Agent Vlak enjoyed the spotlight. He wasn’t quite at the point where he craved it, but he certainly considered it one of the best perks of his job.
So far on this case, he had dropped back and been a helpful and supportive member of the team. That was not by choice, however. He had been outmaneuvered by the locals, who had somehow managed to have an in with someone much higher up the ladder at the Bureau.
Vlak was not a fan of this, but a Harvard man knew how to read a room and remain several steps ahead of people he was sure had only community college degrees on their office walls.
This morning, Vlak was positively glowing. All eyes were on him as he stood at the front of the room and explained how the FBI, and he as their conduit, had broken open the case.
“Your friend’s asset certainly came through,” he proclaimed as he slapped three mugshots up on the magnetic board. “We now know the identity of the three men who pursued your confidential informants the night they innocently drove off with a car packed with assault weapons.”
Wally rolled his eyes at Vlak’s dig, but did not comment. Ng stepped closer to the board to study the mugshots and compare them to Aspen’s sketches.
“How come the vaunted FBI facial recognition program didn’t pop these names when you ran Aspen’s sketches through it?” she asked politely with just a hint of accusation.
Wally smiled, but remained silent.
Vlak grinned like the Cheshire cat because he had an answer for that. He was always prepared to explain why the FBI was superior.
“As you can see from the photos, the suspects usually have much longer hair and facial hair. Plus, they have darker complexions. They were clean cut during their time here, presumably to fit in better and draw less attention. While Aspen’s sketches were excellent, they couldn’t capture the proper shading and bone structure.”
Ng examined the sketches more closely. Vlak was right. Aspen’s drawings were very close to what the men looked like, but they weren’t exact.
“Not bad, though, for guys she saw only briefly before she fled for her life,” Wally finally contributed something to the conversation.
Vlak nodded. Now that the spotlight was on him, he had to make sure to remain agreeable so that he didn’t piss off people and lose their attention.
“Agreed,” Vlak replied. “They are members of a Los Angeles gang whose name loosely translates from the Spanish to ‘the Devil’s favorite sons’. They are low level members of the gang, so it’s unclear why they were entrusted to travel halfway across the country to deal with the Crossers. It does seem likely, however, that the groups crossed paths in Southern California, where Crossing the Delaware last claimed credit for a terrorist attack.”
“That would fit nicely with Aspen’s theory that the Crossers and the Devil’s Sons decided they had a winning working relationship and would partner up again on the next job,” Ng concluded.
“Makes sense,” Wally agreed. “If the Crossers truly are mobile, and not staying in one area to which they are accustomed, it would take time to make connections with the local talent and source out their dirty work. But if you partner up with the same group, you make your life a hell of a lot easier.”
“And we need nothing more during these troubled times than for domestic terrorists to have an easy time executing their agenda,” Ng grumbled.
Vlak worried that he was losing the spotlight with all this conjecture, so he yanked it back onto him. “As we speak, the Bureau is utilizing its massive assets to track down these suspects and bring them back here for questioning.”
Ng wandered over to the nearest desk and leaned against it. “What I want to know is how come Aspen’s friend was able to identify those three so quickly, but couldn’t come up with anything on bachelor number four.”
“Especially since he’s supposed to be local with ties to the Heathens,” Wally added. “You’d think they would’ve come up with him first.”
Again, Vlak felt the room slipping away from him. “I’m sure we’ll figure that out once my fellow agents arrest the three amigos.”
Wally shot Vlak a look. “That sounds oddly racist, Agent Vlak. I’d think you’d be more sensitive about comments like that.”
Vlak opened his mouth to respond, but wasn’t quite sure what to say. Instead, Ng filled the silence with questions of her own.
“What we need to ask is ‘Why here?’ What makes our city a target for these terrorists? If we can figure out that, we won’t have to wait for the FBI to make arrests. To be honest, I don’t think we have the time to sit around and hope they deliver.”
“Champ thinks he knows the answer.”
The familiar voice came from the doorway. Wally and Ng turned towards it with delight, while Vlak growled under his breath and cursed the annoying locals who kept stealing his thunder.
“Champ, what are you doing here?” Wally asked as he walked over to greet his friend with a handshake.
“And how did you get here without your protection detail knowing?” Ng added with a worried raise of her eyebrow.
Champ slowly made his way into the room and towards the big board at the front.
“Champ doesn’t need a babysitter,” he explained. “Champ told the cops he needed to stretch his legs and if anyone tried to follow him, they’d learn that his right hook was still as good as it was from Champ’s days in the ring.”
Wally chuckled and followed Champ as he walked towards Ng and Vlak.
“Champ is also tired of being left out and treated like damaged goods,” he growled and locked eyes with Vlak. “Champ is pissed that he got tricked into staying back while Aspen and Tex put themselves in danger. Champ might have a beat up heart, but his heart is bigger than anyone else’s when it comes to his friends.”
Ng looked to Wally to signal that he should handle this one.
“I couldn’t agree with you more, my friend, but Aspen was pretty insistent. You know how she can get when she makes up her mind about something.”
Champ rolled his eyes. “Champ loves Aspen, but he can see that she has all of you wrapped around her pretty little fingers. Tex I can understand, but the rest of you should be able to stand up to her and tell her who is in charge.
Wally chuckled. “That’s easier said than done, especially when she’s the only one coming up with any good ideas on how to catch the bad guys.”
This time, both Wally and Champ shot Vlak a look.
Vlak decided he didn’t want to deal with the negative vibes being sent his way, so he turned to face the board and pretended he was studying it intently.
“I don’t think Aspen’s intent was to upset you,” Ng took a shot at calming Champ. “She was genuinely concerned about you, and couldn’t get past what happened the last time you tagged along when they got into some misadventures.”
Champ waved off that theory and sat down behind the desk next to the one where Ng was.
“Champ can handle himself,” he clarified. “Champ will not be put in timeout anymore on this investigation. Does Champ make himself clear?”
Ng and Wally nodded in unison.
“You said you had an answer about why the Crossers had picked our city as their next target?” Wally nudged Champ out of his angry place and into one where he could feel helpful.
“That’s right,” Champ agreed. “Champ might be left on the bench, but Champ is always paying attention. Do you remember why Tex had to move into the apartment above Maggie’s bar?”
Wally nodded. “Sure. He was staying at a friend’s house and the grandmother sold the place, so he had to move out.”
“And why did the owner sell a house that had been in her family for generations?” Champ asked like a professor springing a trick question on an unsuspecting undergrad.
It took Wally a moment, but he remembered the answer. “Because a developer was buying up the entire neighborhood so he could knock down the houses, and build expensive condos for rich folks who normally wouldn’t be caught dead in that part of town.”
Wally smiled to indicate that the answer was correct.
The reply also piqued Vlak’s interest, so he turned back around to follow the conversation.
“Word on the street is that while some homeowners sold willingly, most had to be persuaded to give up places that had been the only homes they’d ever known,” Champ explained. “Champ hears many of them ended up selling for pennies on the dollar once the developer started using underhanded methods to force them out.”
Ng excitedly picked up on Champ’s train of thought. “The rich stomping on the poor, while they only get richer. The little guy being defenseless to defend his family home against the ruthless real estate titan with infinite power at his disposal. That sounds like a narrative that fits perfectly into the Crossers’ playbook, doesn’t it Agent Vlak?”
Vlak nodded emphatically. “That would definitely be a cause that would catch their attention. They would surely see it as a conflict that would need to be settled in a unique manner that only they were capable to provide.”
“Who’s the person responsible for this condo development?” Vlak asked even though it pained him to know that someone not from the FBI would be providing the answer.
“Please tell me it’s who I think it is,” Wally practically begged of Champ.
The old boxer’s weathered face lit up in a bright smile. “Champ is pleased to announce that it is our old friend Miles Fitzpatrick.”
Wally pumped his fist in excitement like he’d just made the interception that had sealed the Super Bowl title.
“Let me guess,” Vlak quipped, “someone you know is intimately linked to this man.”
Champ and Wally nod in unison.
“The bastard paid Champ to squat on some land so he could drive down the price for a deal he had going,” Champ provided the answer. “That very place was where one of Champ’s good friends ended up dying, and that led to Wally meeting Detective Bruno, and then the two of them meeting Champ.”
“Of course it did,” Vlak replied.
He was upset that the spotlight was long gone for the moment, but at least he finally had a very concrete lead in the case. Vlak understood that if he was even part of the team that caught these terrorists, a group that some in the FBI didn’t believe even existed, he would have a spotlight akin to multiple suns shining on him for the rest of his career.
So Vlak smiled and allowed Champ to bask in the glow of the big reveal.
“Bruno’s going to be pissed he missed a chance to question his buddy Miles, but I promise to do him proud,” Wally announced with a grin.
“I’ll be coming with you,” Ng informed him. “Miles Fitzpatrick is a powerful man with very powerful connections. I’ve heard he plans to run for governor in the next election. We need to approach him carefully. Do I need to point out that the man is not a suspect? He’s potentially the target.”
“I understand,” Wally confirmed. “But he’s still a major league prick, and it’s not going to bother me one bit to watch him squirm.”
Ng eyed him warily, but didn’t say anything. After all, what else could she expect from a rookie who had spent so much time with Detective Bruno?
“You want me to come?” Vlak asked because he did like the idea of talking to such a high profile person even though he knew he’d just be a third wheel for the conversation.
“No,” Ng replied without hesitation. “Introducing the FBI into the equation will up the stress level and potentially make him less cooperative. Let’s keep it local for now while you liaise with the Bureau on our other three suspects.”
Vlak nodded his agreement.
“Champ, you did really well,” Wally declared as he slapped his friend on the back. “We’re going to drive you home first and ask that you don’t slip your protection detail again. Now that we know this threat is real, keeping you safe is out top priority.”
Champ nodded in understanding.
“Champ gets it,” he agreed. “Besides, Champ wants to go back and brag to Aspen and Tex so that they remember he’s a vital part of the team, too.”
“Let’s go save this city and one of its most vile residents,” Wally summed up their next move in a way that would have made Bruno proud.
Wally put out his first and Champ bumped it satisfyingly with his own.
TO BE CONTINUED…
The dots are connecting! I had wondered if Fitzpatrick was going to make another appearance. I enjoyed that twist!! This is such an exciting story!!
Of course Miles Fitzpatrick is back. I think he might be the Lux Luthor of the Brunoverse. 🙂
That’s the perfect comparison!
He’s going to have to shave his head, of course… 🙂
That’s a given. 🙂
While he has Trump like tendencies, he is younger and more intelligent. A definite threat to Bruno. Plus, as we will see in the next chapter, he can be a definite threat to Michelle’s political ambitions…
A threat to Bruno? Now I am a little worried.
Yes, as I was telling Kristian in another thread, I see Fitzpatrick as the Lex Luthor of the Brunoverse.
Clearly, Bruno is Superman. 🙂
ooh, things are beginning to connect here and there –
Yes, they are. Look at me trying to make actual sense of the story! 🙂
I’m waiting for Vlak to misuse the massive resources of the FBI somehow, Austin …
I don’t really know how to read him. He wants this arrest, he wants the glory, but I don’t know what he’ll do to make sure those things happen.
Ohhhh I forgot about that Fitzpatrick guy!!!
He is a very important character. Remember, Michelle has political ambitions, as does Fitzpatrick. That could lead to conflict down the line in the series…
Ohhh yea see I am forgetting some of the details. Its a good idea that I start from the beginning again. 😁
Here’s a fun bit of news for you: I decided today to change the title of the first novel. Like The Undisputed Champions of Texas, the novel version will have a title inspired by Foo Fighters lyrics.
I also changed the very beginning of Chapter 1 and he bank robbery prologue. By the time the book gets published, you might not recognize it from the blog. 🙂
I can’t get enough of this story. Its so good I think I am going to start from the beginning and refresh my memory 😁😁😁
I think that sounds like an excellent idea. I’m sure some of it will change in the rewriting process, but it’s good to get a refresher. 🙂