Rose

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Chapter 22: Tip line

The reward caused the number of tips to pour in, which was good and bad. Good, because we got more leads, but bad because 99.99% of them were bogus and it took time and people to go through them all.

The trip was frustrating; the pressure on me to solve the case was building by the hour, but this woman had left nothing behind to lead me to her. The press was becoming a problem, and Linda couldn’t control it. Press conferences became events covered by dozens of cameras, complete with shouted questions and outraged pundits. Coverage on news channels was wall to wall. There wasn’t much new information, so most was ‘experts’ and coverage of the victims. The press was hounding the poor family, who was hiding out in their home behind police lines as they had to plan their daughter’s burial.

I spent most of the ride back to the airport on the phone with the Deputy Director, who was not happy with the lack of progress. If not for Craig taking the phone and saying the Packs would not accept any other agent in charge, I would have been replaced already.

I was the sacrificial anode, I knew that. I could take the fall because my career was over anyway.

Linda and Craig had to work to keep my spirits up after that call. Then I got a text from Josh. “I NEED TO SEE YOU AND ALPHA, ALONE. DON’T MENTION THIS TO ANYONE ELSE.”

I quickly texted back. “IS IT CHARLOTTE?”

“NO. MEET YOU BACK AT OFFICE.”

I was seated next to Craig, so I showed him the phone; he frowned but nodded. It was times like this I was wishing I was Pack, because then we could talk mentally. It would be SO damn convenient. Now, Gunny being able to read my mind and emotions? Not so sure. I leaned up against Craig’s shoulder and fell asleep as he kept working his laptop.

He shook me as we were on final approach to Albuquerque. The sun was just setting, and the mountains were beautiful. If I wasn’t arriving to such a shitshow, it would have been better. Linda gave me a quick update; we weren’t going to answer questions at the airport, but we would have an update in the press room in the Federal building conference room. Outside was too big a risk, and the normal press room wasn’t near big enough for the media frenzy. The meeting was set in an hour, in order to give us time to talk to the team and gather the politically important people.

Most of them turned down the invitation. Politicians want to be associated with success, not failure.

We were driven to the building and parked underground. Luis went to his office, and we met in a conference room with the senior members of the task force. There was just as little there as we had gotten from the latest crime scene. We still had no leads from the Albuquerque traffic cameras; the team was now expanding it beyond the original ten-block radius.

Nadine and Nora gave an update on the database. They were making progress, it had over seventy thousand names in it already. They were tuning the search criteria to try and identify likely persons of interest; so far, they had identified over six hundred females who scored high enough to warrant further investigation. These were being farmed out to the nearest FBI offices for follow-up.

Finally, the agents that had been sent to the Gila Pack gave their update. “We’ve walked through her history with her and her Pack members, with an eye towards anyone who she killed or harmed who would have female survivors. Let’s just say its quite a list.”

“What do you mean,” I asked. “Renee is a kind young woman.”

The group started to laugh, Agent Murphy snorted loudly, his eyes rolling. “You don’t have much history on her, do you?” I shook my head no.

I looked at Craig, he looked a little sheepish, like he had known and hadn’t told me. It wasn’t my fault, werewolf history wasn’t exactly important to me before. Working with Gunny and Ella had been my first direct experience with shifters, and they were both panthers. “Renee first killed at age thirteen. Ella was visiting Alpha Renee and her family, their mothers were sisters, and the families were close. As they were driving, their group was attacked by wolves. They injured her aunt; Renee jumped in the driver’s seat and ran over three of the attackers, killing them. They were from Packs in Minnesota, and what was worse, the Alphas didn’t accept responsibility for the attacks. Her uncle, the former Johnson Pack Alpha, ordered them skinned and their bodies burned with the trash.”

Oh God. “The families…”

“Yes, they weren’t happy, even when they found out their Alphas were evil. Those men had mothers, sisters, mates.”

“But those were other werewolves, and the shooter is a human.”

Craig leaned back. “Before our existence was revealed, some werewolves found human mates but didn’t fully claim or turn them. Not all Alphas allowed turned wolves in their Pack. It was better for the Pack and their wolf to be ignorant of our nature if we fear they will leave us or break the secret. At the time, revealing our existence to humans was punishable by death, both for the mate and the werewolf responsible for her.”

“All right, what else.”

“When the war started, she fought for her Pack. Even though she was only thirteen, she was the Next Alpha, second in command. She fought for five years, all the way to the cease fire.” Murphy showed me a list of names, three columns, two pages single spaced. “These are all the war dead in her sector from the time she was active. She spent the last few years leading a team that performed surveillance, raids and asymmetric warfare. Even finding her first mate came with a cost, he was a downed F-15 Strike Eagle pilot. Her team shot down one of the two rescue helicopters, those were the last six deaths we could assign to her. By now, she was eighteen and widowed.”

Craig picked it up. “Of course, Alpha Renee was a key figure in the peace treaty being pushed through. There were a number of people who didn’t want it to be ratified, some even made threats. We’ve added those people to the database, but realistically, anyone who lost a family member in the war could blame Renee for finding a way to end it.”

Crap. “What else?”

“Renee has killed two Alphas personally, and embarrassed another badly. Then there is Wolfstock, which was a driving force in establishing common laws among Packs.” Joe pointed to another list. “You add in the half-dozen Alphas who lost their positions after the rule changes to the ones who just don’t like the rules.”

I put my head on my arms, I had no idea that a sweet young lady like Renee would have literally hundreds of people who might want her dead. I thought for a moment, then looked up. “The fact remains that the shooter is a human female of childbearing age. Focus on the war dead; it’s far more likely than a werewolf with a human mate. I mean, how often does THAT happen?” Craig started laughing. “Present company excluded, of course.”

When the laughter died down, it was time for the tip line. “We’ve received over ten thousand tips in the last two days,” the supervisor said, “And we’ve classified them three ways. Level one is what we call strong leads, ones with enough detail behind them to warrant immediate follow-up.”

“How many of those?”

“Eight hundred and twenty-four. Level two are possibles, we have over two thousand. Most of these are being cross-checked with the database, and if we get hits there, they get priority. Level three are the majority; not enough detail to be a strong lead, or something doesn’t sound right. We are still feeding these into the system, but the database is set up to just check commonalities, Nadine doesn’t give much credence to these. Still, you never know.”

Linda poked her head into the room, it was five minutes to the press conference. I looked around the room. “All right, what do we want to emphasize in this conference other that the normal boilerplate ‘we’re conducting an active investigation, following up on all the leads, call in your tips’ boilerplate?”

Silence.

“Really, people? Nothing new to talk about?” I looked around the room, then stood up, put my right fist to my heart and said, “WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE, SALUTE YOU!” I turned and walked out of the room, Craig, Linda and Luis joining me in the elevator. “I’m so fucked,” I said.

“Aren’t you glad we demanded you be in charge?” I glared at Craig, but I could see the strain on his face as well. I might have to answer to the Justice Department and others, but he had the Packs after him for results, and the Packs were the ones being hurt.

The doors opened, and we walked into the conference room. I ignored the flashes and the cameras as I took to the lectern, introducing myself and the other three for the record. “The full resources of the United States are being employed in the largest FBI investigation since the Unabomber. We are carefully screening and evaluating thousands of tips and items of evidence. Make no mistake, the shooter will be caught, and her reign of terror will end. Questions?”

Only about a hundred. I pointed at the reporter for CBS. “Agent Conspiell, we are well into this investigation and yet there is still no name, no sketch, no photograph of the subject. Is the killer that good, or are you that incompetent?”

I let out a breath, amazed that I could be so unlucky in choosing a questioner. “Your question is offensive to the hundreds of agents and investigators who are working non-stop to find this killer. We have determined these attacks had significant planning in order to avoid detection, leaving evidence behind and evading capture. Our job is to make this far more difficult, and I am confident we can identify the killer before she can strike again.”

I looked to the other side and pointed to a local reporter. “The killer’s tape referred to Renee Hastings as being the cause of this. Two questions, have you determined what she did, and is she going to sacrifice herself to stop these killings?”

Just shoot me now, I thought. “We are working closely with Alpha Renee to identify people who might blame her for events, but as of now we do not know the specific. As for her sacrifice, she has already sacrificed much to attain the peace we have now. I don’t believe for a second that the killer will just stop if she were to commit suicide, and we would never ask her to do that. I’m frankly shocked that you would even bring that up, she’s pregnant with twins for Christ’s sake.”

I kept answering questions until it was clear it was doing nothing but raising my blood pressure. “Thank you,” I said as I walked off. The rest followed me out the door, I made sure it closed and we were in the elevator before I let out a frustrated scream.

“You did well,” Linda said.

“You kidding me? Unless you’re saying I did well because I didn’t punch them in the mouth or worse.”

She laughed. “You didn’t have much to go on. Come on, it’s late and you’re tired. You need to go home and get some sleep.” The doors opened and we were in the employee parking area. She walked to the waiting van where the other Gila wolves were heading back together, while Craig and I walked to a pair of Suburbans. The back door opened and Charlotte jumped out, running to me and hugging me tightly. “Hi baby,” I said as I kissed her cheek.

“Are you all right? That looked as fun as a root canal.”

I laughed as I followed her into the car, she went to the back bench to sit with Josh while Craig and I took the middle seat. Nadine was already seated in front, and Jacob was driving. I didn’t miss the rifles or the trail car with more fighters. Craig wasn’t taking any chances.

When we got onto the road, I looked back at Josh. “What was with the text message, Josh?”

“I was asked to look into the possibility that the shooter was getting help from the inside, right?” I started to get a sinking feeling in my stomach. “So, I worked with some buddies. We’ve tapped all the computers in the FBI office and the team offices, so far nothing out of the ordinary. We did confirm that someone is working against you, though.”

Fuck. “How?”

“The traffic camera? We looked at the raw data and compared it to the data in the FBI database. There were two cameras that data was not taken from, it was transmitted there but the files were deleted before the analysts started recording all the license plates on them. We can’t figure out who deleted them, so we started looking for any communications that might speak to the cameras in the day leading up to it, until the day after.”

“Did you use Echelon intercepts?” We had sent Beta Enrique up to Utah just for this purpose.

“No… if I can’t trust the government, I can’t use it. Every keystroke Enrique does is mirrored and tracked. So, we hacked cellphone and land line records. I didn’t find anything when I went through the phones of the agents, but we did find something interesting. Text messages from a burner phone to another burner phone, from the area of the office. When I saw this one, I knew we found our mole.”

He pulled out his phone, flicked to a screen shot and showed it to me. “CLR EDITH NORTH CAMS” it said. “The cameras on Edith Street were the ones deleted. We know the phone numbers that were used. I checked the cell towers, one of the two is still in the Federal Building. Find it, we find our mole.”

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