ETA: Embarrassing typo now fixed. :P
"They've had Eric and Sydney for over twenty-four hours!" Vaughn, anger rising.
"On United States soil," Kendall said with bullish obstinacy.
"We don't know that." Jack's voice was like the cocking of a hammer on a gun. The loaded pressure ready to go off would make any sane man flinch. Kendall was sane.
"This is FBI jurisdiction, gentlemen. I can't authorize your participation." He said this in a pointed way, holding their eyes intensely in turn.
"Of course," Jack said, with the appearance of suddenly backing down in resignation. "I understand. I know you'll do everything it takes to bring my daughter home."
Vaughn stole a glance at Burgess to see if he was buying it. Casper Burgess, acting director pro tem while Devlin was on a poorly-timed vacation, had never worked with Jack before. He seemed to be buying it completely. Experience would have made him warier.
Even Marshall's usual befuddled expression had given way to a knowing look, but he was playing it cool. Cool for Marshall, anyway. Dixon kept his eyes carefully lowered. As division head, he couldn't be visibly complicit if there was interagency flack later.
"What's the plan?" Vaughn asked tersely when they reached Jack's office after the briefing. A moment later there was a knock and Marshall stuck his head in.
"Hey," he whispered, edging inside and closing the door behind him. "So, uh, what's the plan? There is a plan, right?" His gaze darted anxiously between them. "Because, Sydney--"
"There's a plan," Jack cut in. "We need to locate every L.A. associate of Arkhipov's, every real estate holding, every place he frequents when he's here." On the surface he was all business, but Vaughn could see how his thoughts were torturing him. Any time Sydney was in danger, he put himself through the same brutal emotional mill. Someday it would take its toll.
"I'm on it," Vaughn said.
Jack turned to Marshall. "There's nothing in play at the moment. We'll need a cover op to divert any suspicions, with tangible results that we can produce on request."
"Got it." You could see Marshall's brain racing like a rat through a maze. A rat with a 180 IQ. "Oh! What about--the Hafez case--I've been running their database through decryption and analysis," he spoke in an eager rush, "and it's starting to yield some really incredible stuff--" He paused, diverted, head cocked. "Did you know that the most popular first name in the world is Muhammad? For men, I mean. Not that--not that that correlates to a disposition toward terrorism--" He caught Jack's gimlet eye. "I'll just go get started on that."
"Do," Jack said.
Three hours of efforts between Jack and Vaughn produced a tentative lead. "There aren't any properties coming up for Arkhipov--he must be using front companies. But one of his cousins has a bogus holding company that's currently under investigation by the FBI and SEC," Vaughn said. "They have offices downtown."
"I doubt they'd keep them there," Jack said impatiently.
"The cousin might know something."
"Is he under FBI surveillance?"
"Not visually. Just wiretaps."
They turned up at Sa'adi Khadim's offices at the end of business day, flashing their ID at lobby security and asking not to be announced. They rode the elevator up side by side, alone.
"How far are you willing to go to get Sydney and Weiss back?" Jack asked just before they reached their floor, not looking at him, voice tight.
"You shouldn't have to ask that by now."
Arkhipov's cousin was in his office, polished shoes up on the desk, talking in Arabic into a wireless headset. He looked up at their arrival in confused outrage. "Who are you?" he asked. "La'a, la'a--na'am, bu-kra," he said into the phone, then tossed the phone on the desk and got up. "How did you get in?"
They ignored the question and strolled to loose flanking positions at his desk.
"We need to have a little talk," Jack said. "About your cousin Habib."
"Who are you?"
"Friends." Vaughn held him with a cold but equable stare. "But not of yours."
Khadim reached out to press a button on his office comm.
"I wouldn't do that," Jack said. "This is not going to be the kind of conversation you'd like advertised."
"You're government?" He was appraising their suits and the shape of their holsters under the jackets. A sneer touched his lips. "Get out. I have nothing to say. You do nothing but persecute my community, while we bring your country the business that keeps you drinking lattes."
"I don't drink lattes," Jack said. His face was deadpan, but Vaughn could sense the coiled, lethal tension in him.
"We just want to talk." Vaughn gave Khadim a good-cop smile. "Your cousin Habib--we'd like to know the location of all his L.A. properties."
Khadim barked a real laugh of disbelief. "I did not know the government had such a sense of humor. Would you like to see my accounting records too?"
"No, thanks." Vaughn maintained a pleasant tone, but let an edge creep in. "Just the locations will do."
Jack's gun hand flexed, his reined impatience growing. Vaughn could see the tiny movements from the corner of his eye.
"I think maybe I should call my lawyer now." Khadim smiled back at Vaughn. "What do you think?"
Jack took out his gun and shot Khadim in the shoulder. Vaughn jumped at the bang it made in the confines of the office. Jesus, he thought in reflex. No matter how well he got to know Jack, he was always startled at the other man's readiness to cut to the chase.
"You--you've shot me," Khadim gasped in amazement, falling back into his chair and feebly pressing a hand to his expensive and now bloodstained suit.
"Yes. And I'll shoot you again if you don't give me what I need."
"You should listen to him," Vaughn advised, voice hard, letting Khadim see his own grim determination. There was no longer any reason to play it polite. "He's in a bad mood. So am I."
"He has many properties. Houses, restaurants, plants, warehouses--"
"The plants and warehouses--where are they?" Vaughn took out a notebook and pen.
"Off Alameda--he has a place for seafood processing--"
"We'll start there," Jack interrupted. He moved around the desk and snapped a pair of cuffs around Khadim's wrists, not being gentle. The man gave a sobbing cry as his left arm was yanked behind his back.
"He's not going to bleed out, is he?" Vaughn asked with dispassion, critically eyeing the wound. He knew Khadim wouldn't, but wanted him to hear the question.
"It can take up to an hour to bleed out." Jack jerked the other man to his feet and eyeballed him stonily from up close. Khadim's face was ashen and afraid. "I'm sure we can get him to a hospital in time if he cooperates."
They manhandled Khadim out a back exit and down to the parking garage. Vaughn sat in back with a gun in his ribs while Jack drove. "What are you looking for?" the man asked Vaughn. "If you want help, you should tell me."
"Friends of ours. Arkhipov has them."
"I don't know anything about that. Please, do you have a handkerchief?" He looked down at his wound in a fretful way.
The processing facility was an irregularly shaped grey building with bays and doors on at least two sides. Jack pulled into a nearby alley and cut the engine. "Put him in the trunk," he said to Vaughn, looking at them in the rear-view mirror.
Right, Vaughn thought, dragging the man from the car as he wailed. "Shut up," he repeated, slamming him against the side of the car and shoving the gun tight under his chin. Khadim swallowed several times and got in the trunk without further noise. Jack had drawn his gun and was waiting for him by a back entrance. A lock-pick let them in. They were in the office area, a set of short grey halls with dingy carpet and open doors. No security. Probably a legitimate business. Vaughn felt his spirits sink a little.
They searched the plant on quiet feet, guns drawn and raised. The smell of fish was overpowering, but there were no fish to be seen. As they reached a bay of freezers, Vaughn jerked his head toward them and Jack nodded. The first few were empty, not even running. The third was locked. Jack blew the lock and wrenched it open. Frosty air billowed out.
"Sydney!" he said. Vaughn followed on his heels and saw Sydney and Weiss huddled up tightly against each other to fight the cold; they were unconscious.
"Shit," Vaughn said and holstered his gun. He and Jack eased them out into the hall and checked pulses. "I don't think they were in there long." He whipped out his cell and dialed for an ambulance. Jack simply breathed and stroked Sydney's hair.
They recovered in the hospital with no serious after-effects, and in almost no time were conscious, interrogating everyone about the mission status, and impatient for release; though Weiss seemed more drained than Sydney after the ordeal. Vaughn suspected his protests were just for show.
"It's all about timing," he said to Vaughn from his bed, looking disappointed. "A year ago, when I was crushing on Syd--" He hesitated, catching Vaughn's eye.
"It's okay." He smiled faintly.
"Well. A life or death situation that requires cuddling? How often do you luck out like that?"
"Damn right. Bad timing. Though it could have been worse," he added philosophically, shrugging his eyebrows. "I could have been stuck in there with you."
"What are you saying, you wouldn't cuddle with me?" Vaughn grinned.
"Don't go there, man."
Jack was in the hall when Vaughn left Weiss's room.
"How's Syd?" She'd been fine earlier, but it was a reflex to ask again.
"Fine. She just needs some rest." He paused. "Khadim will recover. He's having the bullet removed now. Los Angeles. Such a dangerous city for muggings."
Vaughn gave him a wry smile, and Jack twitched an eyebrow and gave one of his tiny smiles in return. Their gazes held for a moment, until Vaughn felt an oddness settling over him, a half-familiar constriction in his chest and an edgy ache that he tried never to think about too closely. Jack wasn't smiling any more, but he hadn't dropped his gaze.
"Did you get anything to eat?" he asked Vaughn.
"No. Just some coffee."
"You should eat."
It was an oddly disconnected comment, but Vaughn had learned to distinguish the times when Jack was unapproachable from the times when he was actually inviting someone to meet him halfway.
He accepted the wild fluttering distraction of his pulse and said, "You want to get something?"
"Sure," Jack said, and they did.