When i found you, p.8
When I Found You, p.8Kate James
Logan thought about it as they strode along the corridor.
His parents had loved each other deeply and his mother had managed to hide her stress and fear reasonably well from his father, but she hadn’t been able to conceal her worry from Logan. Innumerable times he’d watched her cast furtive glances at the phone when his father was late getting home. If the phone rang during those times, she’d literarily jump out of her chair. It if was the doorbell, she’d freeze with terror etched on her face.
Ultimately, the dreaded knock on the door had come. His mother’s worst fear had materialized. His father had been killed in the line of duty. Only three years before he’d been planning to retire and two years after he’d made police chief, a position that came with greater responsibility but supposedly less personal risk.
Thank goodness Logan had been home at the time.
He’d never forget how his mother had broken down, keening inconsolably as a wounded animal might. Logan had felt the pain, too, for the father he’d loved and idolized his whole life.
In an instant, his mother had aged a decade. She’d never been able to fight her way out of her grief. She passed away eighteen months after his father, of natural causes, they said. Logan knew better. It had been from a broken heart.
He’d been the one to find her that morning. She’d seemed peaceful for the first time since his father’s death. He’d stood watching her for long moments, appearing so much her old self. Recollections of his family, together and happy, had flooded in. She must have had a similar memory when her spirit had left her, if the gentle smile on her lips had been an indication.
It was the influence of his own parents’ situation that had made Logan determined to avoided relationships.
Maybe when he had a desk job...
He’d accepted a long time ago that his relationships wouldn’t be serious. So why should it be any different with Ariana? And why did that thought make him feel as if he’d be missing out on something precious?
As they walked through the doors leading to the emergency operations center, Logan felt an immediate constriction in his chest when he saw Ariana standing inside.
There was nothing wrong with spending some time with her, he rationalized, as long as he kept it casual. He might just have to push her for that dinner date.
Rick made a scoffing sound, interrupting Logan’s thoughts. Rick, too, was watching Ariana. They both saw her look at the dogs with rounded eyes.
“I don’t get how someone can’t like dogs,” Rick said under his breath.
ARIANA LOOKED AROUND the airport’s emergency operations center and noted that almost all the members of the multiagency security committee had arrived for the debrief. They’d done everything they could to ensure the safety of the airport and its passengers. The first order of business was to decide whether the airport could resume normal operations. She expected the answer would be yes.
While they were waiting for everyone to arrive so they could start the meeting, Logan excused himself to return some calls. Ariana assumed he had to check in with the division and provide an update.
She was glad of the few minutes she had before the meeting. She could use the time to settle down. Her head felt as if it would explode from agony and frustration. Her left hand was throbbing with pain, too. In hindsight, she should’ve accepted the painkillers the paramedic had offered. She’d refused them because she didn’t want to dull her brain. She should have taken them and saved them until now. She could have used them.
Despite her pain and fatigue, she had to get through the debrief. They needed to do it while the events of the day were still fresh in everyone’s mind. Cyn had stuck around to help with coordination. Ariana wanted to hug her for having set up coffee. She didn’t know how long the urn had been sitting there and didn’t care, as long as the brew was hot and strong.
When Rick stepped away to make a call, as well, Ariana took a long, bracing drink of coffee.
Self-critical as she was, she believed she’d handled her role the best she could. Outwardly, she was certain she’d seemed efficient, calm and in control. The way she was trained to be.
Outwardly capable—yes. Inside was another matter. She was second-guessing everything she’d done and was plagued by a feeling of failure. She thought back to her time at Sector Security and Bryan Carpenter. It wasn’t just because of Bryan that she’d been working so hard over the past year to improve security at the airport and close all the gaps she’d found. It had surprised her that George Dennison, her predecessor and occasional mentor, would have allowed some of the glaring weaknesses to exist. No matter, as they’d been easy enough to fix. She believed she’d been addressing the highest-risk areas, but if that was the case then how did the person or persons responsible get the explosives into the secure area?
For now, they had no answer. If it turned out to be through a security checkpoint, that fell under the auspices of TSA, but she couldn’t shirk her duty. She saw her role as integrator of all the various entities that contributed to the safety and security of the airport and its passengers. That included TSA. The general public and the media didn’t care who did what directly. Placing blame—which wasn’t her style to begin with—would only work against her. Whatever happened at the airport, people saw as the airport’s responsibility. If it was security or safety related, it was her responsibility.
Should she have done more, once the weaknesses in TSA’s procedures had been made public through the leaking of the covert testing results? One of the recommendations had been to increase the use of detection dogs. Bomb-sniffer dogs were far more accurate at detecting explosives than electronic detection devices, and they cost less. She’d put her personal phobia aside and had been pressuring FSD Stewart for dogs to be assigned to the airport since the recommendations had been made public. He’d been unresponsive. Would dogs have been able to prevent what they were dealing with?
She mulled over providing a quick update to Calvin before the meeting started. All she had at this point was that there were no more explosives on site. That had already been communicated through the emergency notification system. She decided to put off calling Calvin. She had no answers for her CEO yet.
Logan walked back into the meeting room and to where she stood. His close proximity made her feel edgy, unexpectedly so, since he and Rick had left their dogs in the office assigned to the SDPD to let them get some well-deserved rest.
With mug in hand, Ariana moved to the table and sat. Logan topped up his own mug and took the chair directly opposite her. As others joined them at the table, he continued to hold her gaze. It caused that churning in her belly again. She was unreasonably relieved when her phone rang.
Ariana checked the display and her relief was short-lived.
It was her boss. She berated herself for not calling him and headed to a quiet corner of the room to answer her phone.
“Yes, Calvin.” She forced her voice to sound as normal as possible.
“What’s happening, Ariana? It seems everything is going crazy around here. The media are knocking down my door. Under the circumstances, I can’t keep redirecting them to Molly,” he said. “Ralph has called a special meeting of the board. As chairman, he wants answers. And so do I. I need you there and ready to brief the board. I might also need you to handle some of the more technical aspects of the media queries.” There was a pause. Calvin had clearly covered the mouthpiece of the phone. She heard a muffled conversation before he came back on the line a moment later.
“I’ve got to go,” he announced. “We need to talk, but for now are we clear?”
She’d never heard Calvin so abrupt. Sounding so outraged. Calvin tended to be passive-aggressive at worst. He’d never been antagonistic. “Yes, we’re clear.” What choice did she have?
While she’d been on the phone, the rest of th
Ariana did take a chair because she wasn’t certain her legs would support her. “Shall we get started?” she asked to get everyone’s attention, before turning the meeting over to the FBI special agent leading the investigation.
“What’s his or her motivation?” someone asked, once everyone was brought up to speed.
No one seemed eager to jump in, so Logan shrugged. “We’ll get brighter minds than mine to theorize, but the note has the condescending tone of a terrorist group toward infidels. Comments like Think you’re smart. Secure. Failings. Another hypothesis, if we factor in that the explosions were both relatively minor—” he glanced sympathetically at Ariana “—and considering that no terrorist group or individual has taken responsibility, at least not yet, it could be someone who wanted to send a message. Watch me. I can do this.” He looked to Angus for confirmation.
Angus mumbled something noncommittal.
“Does anyone have any ideas about how he got in?” Ariana asked.
“Not through a TSA checkpoint,” Angus replied.
“How can you be certain?” Ariana didn’t want to seem openly challenging, but there was no way to categorically make that determination based on what they had to go on.
“We’ve checked our procedures—we don’t allow any departure from standing orders, since...since last year.”
Ariana glanced at Max. He shrugged and rolled his eyes.
They had a roundtable discussion about it but didn’t come to any satisfactory conclusion or supposition. The TSA checkpoint remained the obvious path of least resistance, no matter how much FSD Stewart protested. One thing they all agreed on was that they couldn’t discount that the person might be an insider—someone who worked at the airport. Insiders tended to pose the greatest threat for most organizations because of their knowledge and their familiarity, since most people wouldn’t question them if they saw them around, perhaps even if they were acting strange. No, they couldn’t eliminate the insider threat principle.
“I don’t like the tone of the notes,” Logan said, moving on to another point for discussion. “I believe the mention of ‘more’ isn’t just an idle threat. Since we didn’t find additional IEDs today, it means our subject of interest intends to get other explosives in.” He looked at Ariana directly. “And security at the airport is solid. He’d know that we’ll tighten it further.”
Ariana appreciated the compliment, although she couldn’t acknowledge it right then. “It’s brazen of him to give us a heads-up and think he can outsmart security again. I don’t understand why he wouldn’t have done everything he plans to do today,” she added.
Logan shook his head slowly. “I don’t have an answer to that. Combined with the fact that the two IEDs didn’t have sufficient explosives in them to do a lot of damage, it’s as if he’s toying with us. We have no insight into his motivation or what he plans to do?” He scanned the faces around the table. “He’d have to know we’ll be watching for him and it’ll be harder if—when—he tries again. It’s brazen, as Ariana said. Any ideas, Angus? I know it’s not something you want to consider, but theoretically, how likely is it that our subject of interest got in through a TSA checkpoint?”
Nice lob, Ariana thought and waited to see how Angus would respond. He opened his mouth a few times and his face turned bright red before he spoke. He sputtered on at some length about the integrity of the TSA processes and the improvements that had been made in the past year. Partway through his discourse, Logan got up and joined Rick, who’d been leaning against the counter at the side of the room. They were speaking in undertones that Ariana was unable to hear.
“After all, security isn’t entirely our responsibility,” Angus concluded, giving Ariana a hostile glare. “Have you considered the weaknesses in your systems and procedures?”
Whatever Logan had been saying to Rick, he stopped abruptly and pushed off the counter to approach the table. “Now, hold on a minute. We don’t know how the perpetrator got in or where the failure occurred. There’s no need for accusations. We’ll determine what happened through our investigation. Then we’ll discuss who, if anyone, dropped the ball.”
Angus must have been truly agitated, as he pointed an accusatory finger at Ariana. “Why don’t you ask her and her people?” he said scathingly. “If she’s that good at her job, why is she the one who got hurt?”
* * *
EVERYONE IN THE room fell silent. They all became preoccupied with their cell phones or the papers in front of them.
Logan was astonished by what he’d just heard.
Looking at Ariana, seeing the livid blue-green bruise against a face that had gone suddenly white, Logan felt his protective feelings for her rise up.
“There’s no correlation between her injury and the state of security at the airport.” He was tempted to add “you buffoon” but decided against it. He’d made his point. The others in the room could read between the lines.
“So how did she get injured?” Stewart persisted. “If your dog is supposed to be so good?”
Logan closed the distance between him and Stewart. He got satisfaction out of towering over Stewart, who had to crane his neck back to maintain eye contact. “Not that it’s any of your business, but she got ahead of us.”
“Ahead of you? What do you mean?”
“There was a lot going on and we were all doing our best in a tense situation. It wasn’t her fault,” Logan said and gave Stewart a long, hard stare he usually reserved for suspects. Stewart compressed his lips, the edges turning white from the pressure, and shifted in his seat. “We were sweeping the departure lounge for explosives,” Logan began as he heard the door behind him open. “She was almost on top of the IED when it detonated. It could’ve been a lot worse...” Thinking about it caused the horror and the dread he’d experienced to surface again.
“She should’ve waited until you’d cleared the area. Isn’t that standard procedure?”
“Yeah, but she got ahead of me and Boomer,” he acknowledged and glanced at Ariana. She’d gone paler still, if that was possible. She was staring at the door behind him. Turning to see who’d entered, he saw Calvin Murdoch, the airport’s CEO, standing in the doorway.
“You’re injured.” Calvin stated the obvious, his face flushed and jaw clenched. “Are you okay?” he asked Ariana.
* * *
ARIANA’S TENSION MOUNTED as she heard Calvin’s voice directed at her. He must’ve come straight to the EOC after he’d dealt with whatever had interrupted their telephone conversation.
She could see the stiffness—and displeasure—on Calvin’s face as he, much as the others had before, scrutinized her face, her rumpled clothing and splinted hand.
“I’m fine,” she repeated for what seemed like the thousandth time since the explosion.
“Good. And what were you and FSD Stewart discussing?” he asked Logan. “About procedure?”
Logan’s features were taut. He glanced at Ariana. “We were all doing our jobs.”
Calvin slid his gaze back to meet Ariana’s. “But you shouldn’t have been ahead of the officers?”
She felt the blood—what was left of it—drain from her face as she replayed the final comments between Logan and Angus from the time Calvin had entered. She expected that sort of treatment from Angus. It was his nature and she knew Calvin didn’t put much stock in it. But Logan? He’d never said a word about not getting ahead of the dog until after the explosion. It made sense, of course, in hindsight.
“Ariana, what were you doing not following police direction?” Calvin demanded.
She was at a loss for what to say. She couldn’t believe this was happening in front of the other members of the multiagency security committee. There wa
“You were supposed to provide access for the law enforcement professionals. Not try to do their job. Isn’t that right?”
Is that what she’d been trying to do? Looking around? Searching? Had she been wrong...again? Ariana’s heart was pounding so hard, she thought it would burst right out of her rib cage. Why was Calvin fixated on this, when they had much more serious issues to deal with?
“Calvin, we’re in the middle of a debrief here,” she said with a strained voice, forcing the words past the constriction in her throat. “I’m happy to discuss your concerns with you later. In the meantime, you’re welcome to join us, if you wish.”
Her comment hung in the air for long seconds, before her boss shook his head. “Be ready to brief the board,” he said. “I want a full report on what happened and what we’re doing about it before the end of the day. At present—and this is the reason I came down here—I need assurance that the airport is secure. That there are no more bombs. I have a media conference in thirty minutes. Can you give me that assurance?” To Ariana’s consternation, he was posing the question to Logan again.
“There are no more explosives,” Logan responded.
“Can I safely tell the media that? Categorically? It’ll be my credibility and that of the airport on the line.”
“Yeah. We’ve cleared the airport,” Logan responded. “For now.”
“What does that mean?” She could hear the displeasure in Calvin’s tone.
Logan shrugged and looked at Ariana again. Was he giving her the opportunity to jump in? She didn’t see how it could help her current situation.
“It means what I said. We have reason to presume the perpetrator isn’t done. I don’t believe this to be a random act, and it wasn’t an isolated IED. He went to a lot of trouble to get into the concourse with the explosives. He could’ve planted much more powerful IEDs. There could have been significant casualties and injuries. Far more damage. We’ll see what our Homeland Security colleagues have to say.” He nodded toward Angus and some other members of the group congregated around the table. “But my read is that this guy’s intention was not to do physical harm. Rather he wanted to demonstrate that he could waltz in here and do what he did.” Logan fleetingly considered whether it could be someone trying to reveal more weaknesses in TSA’s procedures.
When I Found You by Kate James / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes