The hood was pulled off.
“Henry Thomas Martin?”
Henry blinked rapidly. He was sitting at a heavy metal table, in a small concrete room. There was a window behind his head, close to the ceiling, streaming in grey light, as though he was in a basement floor. His hands were bound to the table, his chair nailed to the floor. An older, grey-haired man with a narrow face and hooked nose sat across from him, wearing a clean cut suit. He had a very faint Puerto Rican accent.
There was a manila folder under the man’s drumming fingers, filled with other smaller files and marked with brightly colored tabs. The man ran his hand over it, thumbing the cover open, almost gloatingly.
“Yes?” Henry croaked. He had been slightly conscious for about an hour, but he still felt out of it. He saw, behind the man, a big mirror beside the door. He could see himself reflected in it. He was still in his hospital shift. His skin clung to the cold metal of the seat beneath him, and he shuddered violently. His face was pale, bruised, and his eyes were darkened with fear. He could see the bandages peeking out around his neck and his right arm.
The man surveyed him with a detached gaze.
“Are you cold?”
Henry didn’t answer. He curled his hands up into fists, trying to get feeling into his numb fingers. The man turned, throwing a look back into the mirror behind him.
“Could we get a coat or something for Mr. Martin?” he asked.
Henry dropped his head down onto his chest, closing his eyes with a miserable feeling sinking into his heart. He realized what this was. As a kid, he had gotten in trouble with the police infrequently – more often for fighting with other kids than for the work he did for Alby. Whether it was wariness or luck that granted it – and looking back on recent times, he wagered on the latter – he’d never gotten into any serious trouble. But he had been brought down to a room like this once before, after he was caught transporting a load of coke for Alby too. The arrest that got him thrown into Lincoln.
He could feel the eyes of the man boring into him. But he didn’t look up. He couldn’t bring himself to.
“My name is Agent Plasencio.” He paused a beat. “You must have some questions. I’ll let you go first.”
Henry took a deep breath.
He paused. He did not know how to respond. Only so many moments ago, or so it seemed to him, he’d been sitting in bed at the hospital, wondering if it would be so embarrassing if he emptied an entire cup of yogurt into his mouth. It was too much to take in. He needed a moment to breathe. He stared down at his lap quietly.
Henry shook his head.
“I don’t…” His voice was still very hoarse. He coughed to try to clear it and found himself hacking, pressing his mouth into the crook of his shoulder for lack of a hand to cover his mouth. When he looked up, the man, Plasencio, looked genuinely worried. Or genuinely afraid. Henry remembered the woman at the door to his hospital room.
It was spreading.
“Would you like a glass of water?” Plasencio asked, his eyes a little wary. The only hint of expression that seeped into his deadpan face. Henry shook his head.
The door to the room opened. A police officer came in, but to his dismay, not one that Henry recognized. Not Saar. He came with a blanket in hand. Plasencio stood to greet him.
“Thank you,” he said, taking the blanket from him. “Could you bring a cup of water too?”
As the officer backed out of the room, Plasencio came around the table and draped the blanket over Henry’s shoulders. It barely made up for how exposed Henry was. He wasn’t even wearing pants. Plasencio patted him on the shoulder, the one Henry had been shot in by the police. Henry bit down a cry of pain.
“We’re going to find you clothes,” he said, sitting back down in his chair. “I promise you. I just wanted to talk to you now, now that you’re awake.”
Henry said nothing. The blanket sat limply across his shoulders, barely covering him, and he wished he could pull it tighter around him, but the chain of his new pair of handcuffs was nailed into the table top.
Plasencio saw him staring at his hands.
“In good time,” he said, forcing an amiable voice out of a face that was particularly bland. “There are questions I need to ask you first before I decide whether or not you’re a threat to yourself or me. But in order to judge that, I need you to talk to me.” He looked at Henry expectantly. “I’m still open to any questions you might have.”
Henry swallowed. His eyes drifted back to the two-way mirror. There were probably other agents and police officers sitting behind that pane, watching him. It made his skin scrawl. He felt like he was in a bad cop movie, only he felt seriously sick to his stomach.
“Is Saar here?” he asked quietly.
“My parole officer.”
Plasencio shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Martin, we don’t have a man named Saar here.”
Henry frowned at him.
“You didn’t talk to him before detaining me?”
The agent’s look was mildly irritated.
“Was I supposed to?”
“Yes,” Henry insisted, swallowing to clear his throat. He was sitting as straight and confident as he could, chained to the table. “It’s mandatory. I have his number if you –”
“Mr. Martin, this happens to be an emergency, and in such an instance, protocol isn’t strictly necessary. I’m sure you’re aware of how police policy changes in time of war.”
Henry stared at Plasencio blankly, his mouth slightly agape, not sure he had heard correctly.
“Besides which,” the agent went on, “I was told that we were unable to contact your parole officer. Or any of the officers who were in the building with you, for that matter. I assume they’ve all been transported to quarantine.”
Henry felt the blood drain from his face.
“There was an outbreak at Fontanelle Medical Center,” Plasencio said, looking at Henry sternly. “A highly contractible, and fatal illness whose origin still remains unknown. That’s why you’re here, Mr. Martin, we’ve been lead to believe you know something about this.”
Henry was speechless. He stared at him blankly.
“Mr. Martin, you’re –”
“H-how, how bad was it? The outbreak?” Henry interrupted him, finally coming to his senses. His heart was hammering in his chest, and pulsing painfully in his temples. He felt like he was about to be sick. “Did everyone get sick?”
Plasencio twisted his lips together. Henry watched him take a shallow breath to steady himself. Despite the façade of stoniness, he could see now that the agent was anxious. In a hurry.
“Well, no, not everyone, clearly you did not get sick.”
Seeing Henry’s concerned expression, Plasencio bowed his head before he elaborated.
“We tested you.”
“And so far as we understand, the incubation period is very rapid, at almost an unprecedented speed, that’s how quick it is. You would know if you had contracted it. But still, everyone who was in the building has been transported to a different hospital, to be tested as well.”
“My…” Henry stopped himself. He swallowed. “My son’s mother. My ex. Carmen Willcox. Was she…?”
Plasencio shook his head slowly, his mouth a straight line. Henry felt as though he were melting, falling through the floor. The ceiling seemed to be flying farther away.
“I believe she left the hospital shortly after visiting you, Mr. Martin. Before the outbreak occurred. At least, we have no record of her returning.”
Henry thought he might faint with relief.
“But anyone who walked in or out of that hospital is going to be investigated within the next several days, Mr. Martin. Including your girlfriend.”
Henry stared at him, aghast.
“You’ve officially tied the term ‘terrorism’ to this case, Mr. Martin,” Plasencio said, raising his brows at him. “That makes it a very serious matter. And on that subject, would you care to explain this to me?”
For a moment, Henry could feeling himself paling again. They knew. They knew about Stephen. They knew about him and the case. Fuck, they even seemed to know when Carmen had left the hospital. But that didn’t make sense, what did they want from him if they already knew?
“In the first place, Mr. Martin,” Plasencio began, jumping into his explanation. “This parole officer of yours – his name was Saar? – he began a line of inquiry, before we lost contact with him, in reference to your… warning. He left a tip with his office, and then he ordered a tox screen to be taken from one…”
Plasencio paused to flip through the file beneath him, tearing through the pages carelessly until he came to a paper-clipped section with a man’s head shot in the top right corner.
“Julio Astorga. The man you were arrested with. Now, in the first place, any case with the word ‘terrorist’ in it is immediately flagged, you understand. Besides which… though it hasn’t been confirmed yet, but relying on the archived security footage from Fontanelle, my department has determined that it was somewhere around the time this tox screen took place that the outbreak occurred.”
Henry felt a sinking in his gut. He slumped in his chair. Julio had been in the hospital with him. And Saar had listened to him. He had actually listened to him. For all that, he was probably dead or dying right now.
“I don’t understand,” Henry said quietly, under his breath. Plasencio cocked his head, as though trying to catch what he was saying. “If he came there with me… how come people didn’t get sick… sooner?”
“We don’t know how it spreads.”
“Now, also relying on security footage,” Plasencio went on, flipping through the folder to the beginning of the file. The door to the room opened again, and the police officer came in with a Styrofoam cup full of water, which he placed on the table in front of Henry’s bound hands.
“Stay a moment,” Plasencio bid the police officer, waving at him leisurely. Henry looked up at the man. He was young and blonde, with a close-shaven crew cut. His small, narrow blue eyes flicked from Henry back to Plasencio anxiously. Henry caught the twitch in the man’s mouth, the way he stepped back against the wall, away from Henry. They were worried. They were all worried. They’d probably seen what he’d seen by now, and they weren’t taking any chances.
“Are you sure I’m not sick?”
Plasencio looked up at Henry sharply. Then he glanced at the officer leaning against the wall. He shook his head.
“You’re displaying no symptoms,” Plasencio said hurriedly, “and we’ve been monitoring your vitals closely until now. By now, Mr. Martin, you wouldn’t be sick. You’d be dead.”
Henry felt a wave of nausea come over him at the thought. How many people had been at that hospital? Or just on that floor. Saar. Poor Saar. He had a family. A wife and kids. Did they know about Fontanelle? Quarantine? Were they still waiting for him to come home?
“Anyway,” Plasencio continued, sending an impatient look at the nervous officer. “As I was saying, we also have a record of your conversations with the officers who escorted you while at Fontanelle Medical Center.”
“A record?” Henry echoed. How had his conversation with Saar been recorded?
“In one of these conversations, with your parole officer, I presume, you asked him to examine Astorga,” he went on, as though he had not heard Henry. He glanced up at him with a raised brow. “You thought he was sick, that he’d contracted an illness. Why?”
Henry stared at him blankly. His mouth felt dry. The cup of water lay inches away from his fingertips, but he was unable to reach it. He glanced up at Plasencio, meeting his steely eye. Plasencio glanced down at the cup too. Henry realized what this was. A nervous pulse began to drum in his temples again.
“He was sick,” Henry said roughly.
“Yes,” Plasencio replied, nodding, a trace of the condescending in his tone. He looked down at the folder and began to read from it. “When he was admitted, he had severe hemorrhaging. His skin was also showing a severe reaction, which had not been reported immediately after the gunfight that resulted from the raid on the factory on 42nd Street.” He looked up at Henry again. “Why was it so important that Astorga be tested? Why did you care?”
Henry swallowed thickly.
“I knew it was spreading.”
“What was spreading?”
Henry shook his head, sucking in his bottom lip.
“I dunno,” he croaked. “I dunno what disease.”
Plasencio flipped over another page in the folder. Although it was turned away from him, Henry could see blocks of upside-down text.
“Mr. Martin, during your hospital stay you made a confession to your parole officer.”
Henry looked up sharply. His heart was roaring, thumping throughout his body at an incredible rate. Despite the chill, sweat clung to his skin, dripping down his face.
“When asked why a gang you were previously affiliated with,” Plasencio continued, drawing out his words, “was following you, you replied –”
“That was off record –”
“That, ‘I killed his men’.” Plasencio stared Henry in the eye, his expression glinting with cunning and expectation, as though daring Henry to refute him. “It’s on the record now,” he said, tapping the text beneath his fingers gently. “And that’s quite a different charge from breaking your parole, isn’t it?”
Henry sunk back against his chair, his head leaning back in defeat. His lips were mashed together painfully.
“That’s quite a long sentencing,” Plasencio said, his fingers still tapping the page. “A long sentencing. How long were you away from your boy? Your girlfriend? Five years?”
Henry closed his eyes.
“Please don’t,” he breathed, his teeth clenched.
“You could do life.”
The tapping stopped. The room fell silent. Henry let his chin fall on his chest, his eyes scrunched together tightly. He sucked in a deep breath. He wanted to disappear. He wanted to curl up into a ball and dissolve into the floor. He’d fucked up. He’d messed up everything. He was going to lose Holden. He was going to lose Carmen. People were dying. Saar was dead. It was his fault. Because he’d been reckless, selfish, and stupid. Because of something so stupid, so naïve – because he wanted to make more money for his family.
He heard footsteps approaching him. He opened his eyes a crack. In his peripheral vision, he could see the police officer standing next to him. He watched, his head still bowed, as the man grasped his handcuffs and unlocked them. Henry remained inert as his hands dropped to the table, weightless without any bonds to hold them. He felt gutted. It had been something like two or three days in which he had been handcuffed or bound to something, he realized.
“You can go,” Plasencio said to the officer quietly. The police officer left the room, closing the door behind him. In the silence that prevailed, Henry could feel the agent’s gaze boring into him. He stared at the cup of water in front of him vacantly. He had an inclination to throw it onto Plasencio’s damned file.
“You also said, in this same conversation, that you believed that your brother might be a terrorist.” Plasencio paused. This was clearly what he was getting at. His expression was triumphant. “Now, that’s leverage, Mr. Martin.”
His tone had become light. But Henry knew better now. This man wanted to use him. Not help him. This man did not care if Henry was put away, his concern was only insofar as what information Henry could provide him with.
Henry glanced up at him, from underneath his brows, his mouth a harsh line.
“You might want to use that to your advantage,” Plasencio added.
Henry swallowed thickly. He stared down at the table top thoughtfully.
“You’re going to make me a deal?”
“What deal? In exchange for what?”
Henry met Plasencio’s eye. The man stared back resolvedly. Henry nodded, almost to himself. He understood what Plasencio was getting at. This wasn’t official. Or wouldn’t be, unless Henry could give him something he could use.
“I don’t just want amenity,” Henry said after thinking a moment. He stretched out his fingers, curling them into a fist until the knuckles cracked. “I want witness protection. For my son and his mother.”
“That’s a lot to be asking, Mr. Martin, and you haven’t actually said a hell of a lot.”
“Those are my terms, Agent Plasencio. That’s what my word is worth.”
“That’s what it’s worth. You don’t mean all those lives, at the hospital,” Plasencio interjected sarcastically. “All the people who died at Fontanelle, or the people who could die.”
Henry swallowed. He kept his mouth shut, holding Plasencio’s eye. They shared a gaze for a beat. Then Plasencio closed his eyes and nodded his head.
“Alright,” he said thoughtfully. “I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, while that request is going through, I’ll be sure to send over an escort to your ex’s house. Of police officers.” He raised his brows at Henry. “Is that satisfactory to you?”
Henry chewed at the inside of his lip, nodding after a moment.
“Alright,” Plasencio said. He dug into his coat pocket, pulling something out and throwing it onto the table. Henry’s track phone slid across, stopping at his fingers.
Henry looked up at Plasencio warily.
“Make the call,” Plasencio said.
Henry turned over the phone, looking at it anxiously. The screen was cracked. There was no telling when it had happened, but it probably had something to do with being dropped from the second story of a building onto the first.
“You want me to call my brother?”
“I want you to get some kind of confession out of him,” Plasencio explained, rapping his knuckles once against the contents of his manila folder. “But more importantly, I want you to get a location out of him.”
“Like… through tracking and stuff? You want to trace my call?”
“This isn’t a movie, Mr. Martin,” Plasencio said tiredly. “If your brother is who you say he is… if he’s affiliated with the people we believe he might be, they probably already know you’re with the FBI. Or some kind of agency.”
Henry stared at him blankly. There was a pounding that had been building in his head the longer he sat at this table, listening to Plasencio talk, but now it drummed so much Henry felt as though a tumor were exploding inside of his head. The thought made him nauseous, and he went pasty. Plasencio carried on, oblivious to Henry’s distraction.
“Basically, if they think, or your brother, thinks that it’s being traced, they’ll probably hang up within a few seconds, before it can be completed. We’ll still try to trace it anyway,” he said, nodding towards Henry’s phone. Henry glanced down at the cell. It didn’t seem as though it had been bugged or wired. But he guessed he wouldn’t be able to tell a thing like that. “But we had something else in mind here.”
Henry continued to gaze at him emptily. Plasencio exhaled, as though trying to cover up his disappointment.
“We’d like you to arrange a meet with your brother.”
Henry blinked at him. Then he cracked a smile, chuckling uneasily.
“Fuck, man,” he said quietly, dragging a hand across his mouth. His beard had become even more scraggily these past few days.
“What is it?” Plasencio asked.
“I’m sorry. He won’t meet me. I tried,” Henry insisted, just as Plasencio was about to interject. “I tried to meet up with him a couple days ago. When this whole thing started, after he gave me the suitcase with the vials.” Henry stopped suddenly, reddening. “By the way… what happened to…?”
“You don’t need to worry about that, Mr. Martin,” Plasencio said tersely. “All you need to know is, it’s been taken care of.”
Henry stared at him out of the corner of his eye, his hand still covering his mouth in concern, his look leery.
“You know then?”
“About the toxin?” Plasencio nodded enthusiastically, although his expression remained bland. “We know. We’re investigating.”
“I don’t think it’s a toxin,” Henry told him warily. “It’s –”
“Mr. Martin, with all due respect, there are other people in other departments who are working very hard right now to answer these questions, saving lives,” Plasencio cut in, his tone disdainful. “My job, as a part of my department, is to locate a terrorist threat, if there is one.” He looked at Henry expectantly. “Is there Mr. Martin?”
Henry scowled at him, perplexed. He thought it was stupid of Plasencio to brush aside Henry’s input. He clearly didn’t understand just how much Henry knew about the circumstances. He realized, belatedly, that it probably had something to do with him, or whoever was in charge of this whole investigation, rushing everything because it was all going to shit.
“Well yes, sir, there is, but you should know…”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Plasencio cut him off, tossing the cover the manila folder closed. Henry blinked at him, flabbergasted. “Right now I’m concerned with your brother.”
There was silence for a moment. Plasencio looked at him expectantly and Henry stared back, unable to form a response. At last he gave his shoulders a massive shrug and raised his hands at Plasencio incredulously.
“Well, okay. What do you wanna know?”
“A great deal of things, Mr. Martin, but firstly, I was trying to ask you if you could arrange a meet with him.”
Henry sighed explosively, clapping a hand to his aching head. He felt as if his eyes were full of lead. They felt so heavy and exhausted.
He sighed again, rubbing his hands across his face. He rested his chin in his palms, his face stretched in frustration.
“I mean… I told you, I tried already. He wanted me to give him the suitcase – the one I originally had, that’s how I got the vials. Stephen put them in a briefcase and then he put them in a P.O. box and then I picked them up.”
“Hm-mmm,” Plasencio said thoughtfully.
“Well… I mean, I tried to meet him. In fact, he told me to meet him at this junkyard in Brooklyn, but when I got there he wasn’t there. He wanted me to leave the suitcase there for him, but he wasn’t there himself. I think he was watching me though.”
“Why do you say that?”
“We were talking on the phone,” Henry explained. “The entire time, we were talking, and it sounded like he was looking at me. Like, he knew where I was in the junkyard, exactly where I was, right down to the color of the goddamn car next to me.”
“I’m confused,” Plasencio said, scratching his chin. He leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. “You say, he wanted you to leave this briefcase at the junkyard.”
Henry stared at him blankly a moment, missing his question.
“Yes. But I didn’t. I took it with me.”
“Took it with you where?”
“Uh,” Henry said, flustered. He was clasping his hands together and chewing on his lips so much they’d begun to chap. There was a glistening sheen of sweat on his palms. “I left the junkyard with it. I didn’t really… go anywhere with it, I just… I mean, I was trying to get rid of it.”
“I’m supposing you’re brother wasn’t too happy about this,” Plasencio said pensively.
“No,” Henry said shortly.
Plasencio was scratching his jaw thoughtfully, leaning back in his chair as he considered everything Henry had just said. Henry slumped back in his chair a little, already feeling exhausted. He wiped the sweat off his brow. His gaze traversed instinctively back to the mirror on the far wall, the one that he knew people were standing behind, judging him. They were hearing every word he said. Henry felt as though he were turning red, but in his reflection, he was flushed and nauseated. He looked collapsible, frail and dazed, which was as well as he felt.
“I guess you’re just going to have to give it back to him then.”
Henry glanced back at Plasencio sharply, blinking and disoriented.
“Well, he might agree to see you if you say you’ll give this suitcase back to him.”
Henry stared at him, his eyes fogged, his head in a haze.
“Are you well, Mr. Martin?” Plasencio asked, frowning.
Henry shook his head, trying to clear stupor from his brain. He wasn’t thinking clearly.
He frowned, his brows knitting together, looking from the phone and then back to the agent.
“You’re saying… you want to give it back to him. The vials?”
“Not actually, but yes,” Plasencio agreed.
Henry stared at him dully. His head was filled with a distinct buzzing sound, and not much else could intrude. Plasencio sagged a little, his lips twisting with a patronizing grimace.
“We wouldn’t actually hand him the vials, Mr. Martin,” Plasencio explained, apparently taking mercy on him. “But we would have you meet him with a decoy. An empty suitcase.”
“I… guess that makes sense,” Henry said slowly. He could still feel his face burning. He felt like an idiot. Especially with so many people watching him. He glanced towards the mirror again nervously. “But…”
“We’d be there, with you,” Plasencio explained. “We’d go as well, we would set up an ambush.”
“Okay.” Henry didn’t know why he was agreeing. The thought of it filled him with anxiety, a bunch of pins and needles buzzing around his gut, and he was frowning wearily. “But, I mean… wouldn’t he be expecting that? Or…?”
“Well, Mr. Martin, how much do you think he would risk for those vials of yours?”
Henry shook his head frantically.
“They’re not mine…”
Plasencio shook his head, obviously nearing the end of his rope. “Do you think he’d risk capture if it meant getting back those vials?”
Henry scratched at his head, hissing a little as his nail scraped over one of the sore, bruised spots along his skull.
“I mean… I don’t know. What can you do with them?”
“The toxins? Well, if we’re successful,” Plasencio said, chewing the inside of his cheek thoughtfully, “we’ll have it analyzed, categorized, and reverse engineered by the end of the week. The ideal is to have a vaccine for it – or some sort of cure – within the next couple days.”
Henry didn’t know what to say. He was flabbergasted. He hadn’t quite gotten over the part where people like his brother could get their hands on suitcases of liquid disease. Henry had no idea that the government could cure diseases this quickly, on top of everything else. Was that really it? In a couple of days, could this all be over? Another terrorist attack, a failed incident. A couple dozen dead, memorials held, the nation grieving.
His head was spinning. It was too much. He had gotten involved in something bigger than his head could hold.
“Wow,” Henry said curtly. He nodded, clearing his throat as he thought over what Plasencio said. “I mean… I can try. If I tell him that… I can try. I don’t honestly know much of anything about this whole thing.”
“No one does, Mr. Martin,” Plasencio said. “We’re not asking you to predict the future for us. We’re just asking whether or not you think your brother will be willing to make a deal.”
Henry snorted, shaking his head.
“That’s even less predictable,” he muttered. Looking out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Plasencio did not look amused. Henry was taking up his time. He didn’t know how long it had been since he’d been taken from the hospital, but however long it had been, he could bet the clock was ticking. More people would be catching this disease, whatever it was. More people would be dying.
Henry pulled the cell phone to him. He had a sickening feeling in his stomach, and a bleary film over his eyes, as he thought about the woman from the hospital. The one who had been pounding on his door.
He put his forehead in his hand and looked at Plasencio wearily.
“You want me to do this now?”
“I have a script for you.”
Henry stared blankly as Plasencio rather eagerly pulled out a sheet of paper from the manila folder. It had line after line of questions in bold faced print for Henry to recite.
“Oh,” he said, swallowing. He picked the paper up in his hand. “Okay.”
He looked down at the phone. He opened up his contacts. Henry glanced at Plasencio anxiously.
“Right now?” he asked, wanting to make sure. “You want me to try to talk to him right now?”
Plasencio raised his brows at him.
“Do you need a moment?”
Henry shook his head, dragging a hand across his face.
“No,” he said, his voice rough. He scrolled past Carmen’s name, and his mother’s home phone, and felt a twinge in his chest. Wrinkling his lips together, sucking in a deep breath, he hovered over Stephen’s number. He looked up at Plasencio again.
“They’re listening,” Plasencio assured him, nodding at the mirror behind him. “Just remember, you’re goal is to try and arrange a meet with him. Tell him you’ll give the vials back to him. Tell him whatever you think you have to, to get yourself in the same room as him.”
Sardonically, Henry wondered what had happened to the “we-don’t-negotiate-with-terrorists” policy he had heard so much about. But he kept that thought to himself.
“Where do I tell him to meet?”
“You don’t,” Plasencio said. “Let him chose the place. While you’re on the phone with him, I’ll let you know whether or not we can do it.”
Henry looked Plasencio over bizarrely. For the first time, he noticed the flesh-colored Bluetooth pressed into his right ear. He coughed in his throat again.
“Alright,” he said. His thumb hesitated over the “enter” button. He pressed down and lifted the phone to his ear. Faintly, he could hear the dial tone echoing from Plasencio’s side of the table, radiating from his earpiece.
Henry slunk down in his seat a little, his heart hammering, his head pounding, his breath quick.
“BEEP. We’re sorry. The number you have dialed could not be reached… please…”
Henry looked up at Plasencio anxiously. He shook his head calmly, signaling for Henry to hang up the phone.
“Just call him again,” he instructed coolly as Henry pressed “end”. Henry took a moment to take several deep breaths, massaging his temples. Leaning over the table, holding his head in one hand, he dialed again.
“BEEP. We’re sorry. The number –”
Henry yanked the phone away from his ear, frustrated. He should have known. How long had it taken him to get Stephen on the phone the last time? And now, after everything that had happened?
Plasencio motioned silently for Henry to calm himself again.
“It might take a –”
The phone began to vibrate violently in Henry’s hands. He looked down at the screen. Stephen was calling him, just as his voicemail was beeping. He pressed the button down hurriedly.
“Are you alright, Henry?”
Henry was speechless. It was his brother’s voice, garbled by static. He glanced briefly at his phone again. He barely had any signal down here, in this basement room.
“…yes?” he replied tentatively. The word came out sharply, like a barb. The concern Henry felt in his brother’s tone was disarming. He looked over at Plasencio warily. The man rolled his finger at him, signaling him to continue on.
“You’re not sick?”
Henry stared at his hands. He felt the heat rising up his neck, unease settling in his gut. He was thinking about how Julio Astorga had coughed blood all over his face.
“Oh.” He could hear Stephen swallowing thickly. “Good. Good. I worried.”
Henry brows were creased together, scowling. There was a fire building up in his chest, kindled by rage, and he glanced around the room from Plasencio to the two-way mirror against the wall. He wanted, very badly, to scream at his brother. But he couldn’t do it here. And not now. Not when this could protect Holden and Carmen.
“You’ve seen the news?” Stephen asked. His breath was shaky. Almost nervous.
“No,” Henry said tersely. There was an airy chuckle in Stephen’s voice.
“There was an outbreak of some sort of… pathogen in Fontanelle Medical Center last night,” Stephen said. The sound from his end crackled, as though he were carrying the phone while he talked. Henry felt his jaw twinging as he ground his teeth together. “Terrible. Terrible. I wonder how it could have happened.”
Henry looked at Plasencio sharply. The agent wasn’t paying attention to him anymore. He was staring at the wall behind Henry, listening to his earpiece closely.
“I just worried,” Stephen sighed, making the line crackle again. “I know that you’ve been feeling… under the weather.”
“You fuck,” Henry muttered to himself.
“What?” Stephen asked.
“You…” Henry glanced at Plasencio again. He neither nodded nor shook his head, but Henry took his bland expression with silence. He held his tongue. “You know about Fontanelle.”
“I do,” Stephen replied.
“You know I was there.”
Stephen paused for a moment. He heard him chuckle dryly.
“Yes,” he admitted, though his tone was just as dark and condescending. “Yes, Henry, I do.”
“You had me followed.”
“I had that Chinese fuck of yours gutted too,” Stephen said, exuding pride. “We’ve been following you run all across the city. We’ve been watching you dance.”
“He was Korean,” Henry growled sharply, needling his fingers into his aching head.
“We’re even now I guess,” Stephen went on, talking as though Henry had not said anything. “Because you killed the last tail we sent after you. Didn’t you?”
Henry’s eyes met Plasencio again. The agent was staring at him accusingly. Stephen meant the crazy man from the parking garage. The one Alby’s guys had shot in order to get to him. Henry rolled his eyes. He’d had enough of this shit. It wasn’t even his fault. He had done a lot of unspeakable things lately, things he wouldn’t ever be able tell his son about and face him again. But this was stupid. Plasencio hadn’t even asked. He had shut him down when Henry tried to explain everything that had happened this past few days. The price he paid was lost on him.
“He would have killed me,” Henry answered, ignoring the agent’s judging scowl.
“You’re in police custody now,” Stephen said shortly, simply stating the fact. “Still in police custody. They probably think you’re a terrorist.”
Henry carefully avoided looking at Plasencio now. His mouth was a hard line.
“They know you’re a terrorist. They know, Steph. You said it.”
“Gotta be one to know one.”
Henry stared at the table blankly. He could feel many eyes, in the room and out of the room, boring into him silently.
“Fuck you,” he hissed under his breath. He didn’t know what else to say. He could feel the guilt leveling onto him.
“You’re fucked, big brother,” Stephen said tauntingly.
“You fucked me over,” Henry said wearily, holding onto the side of his head, hovering over his stitches, where the pain cut in the deepest. “You completely fucked me over, on your own agenda.”
“Like you weren’t on yours. Like you didn’t care more about the money than what you were doing. You got principles, brother? Where were your goddamned principles when you agreed to hustle drugs with me?”
Henry shook his head. He could see the veins in Plasencio’s face, straining. He’d gotten way off topic. He looked down at the sheet of questions in front of him vacantly. He had no idea how to work any of them into their conversation.
“I can’t talk to you,” Henry said weakly. “You’re nuts. You’re so nuts.”
“Then why did you call Henry?” Stephen sneered. “Trying to do a favor for the police? They can’t track this call, Henry.”
Henry looked up at Plasencio again. His face was still just as strained. He realized for the first time that the man was probably hearing more than just his conversation through that earpiece. There were a bunch of people behind that mirror or elsewhere, working on this call. And Henry could guess that their attempt at tracking it was going to shit.
He glanced at the sheet of questions again. He didn’t know how else to reply. But each and every one of them sounded so stiff, even in his head. Stephen wouldn’t answer them. He’d called Henry back to gloat. He had called because he knew there was nothing Henry could do about the situation. He knew exactly what was going on and what Henry wanted.
He swallowed, gnawing on his lip as he made up his mind.
“They want me to meet up with you.”
There was silence. In the room, Plasencio stared at Henry, aghast. He could hear Stephen’s breathing on the phone.
“I figured as much.”
“They said if I could get you to agree to see me, they’d give you back the vials.”
He heard Stephen laugh. Plasencio was looking at him incredulously. Henry’s face was burning. But he didn’t know what else to do. He didn’t have any cards at hand. There was no need to pokerface. There was only the bold truth.
“They wouldn’t actually,” Stephen retorted.
“No,” Henry agreed, looking at Plasencio out of the corner of his eye. His glare was harboring suspicion. “They wouldn’t actually give you back the vials. That’d be pretty stupid of them, wouldn’t it?”
“You’re very bad at this, Henry.”
“Sorry,” Henry shot back, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I guess I must have missed the part in school where they teach you how to negotiate with lunatics.”
“Very suave,” Stephen remarked blandly. “Well, you’ve really fucked this up, Henry. You’re not even trying. Is there another reason why you called?”
Henry averted his eyes from Plasencio and the empty room, the pressure of so many distrustful stares weighing down on him.
“The same reason you did,” he said after a beat, drumming his fingers against the table top. “To gloat.”
There was a moment of silence. Stephen laughed awkwardly.
Henry rolled his wrists around in their sockets a moment as he scrambled for a thought. There were marks around his wrists from where he had been bound – with zip ties and hand cuffs both. He could see his fingers visibly shaking.
“It felt good you know,” Henry said, his voice beginning to tremble a little as well. He gulped to steady himself again. “Killing that man.”
“…okay,” Stephen said uncomfortably. “That’s very dramatic of you, but I’m not sure what you mean. What man? You have a body count, you know.”
Not nearly as big as your own, Henry thought, but he kept it to himself.
“I’m talking about the crazy redneck guy. The one you say you sent after me.”
“What about him?”
“Did you know him personally?”
There was just a moment of hesitation.
Henry looked over at Plasencio pointedly. The agent still looked bewildered and frustrated. As the man shook his head, Henry went on.
“That’s too bad. I was hoping we could have a conversation about him.”
“You want to talk about this?” Stephen asked, with a twinge of irritation.
“I want to rub it in your smug fucking face,” Henry spat, his fingers curling up into a fist. “Since you seem so keen on it. You wanna know how I killed him, Steph?”
“Go ahead, shock me.”
“I snapped his motherfucking neck.”
“You’re lying,” Stephen said thickly.
“I grabbed his jaw…”
“You’re lying, Henry.”
“… and fucking ripped it off his crazy fucking head.”
“Is this supposed to intimidate me?”
“You bet it’s supposed to fucking intimidate you. Because when I see you again, that’s exactly what I’m going to do to you.” Henry had started off with a jab, a stab into the dark to try and upset his brother, but as he kept going, his face became redder. There was spit flying from his mouth. His head was pierced with pain. “I’ll snap your fucking neck. If you dare to come near me or my family ever again, I’ll snap your fucking neck, I’ll put a bullet in the head of you and every other goddamn lunatic you’re with.”
“Keep talking big, Henry,” Stephen replied. He could hear his teeth gritted. “It’s very macho of you.”
“You don’t fucking believe me?” Henry was getting riled up now. He ran a hand over his bruised, stitched-up head, trying to calm himself. “I’m prepared to do it. I have a body count, remember? And I’ve got the fucking FBI sitting across from me at this table. You don’t think I’ve got the means?”
Plasencio was shaking his head fervently, pale with anger. Any second now, Henry sensed, the man was going to cut him off. Henry was fucking up his investigation, blowing the government’s best chance at nailing Stephen and his group of cancer-spreading fanatics.
“I don’t know why I bother,” Stephen was saying.
“I’m not that worried anymore, Steph,” Henry said quickly, sitting up in his seat. “You know, these guys are telling me they’re going to have a vaccine by the end of the week.”
“Fat chance at that.”
“See, here’s your problem, Steph,” Henry said, scratching nervously at his head. “You think you’re so goddamn special. You’re a little snowflake. You’re going to change the world. That’s always been you. You always wanted to be the hero, or the game changer, or whatever. That’s what this is about, isn’t it? It’s about being a special fucking snowflake.”
He could hear Stephen’s swallow and laugh softly on the other end of the line. There was a few, empty moments that passed. When he talked again, his voice was quiet and subdued.
“You think you’re being very clever,” he hissed. Henry plowed on, building up steam.
“You and your friends, you think you’re changing things, don’t you? You think you’re doing this radical, terrible thing that’s new and…” Henry stopped, laughing dryly, though he was really just stalling for time. “You think you’re different, don’t you? You’re a fucking repeat. In a couple of weeks, people will stop getting sick. The FBI will find your fucking ass and gun you all down. You and your fucking movement will be dead, the disease will be gone, they’ll give this whole thing some stupid name like the swine flu and nobody will ever think any more of it.”
Stephen sighed heavily. His breath created more static across their call. Henry looked up at Plasencio again. His expression had changed, a sliver of understanding dawning across his face. As Stephen started talking again, Plasencio motioned at the window behind him, as though signaling to lay off.
“I feel very bad for you, Henry,” Stephen muttered. “After all the shit you’ve been through, you’re still in denial. Tell me, how did Alby look when you saw him last? Did the police have any trouble with him?”
Henry felt himself pale a little. A chill coursed through him. It was so incredulous that Stephen could know about that. That of all things. When Henry closed his eyes, he could still see the memory against the back of his eyelids, the way Alby’s arms had flopped around as the bullets tore through him. The way he’d leapt up, as though springing back to life. He felt the twinge in his chest, where he had been shot, and closed his eyes.
“It’s funny, Steph,” he went on, his voice a little less for wear. “Because in the end, it’s all your fault.”
“That’s the idea of it, Henry.”
“No, no, no, I’m not talking about Alby or even the fucking hospital. I’m talking about you failing.” Henry took a pause to swallow and breathe deeply. “Because you fucked up, Steph. I don’t know why you did it, but you fucked up, because you got me involved. And you never should have fucking done that, because now that you have, after all this shit, the FBI has those goddamn vials. And you can’t change that, and you can’t sit there and fucking deny that, sooner or later – I don’t care how fucking good you and your friends are – they are going to crack it. They’re going to make a vaccine. And it’ll be your fucking fault.”
There was a long moment of silence. Plasencio looked Henry over with a strange mixture of appreciation and doubt.
“You have no idea –,” Stephen began brashly.
“I want you to think about that next time you’re in a room with ‘em,” Henry went on, cutting in. “These friends of yours. Xavier. In a couple of days – whenever it happens – when you guys go down, it’ll all be on you. They’ll look at you, Steph. They’ll blame you.”
Henry leaned back a little in his chair, wiping the sweat off his brow, his voice hoarse from yelling. He coughed to clear his throat.
“The thing is, you think you fucked me over, Steph? I’m just realizing, it’s me who’s fucked you.”
Henry thought he saw Plasencio’s mouth twitch up in a half-smile.
“I hope that gives you comfort when you’re in prison for life, Henry,” Stephen shot back at him.
“I think it will,” Henry said carefully. “I’ve got that. I’ve got Holden and Carmen.”
“Not for much longer.”
“What will you have in prison, Steph?” Henry found himself laughing morosely, pressing a hand to his eyes. “Look at the both of us. Look what we’ve become.”
“I’m proud of what I’ve become.”
“Well, I hope that gives you comfort,” Henry retorted. He shook his head. “I really hope so. In prison. Or when you’re dead. When the news channels are showing pictures of you, and they’re saying it started with you.”
“I’m going to hang up now, Henry,” Stephen cut in.
Henry glanced up at Plasencio anxiously. He didn’t mean to push Stephen this far. Plasencio motioned for him to keep going.
“Good luck,” he said, the words leaping from his throat, eager to keep his brother on the line. “Without those vials. When they announce the vaccine, I just want you to remember, that’s what I did. That’s what we did, together.”
There was a breath of silence exhaling through the speaker, into Henry’s ear. He could feel his heart beating rapidly in the absence of sound. He held Plasencio’s gaze worriedly. He couldn’t fuck this up too. Holden and Carmen were depending on it. He was depending on it.
“You’re not going to get me those vials, Henry,” Stephen said.
“If I don’t,” Henry noted. “We’re both screwed.”
Henry could hear a faint drumming coming through the speakers, as though Stephen were tapping his fingers or hands.
“So what you’re telling me is that you’re actually going to give them to me?” Stephen spat, his voice exuding vehemence. “That’s what you want me to believe.”
“I’m going to try,” Henry replied. “You’d be an idiot if you didn’t try to clean up your own mess.”
“What’s in this for you anyway?”
“What do you think?”
Stephen chuckled sarcastically.
“Of course. They’re giving you a deal, aren’t they? They’re going to give you amenity.”
“And a chicken dinner.”
Henry sent a wary look over at Plasencio. He nodded back to him. Henry really did not know whether or not he trusted the man. Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t signed any kind of contract. He hadn’t contacted a lawyer. His parole officer wasn’t even alive anymore, let alone in the room to help him make a deal. Plasencio and the FBI weren’t legally obligated, or even morally bound to clear Henry of his murder charges. Let alone give his family protection.
“Tell me, what happens when I meet you with these vials, Henry?” Stephen demanded. “You fork them over – and they let me walk away? If they’re so confident in this vaccine, why would they risk giving that up?”
He felt himself flinch. He didn’t look at Plasencio now. He was about to say something no one in the room was going to like.
“Because they’re greedy.” He scratched at his beard nervously. “If they can, they’ll nab you along with the vials.”
“Why should I let them do that?” Stephen said smugly.
“Well, I dunno. How badly do you wanna win?”
There was a beat of silence, and Stephen laughed.
“This isn’t about winning.”
“Sure it isn’t,” Henry quipped, deadpan. “This is your shot, Steph. You can die a martyr for your cause, or you can be responsible for it all going to shit. Are you really going to fuck it up this time?”
He could hear his brother’s heavy breathing on the phone. Wet. Ragged. No one else might have known it, but it was full of tears. He didn’t know his brother well anymore. But he knew how to get him upset.
“What’s it going to be?”
Stephen didn’t reply. Henry waited, his head pulsing with pain, until the silence in the concrete room became a sharp ringing in his ears. Plasencio was leaned over the metal table, holding his mouth in his hand, as though holding back anticipation.
“Meet me where the redneck died.”
Henry heard a click. He stared a moment, waiting. Then the tone began to blare. He pulled the phone away from his ear. Stephen had disconnected the call.
Plasencio clapped his hands together, smiling. From the other room, behind the door, Henry thought he heard a celebratory whoop.
“Good job,” he said, the wrinkles pulling up at the corner of his eyes. He chuckled. “Good job, Martin. We’ve got that son of a bitch.”Henry slid the phone back onto the table, staring at the empty screen. As Plasencio reached across to shake his hand, he had a great sinking feeling in his stomach. It felt like the close to a deal with the devil.