, the money is yours, it's all simple and you don't have to worry."
Auggie would go in, inspect the goods as best as he could, set up the accounts, and pay them cash. Then he'd call his cab back and he'd be out, with either a positive or a negative on the use of the warehouse as a transport site for illusive biological warfare.