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The rule of the people, p.6
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       The Rule Of The People, p.6

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  “I’m gonna throw up,” groaned Carter, pulling a face. “Get me a bloody bucket.”

  “Use the bin by your foot,” Anderson replied without sounding at all sympathetic. “Failing that, try to avoid the computer – I find it works better without sick all over it.”

  Carter reached down for the wastepaper bin and held it on his lap, looking white-faced but not actually being sick. It was barely five days since he’d taken a bullet in the back and by rights he should still be lying in a hospital bed being pumped full of drugs, a sympathetic nurse at his beck and call. Still, considering what he had been involved in, two out of three wasn’t bad: the nurse might actually be an FBI agent but the drugs were no different, and exchanging a hospital bed for a computer chair was surely better that the threatened alternative of a prison cell.

  Making use of McDowell’s abandoned base at Terrill had been Flores’ idea: secluded, excellent facilities, good road network, close to D.C. – if the farmhouse and its outbuildings were good enough for McDowell, then the FBI would be foolish to simply let it gather dust, even if it was just temporary. The computer centre had already been patched into the FBI’s main network and Flores was impatient to make sure everything was working effectively. From his team of eight, at least three agents would provide security overnight, Anderson and Carter the only ones to actually call Terrill home. Flores had even managed to get Anderson’s passport and other belongings released from the quagmire of FBI bureaucracy, his laptop still in one piece, both phone and camera working just fine.

  Carter’s return to Terrill had been confirmed only once an agreement of sorts had first been thrashed out, the promise of a lighter sentence traded for his help in the gathering of evidence against his former employers. Not that Carter had so far offered up any names, sticking rigidly to his story that he had simply followed McDowell’s orders. The plan now was for Carter to retrace his every action over the past three months, with a list of internet searches made, networks hacked into, details of files copied and modified. Somewhere in that mass of data might be the one clue that would reveal McDowell’s next move or conclusively prove Dick Thorn’s guilt; maybe even Deangelo’s innocence. There were no guarantees as to whether it would actually be worthwhile, but at least it potentially offered an insight into the complexity of the conspiracy, perhaps also identifying others who were actively involved.

  Once Flores had reinforced the rules as to Carter’s special status, it became clear that Anderson’s consultancy role included that of chaperone, it down to him to try and get something constructive out of Carter. If Flores anticipated that their shared nationality would somehow create an immediate rapport, then he was very much mistaken; to Anderson, Carter was as much to blame as McDowell for the trauma of the past – he might not have been present when people had died, but he was equally guilty nonetheless, a dozen deaths on his conscience in the last week alone.

  Allowing Carter access to a computer also seemed a very high-risk strategy and even though every tap on the screen and keystroke would be monitored, Anderson didn’t doubt he would find some way around it. It was a gamble Flores was happy to take and having Carter permanently based at Terrill was also a form of bait, it always possible that McDowell wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to try and contact his prize asset. With the farmhouse fully-alarmed and several armed agents never more than a room away, anything more adventurous would be a mistake. McDowell wasn’t an idiot and it didn’t take much intuition to realise Terrill was potentially a set-up. Carter had already commented as much and in reality, both he and Flores were simply waiting to see who would renege on the agreement first, neither man with any high expectations of the other.

  Since the facility’s seizure on the Monday, the forensic and computer experts had tried to learn what they could, Terrill unwilling to give up its secrets easily; it had certainly given no hint as to McDowell’s future plans and so far the FBI was struggling to pin anything conclusive on any of those arrested there, other than Carter. Their case had been taken up by a respected Washington law firm, money seemingly no object, the legality of the arrest already under scrutiny. Even to Anderson it seemed an odd way to exact justice: one FBI agent had been killed in the attack on Terrill and the fact McDowell’s associates were arguing that they were the injured party was manifestly perverse, their lawyers quick to claim that the FBI hadn’t correctly identified themselves.

  Now even Carter was being treated with kid gloves, his initial enthusiasm for his new task inexorably turning into one of grudging co-operation, the sporadic memory loss blamed on the drugs or lack of caffeine, even the presence of the FBI. Patience, civility, empathy – Anderson had tried his best but a couple of hours was all he could manage before a form of impatient pessimism had finally prevailed, coercion and bullying the obvious next step.

  Carter well knew he was facing multiple charges, including terrorism and accessory to murder; however, none of it seemed to convince him that it was time to co-operate fully and he claimed to know nothing of significance: no idea as to where McDowell or his two remaining accomplices – Martin Lavergne and Lee Preston – might be, no clue as to McDowell’s next move. The concept of there being someone higher up the chain of command than McDowell, or with the money to fund it all, was invariably met with a blank look, it not part of Carter’s well-rehearsed cover story. A lighter sentence still depended upon his willingness to come up with something worthwhile and two weeks was about as long as Flores’ patience was likely to last, the name of McDowell’s FBI source the bare minimum he would settle for.

  Anderson was similarly minded to give his new role some sort of time-limit, a fortnight maybe, definitely no more than a month. He had already broken one promise to Charlotte, her calm acceptance of him staying in the U.S. not a particularly good sign. Blaming the Department of Justice inquiry had seemed a good move if a little unfair, Anderson coerced into revealing more about the dramatic events of the past few days than had seemed wise. Even with Charlotte, he had stuck with his opinionated view that McDowell was still somewhere close at hand, the power struggle in Washington not yet completely resolved.

  But maybe that was just Anderson being stubborn, unwilling to accept that McDowell might have escaped scot-free. Carter obviously knew far more than he was letting on and Anderson just needed to drag it out of him, preferably before Carter’s selective amnesia became terminal.

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