"I'm calling the shots on this one, Decker, and I'm pulling the plug," Auggie said into the phone, his fingers running over the Braille display under his keyboard. "You're coming back now," he ordered.
"I'm close, Auggie. You want that warehouse, I'm on it. We've been looking in the wrong place. I'm telling you, Auggie, just give me—"
"Pulling the plug," Auggie repeated. "Bringing you back in."
This was the part Auggie had worried about. Would Decker listen to him when it came time to jump off? His neck was on the line with Joan and Calder; he'd backed James one hundred percent.
Decker was not happy about Auggie's decision, and only reluctantly acquiesced to returning to DC. Auggie gave him his cover, his out, and made arrangements to cover Decker's ass so they wouldn't come after him as a traitor or a deserter.
It had been three days since the trade went down. While, on the surface, it seemed the trade had gone sideways, it actually hadn't. The guns and ammo were confiscated, and in custody, Lahey's wound wasn't serious, and he was home, recovering, and Tosca gave them a definite positive on the contents of the warehouse in Texas, as well as a truck. The MC had split with the money, with Decker still undercover, leaving the guns to Auggie and the downed driver, and the Bandidos had split just as fast.
Decker had checked in as soon as he could. Auggie had returned to the safe house with Agent Briggs while Logan had travelled with Lahey to the hospital, and all were safe back in DC by nightfall. Decker had checked in with Auggie soon after he arrived at Langley, and had assured him that there was no suspicion within the MC about the activity that had gone down.
For the rest of the day, Auggie manoeuvred two operatives through their missions and had a meeting with his tech crew about a new development to his Hummingbird programme. Decker checked in with Auggie in his office before he left for the evening. Auggie was grateful, more than he would express to his friend. He didn't want James to think he had an ounce of doubt in his mind.
Joan had seemed pleased. At least, she wasn't displeased. Which was the same thing, in Auggie's book. She thanked Decker, she congratulated Auggie, and she left it at that. Auggie knew that wasn't the end of the mission, and he knew she knew it wasn't the end of the mission, but Decker's part in it was finished. And it had not been a disaster. Once again, Auggie had come through for Joan Campbell.
Logan had been assigned to the renewed search for the DC warehouse. Briggs was deep in paper for the past two days. Decker had been given a few days off to mend from his time with the bikers. Auggie worked on their next direction, and Joan and Annie continued to work on the Russian angle. The countdown was on.
Two mornings later, Barber tracked Auggie down and told him there was a call from Decker in his office. Auggie was puzzled, as Decker was still off work, and not expected in until Monday.
"Thanks, Eric," he said, and listened for Barber to step out and close the door.
He slid his hand over and snapped his finger down on the button. "Decker," he said.
"Hey, Auggie. I think I have something you want to see. I mean... well, metaphorically."
"No, I got it, go on. Where are you? You're supposed to be home, drinking a beer, enjoying the sun I hear is streaming down."
"Yeah, well, I tried. But I got a hunch."
"I know. I'll be shut up in a second if you tell Joan I'm not sitting at home with a beer. I've found it. What we're looking for. I've been watching it for thirty-six hours. There's been activity only once. As far as I know, it's not used for any sort of meet. It's kept hidden."
"And how do you know this is the one?"
"I don't. But Tosca would."
Auggie closed his eyes and chewed on his lip.
"They won't let me go in again," Auggie said.
"Then come on your own. Take a long lunch."
"Ah, shit, Decker... why do you do this to me? I couldn't explain my way out of this, whatever the result."
"If this is where the weapons are, then this is where he'll come."
"He won't want to be anywhere near that stuff if he's planning on setting it off."
"He's orchestrating it, Auggie. That's all I heard when I was in Texas. He's got plans. No-one knew his goal, but word was out that he was coming in to put things into the hands of the right people. They seemed afraid of him, but they all believed he was going to make their trades more lucrative and less prone to what they thought were attacks by the law."
Auggie groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. Decker was doing exactly what he was not supposed to do. And yet, Auggie knew he couldn't send anyone in to shut it down. He couldn't explain why he knew without blowing Decker's rogue mission. He couldn't leave it to fate. Decker had involved him now, and if all else failed, he would assume responsibility. If he was going to be put in the doghouse, he wanted to at least go in with some arsenal. He also didn't want Decker out on his own, maybe still holding that vendetta in a small place in his mind. Decker wasn't going to leave on his own, that was certain.
He couldn't explain needing Tosca on his lunch break, either. It wasn't like she was of any use to a blind guy, but he needed her expertise on the matter. He'd need paperwork and signatures in order to get her out of the building, and he didn't even know whether she was on site on days she wasn't called for service.
His mind was working fast. He had to go, assure Decker he was taken seriously, get evidence to take back to Joan, and bring Decker back in. If this was the warehouse, they needed more than one agent going in. And if this was where Belenko was headed, then they both needed protection. He needed to get Decker out, and then they could set a plan to capture Belenko and secure the site.
Damn it, Decker, thought Auggie, sliding his laser cane back into the drawer and taking out his white cane. He took his messenger bag, putting in some envelopes, sealing bags, lock-picking tools, and making sure there was a small penknife and his phone. Auggie felt unprepared for this. This was one of those times it would be nice to have a gun in his hand. He added his little safety box of tricks, elastics, paper clips, paper napkins, electrical tape, and a lighter. He had his earbuds and his watch. He took a deep breath, and left his office.
"Oh, hey, Auggie, you headin' out?" asked Barber, passing by, stopping him.
"Uh, yeah, Barber, I'm going across town to meet someone and have lunch."
"Annie's here," Barber said, confused.
"I know she's here," Auggie said. "Just meeting an old combat buddy." No lies there.
"Oh, cool. Well, good times, Man. Don't rehash the bad."
"Yeah. Right, okay, Barber. Hey, listen, if Joan leaves before I get back, tell her I'll meet her first thing in the morning. And if Annie asks—"
"No way, Dude, I'm not going there. You tell Annie yourself."
"I am, Eric. I was just going to tell you to tell Annie I'll bring her back the cream puffs she likes if she waits for me later on. And if you tell her that, I'll even get you some cream puffs."
"Hey, I won't say no to cream puffs. Have a good time." Eric touched Auggie's arm and headed back into the office. Auggie right-turned and headed out to catch a cab. He had to go a lot further than the other side of town. The meter was ticking as the first hour passed. Auggie kept his mind on the game, both in talking Decker down, and finding out if the area was a threat. He knew that he needed to phone it in. He had no choice. But he wanted Decker out of there first, and then they could secure the building. Belenko was not worth the lives of everyone in the area, not worth Decker's life, nor worth his own. He'd already nearly died once because of the man. When Decker called, on cue, to make sure Auggie was on his way, Auggie reassured him that he was coming, and told him not to make any kind of move, no matter what, until he got there.
Well into the second hour, Auggie felt the road change as the taxi headed down a gravel road toward the Rappahannock River. He prepared himself mentally. Talking soldiers down was something he had been good at. He was naturally calm and rational, and his mind could work around problems efficiently. He knew what Decker was going through, and he was extra-glad that Decker had called him.
He paid his cab fare and climbed out of the vehicle. He waited, listening to the car head back down the road, the rocks pinging under the tires. He turned, leaning on his cane, waiting for Decker, hoping that he wasn't as conspicuous as he felt.
"Auggie." Decker jogged toward him, his boots striking the ground. He patted Auggie's arm. "Come on, it's clear. No-one has come since last night."
"Decker, this is not smart," Auggie said, taking his elbow and turning with him.
"Where's the dog?" asked Decker.
"I couldn't get the dog. Not without raising every question possible in Langley. We'll take something back for her, how about that? Then we can put a team in."
"He won't come if the place is crawling. We need him once and for all, Auggie."
Auggie took a deep breath. "What are the visuals?" he asked, sighing.
Decker took him through the surroundings: trees, river, chain-link fence, gravel loading area, crates, bike parts, car parts. It looked like a typical warehouse site.
"How did you find this place?" Auggie asked, as Decker placed his hand on the fence.
"Tracker on that last shipment."
"Nice work, James," Auggie said, listening to Decker begin to climb the fence. "Is there barbed wire at the top?"
"No. Standard top wire. No biggie." Auggie could tell he'd stopped. "Shit, Auggie, can you...?"
"Yeah, I'm good." Auggie folded his cane and put it in his bag, and started to climb. He had a bit of trouble at the top, but he managed to get over and climb down the other side.
The times in the gym with Decker climbing the pegboard paid off. "You're about three feet off, you can jump," Decker informed him.
They started in toward the warehouse, Auggie connected to Decker's arm, trying not to stumble over the ruts in the yard as they hurried along,
"Big loading door. Small service door."
"Can we pick it?" Auggie asked, reaching into his bag.
Decker turned, watching Auggie take out the lock-picking tools. "You are never unprepared, are you?"
Auggie gave him a half-weary smile. "I can't ever be unprepared in my business," he said, squeezing his eyes closed for emphasis.
"Oh, right," said Decker, taking the tools from him.
They were inside within minutes. Auggie stepped in behind James, turning his head, scanning for sound dimensions, waiting for Decker to tell him the visuals. It was dry, no water dripping, no smell of mould. The floor was cement.
"Uh, Auggie, I don't see any guns."
"Well, what do you see?"
"There are shelves. Empty. There are some containers and... what looks like rubber hosing. Rope. On the right, there are car parts: mufflers, exhausts, tires, batteries."
"The containers. Are they marked in any way?"
"Recycled oil, I'd say," Decker guessed.
They stepped further into the warehouse. Auggie had no clue what he was going to take back as evidence. He had to rely on James to find them something useful.
"I kinda lied about something," Decker said slowly.
Auggie felt something tighten around his lungs. "What?" he asked, without any idea as to what Decker could be referring to.
"I said I didn't know when Belenko was coming."
Auggie heard the sound of a vehicle driving near to the doors of the warehouse. He turned to Decker, angrily. "Jeezus, Decker, what have you done?"
"We got him, Auggie. You and me."
"Decker. I'm not the same man as before! I can't be here, in a gunfight! We had a way, a safe way! What the hell? The door!" Auggie spun around. It was closed but unlocked. Maybe they'd think one of the workers had left it. Auggie pulled Decker's arm. "Hide!" he demanded in a whisper.
Decker grabbed Auggie and together they moved quickly across the floor. James pushed down on Auggie's shoulder and Auggie bent down, squatting behind something. He automatically put his hand out to see what it was. Barrels.
He heard men's voices, not happy-sounding ones, either, but one of them was a voice he would never forget. He felt Decker, pressing close, squeeze his arm. He knew it, too.
They were speaking Russian. Decker peered around their camouflage. Auggie felt his hand tap on Auggie's arm. He put his other hand out and touched three fingers resting on Auggie's forearm. Then, two fingers, and the motion of them walking across his arm.
Belenko had two henchmen with him. Three armed men against one armed man and a blind guy, with no weapon but a penknife. Unless they could disarm them, which seemed very unlikely.
"Search this building!" Belenko ordered. "They think they are ahead of me. Ha!"
Auggie's mind was racing. Without eye contact with Decker, it made it so much harder to hatch a plan quickly. He kept his hand over Decker's, and in a moment, Decker indicated one finger. Then he formed his hand into a gun, and tapped his finger twice. Auggie nodded. Decker pointed one finger towards Auggie and gestured to the man approaching. Then he pointed at himself and flicked his wrist toward where Belenko issued orders, watching the door. Auggie nodded again, and readied himself to spring.
He felt Decker's muscles tense and react, and felt James twist their opponent into him as Decker ripped the gun from the man's hands. Auggie grabbed the man by his shoulders and threw him down into one of the barrels as he heard a shot fired. He kept one hand on the man's neck and struck out as hard as he could with the other fist, knocking the man's head against the floor. He heard a scraping and another shot zinged up into the rafters. Auggie instinctively ducked, his mind desperate to make sense of the sounds around him.
"Put the gun down!" he heard Decker shout, "or I'll kill him now."
"Shoot him!" Belenko screamed. "SHOOT THEM BOTH!"
Auggie heard the click of the gun as the man aimed for Decker. Auggie only assumed it was Decker because Decker was the one with a gun to Belenko's head. He stood and ran towards that sound, and as his feet pounded against the cement, he heard Decker yell, distracting the gunman enough for Auggie to tackle him, which Auggie did, hard, just off-centre enough to throw the gunman's balance off, though the weapon was fired again. Auggie heard the sound of liquid pouring out of something, a container of some kind. He hoped it was the oil Decker had suggested. He heard the gun clatter across the floor. He wrestled with the man, and was flipped onto his back. Thrusting out with his feet, he kicked the man back and rolled over, onto his hands and knees. He heard two footsteps come close and he moved fast, pulling the man over his back and then pinning him. He felt the man struggling, and he held his hands over the man's windpipe, just until the man fell unconscious.
"What's in that!" he heard Decker demand.
Belenko laughed. It was the most disgusting sound Auggie had heard. He felt around where he'd heard the gun come to a stop, his hands scanning the floor until one hit the gun, causing it to slide a little further. He picked it up and emptied the chamber. If he couldn't use the damn thing, no-one else sure as hell would.
"Decker?!" Auggie needed information.
"We got the sonofabitch," Decker said, jerking the man down.
"What's leaking, Decker?"
"What is it?!" Decker yelled at Belenko. "Tell me!" He pulled the man out of the warehouse, yelling for Auggie to follow. Auggie threw the gun to the side and put his hand out, moving quickly toward the open door. Finding the frame of the door he poked his foot out, finding the ledge to step over. The whole time, Decker was yelling at Belenko, demanding to know the contents of the barrels, demanding to know where the weapons were, pulling him away. Auggie could hear the sounds of Belenko's boots half-dragging across the gravel. He kept his guard up, turning his head, listening to the surroundings, aware of every sound.
"What would you say if I said you've witnessed your own demise," Belenko laughed.
Decker was cursing and threatening Belenko. "What about you, you bastard? You're here, too!"
"I'm dead anyway," Belenko said, disdain in his voice. "It pleases me to take the both of you with me."
Auggie stormed forward, his own anger at Belenko taking precedence. He snatched Decker, pulling him off Belenko, and grabbed Chechnyan by his throat.
"You kill me here, right now," Belenko said. "And I won't tell you where we took your girlfriend."
Auggie's heart froze. "What are you talking about?" he snapped, focus shifting lightning fast from himself to Annie.
"You will never win against me," Mikhail Belenko sneered.
"Where IS SHE?!" Auggie nearly picked Belenko off the ground, and thrust him down again. He didn't see Belenko pull a silver lighter from his pants pocket and flick the lid up. He felt the man jump as he tossed the object, but he didn't see the lighter arc into the warehouse. He heard the clatter as it hit, and then a whoosh! as it ignited the spilled oil. He heard Decker scream his name, and he let go of Belenko and ran hard, hearing Decker's shout ahead of him. He stumbled, kept running, felt Decker's hand grab his arm and pull him hard as he felt a wave of heat blast behind them, throwing them forward.
Stunned, Auggie shook his head, feeling the ground under him. He couldn't be sure what was happening, the explosion had dulled all his senses. He tried to right himself, and he called Decker's name.
He felt some scrambling beside him. "Auggie!" he heard through the roar of flames, and Decker's hand grabbed Auggie's shoulders.
"Are you okay?" Auggie asked James, not knowing the condition of either one of them right now.
"He's running," Decker screamed, letting go of Auggie and getting to his feet.
Auggie heard the sound further down of the car engine and Decker shouting as he ran toward it. Auggie moved, trying to get a safe distance away, not knowing where he was going. He finally stopped to reach into his bag, finding his phone. He dialed Annie's number, but it went to voicemail. He dialed her desk. No answer. He called Joan.
"Where's Annie?" he asked as soon as Joan answered.
"I haven't seen her all afternoon. Where are you, Auggie?"
"Shit," Auggie muttered. "Joan, find Annie."
"Tell me what's happened, Auggie. We'll track her down." Her voice was calming, reassuring. As always.
Auggie heard another vehicle coming into the yard, and he heard Decker yell his name, coming towards him. James grabbed Auggie's hand and placed it on his elbow, and the two moved toward the vehicle. "Get in!" Decker shouted, touching Auggie's hand to the door handle and then running for the driver's seat of his car.
Doors closed, they sped off through the open gate and down the drive. The old Chev Monza picked up speed as Decker tried to close the distance between it and Belenko's sleek, black Mercedez-Benz.
Auggie stayed on the phone with Joan, giving her a run-down on everything. Joan did not say one word about this being off-book. Auggie knew that would come later, and he would take whatever she handed out as long as Annie was safe. He heard Joan issuing orders, moving on it immediately. She sent a team to meet them en route, to trap Belenko should he elude their chase.
Decker saw the black car up ahead, finally, as Belenko swerved off into the beginnings of a small community of homes and businesses. He passed the whereabouts to Auggie, who passed them on to Joan. Decker swore and banged his hand on the steering wheel. He'd lost the car.
Joan was gone momentarily. Barber was on the other line now, connecting the license plate that Auggie gave them to speed cameras in the area. He was able to trace the car moving through the commercial part of town, and Decker headed in that direction.
"There!" Decker shouted. "He's going in that building!" He slammed the car to a stop, and jumped out. "Shit, Auggie, that's Annie's car."
Auggie felt sick to his stomach. He was out of Decker's car in a flash. "Where?"
Decker was gone, after Belenko. Auggie felt entirely helpless. He didn't know whether to stay with the car, or open his cane and try to find Annie. After a string of curse words, Auggie dug out his cane as he heard gunfire from behind the building.
"ANNIEEE!" he shouted.
The police had been located by Joan and were on their way. Auggie could hear their sirens. Within minutes they were on the scene, and Auggie was immediately taken into their custody until they established who he was. He heard the radios of the police, and learned that Decker had taken Belenko down, shooting him in the knee and then jumping him from the fire escape stairs. They had cuffed him and were waiting for a police-escorted ambulance to take him back to a DC hospital.
"Where is she!?" Auggie hissed. "Where is Annie?"
"Sir?" one of the police came over to Auggie. "We found someone. A female."
Auggie couldn't ask. "Take me," he said, his hand out. The man led him around the side of a building where he heard another radio crackling.
"She's alive," the other officer said as the one leading Auggie stopped and tugged his arm down. Auggie knelt beside the woman, and carefully, he reached out both hands, touching her shoulders. She lay on her side, her arms behind her back, tied. Auggie pulled out his penknife and cut through, releasing her hands. He reached up and touched her face, her hair, and then he crumpled, his hands running all over her. It was Annie, unconscious, tape over her mouth. He pulled her up into his arms, his fingers gingerly pulling the tape away, his other hand clutching the back of her head.
"We need to get her to an ambulance," Auggie said. "Annie? Come on, I have you now. We got him. Annie?" He needed to hear her voice, to know she was going to be okay, that she was still with him.
"Come, Sir, we'll help you," said one of the officers standing behind him. He didn't let go of Annie, but he nodded, hearing paramedics' footsteps moving toward them down the alley. He felt Annie move, and she grunted. He felt all the emotion in him well up and he called her name, his cheek against her forehead, holding her against him.
"Auggie?" she mumbled, her voice gravelly. "How? Why are you here?"
"I came for you," he said, choking back tears. "Just like I always do." He laughed through the tears. "You don't expect me to just sit at home and let you have all the fun, do you?" He brushed her hair off her face, stroking it along her head.
They loaded Annie into the second ambulance, and Auggie went with her. Decker followed them until they reached the hospital, and then he headed back to DC. Belenko was under heavy police guard and was flown back to DC by helicopter. Annie had to leave her car where it was for the time being and once she was out of the after-effects of the tranquilizers Belenko had pushed into her veins, they released her into Auggie's care, and the pair of them were taken back to Langley by chopper. Auggie had been seen to by a physician, too. He had some minor burns and wounds from the shrapnel of the explosion, which was being cleaned up by crews as they headed back home.
Auggie expected a formal dressing down by Joan and Calder, and got one he did, but not until after Joan had hugged he and Annie so tightly that he knew that no matter what, she wouldn't have it any way else but to have them on her team. He smiled to himself, holding Annie's hand, sure Joan would probably much prefer his next mission not to be unsanctioned or off the books. He couldn't promise her that, but he vowed to try.
Decker was given a week off without pay. He also was merited with an achievement award for capturing Belenko and his part in the mission.
Auggie took Annie home. The fear of Belenko's revenge was over, and Auggie wanted nothing more than to put it out of his life and concentrate on the future without constantly wondering if Belenko would take it all from him. He held Annie's hand in the car, feeling the warmth of her skin below his fingers. Belenko had been so wrong. They would win against him, and they had won, and were all going home alive. Mikhail Belenko would now pay for the lives of Mueller, Tony, and Charlie. And Auggie and Decker would pay their respects once more when they toasted to their friends' lives, and to being still alive to do so.