2010-09-19: Entertaining Theories





Date: September 19th, 2010


The height-challenged federal agent phones Maggie up about a mutual acquaintance of theirs and, for a little while, they get by with theories. But the facts will out.

"Entertaining Theories"

The number on the caller ID is unknown. Not blocked — simply unknown.

"Detective Powers," buzzes a voice — while not so friendly as to be familiar — is known, "it's Agent Hamm." Far across the city, along streets pock-marked with summer construction, patterned by yellow taxis, and around tall buildings that glint in the sharp afternoon sun, the federal agent stands in a square room, made hazy by blinds that partition the light into blurry streaks along the table in front of him. An evidence spreads sits for the taking — with plenty of evidence that it's been thoroughly consumed at an earlier time — but now Hamm's hand is still along the edge of the presentation, the other supporting his phone-call. "I was hoping you might have a little time today to meet with me over a mutual friend."

"Agent Hamm…" The reply is ambiguous in sentiment, but not completely unpleasant. Somewhere across the city, unprepared to go anywhere at all, if the caller could see her, it would be immediately obvious that she has the time: Maggie is curled up on the corner of her couch against a pillow. A cup in one hand and a book — The Mysterious Island — easing shut on her lap, resting against legs drawn upward, half-covered by a cream-colored knit afghan … she is the definition of "off-duty". She gives her book a skeptical eyeing as a stand-in for Hamm — though Jules Verne makes a strange substitute. "…is it urgent?" She doesn't sound especially enthused. "Has there been a change in the case?"

The Mysterious Island is a diligent proxy; Hamm, across that distance, briefly toughens his mouth as if against some targeting skepticism. His eye traces the words of files he knows in his sleep, pictures… a request form presented there on top, filled to the brim with clerical readiness — except for the line near the bottom requiring an agent's signature. His gaze deflects off this as he sees it, bringing him around to a phone he'd been somewhat ignoring. "If it was, detective, you can be assured I'd be requesting, not hoping— as for the change— I suppose that remains to be seen if a certain person of interest decides to talk to the agent in charge…"

Devoid of an attached expression, the silence that follows, for Hamm, is only that: silence. But at home, Maggie is deliberating; around the phone pressed to her ear, a little finger sneaks to her mouth, poised between teeth in still skeptical thought. After a pause that truly extends too far past the polite amount for a phone call: "Alright."

As for where and when — Maggie leaves that naturally in the hands of the FBI agent. The phone is bolstered against a shoulder, the afghan blanket is thrown off gently, the book set aside, and she swings her legs off the couch to sit her cup down beside the slew of papers and a notebook on her coffee table, organized notes that serve as evidence that she hasn't been sitting entirely idle.

The pause doesn't seem to deter Hamm, who has plenty to scan over in the silence; at one point, he switches the phone to his other hand in order to pull a particular picture from the pile, snapping it up contemplatively in front of his face. "Fantastic," he announces immediately at her acceptance, revealing that he'd been in anticipation of her answer despite the length it took to get there. "Bridge Cafe. It's on Water Street. I can be there in fifteen minutes, I'll have the table." Details, details— there are no more; he hangs up on completion of these instructions.

* * *

Beneath the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, Maggie finds the aptly named cafe just fine. Granted, it's been more than fifteen minutes on her part, though the watch on her wrist keeps good time. It is perhaps this slight lateness more than enthusiasm that lends a quickness to her step as she finds the door in order to seek out Agent Hamm inside the old building, perceptive to every one of its details on the way. The off-duty detective doesn't stand out— at least not in wardrobe; she's draped in an array of unremarkable clothes. Loose-fitting black pants, a navy blue tank that is fitted to some extent but, over that, a white button-down shirt — unbuttoned and oversized, it carries with it the distinct impression of having just been thrown on.

It does not take even an off-duty detective's skills of observation to find Agent Hamm— he's in a suit; he looks… like an agent. To his singular credit, his tie is no noose, but has been tugged to a casual looseness. The apparel makes him stick out more in the weather than the locale, which is bustling enough to be both very public, and yet let the overture of other conversations hide your own. "Hello, Detective Powers," he greets quite formally, rising the half from his chair that enables him to reach across for an accompanying handshake. It then becomes a gesture that she sits, as he reclaims his own seat. "You look quite nice," the compliment, though neatly spoken, is a two-parter— and the second part is a bit more… two-faced. "I heard about your little head-over-heels incident via The Standard's questionable railing system…"

"Agent Hamm." This pleasant but distant greeting matches the polite but short-lived smile Maggie has for each of his comments, both ending in a slightly tense pull of her mouth. As she retrieves her hand and reaches for the arm of the chair, it is, perhaps, that head-over-heels incident that makes her ease into sitting slowly. "…I'm sure you have," she replies lightly— dismissive of it.

"Rrriiight…" Agent Hamm's response, equally willing to set this issue aside, is yet letting her know that there's still more to that. But for now, eyes on the menu over his appetizer plate, he picks up this food list with both hands, scanning its titles without real commitment to the cause. "I'd be lying, Detective Powers," he speaks casually into the menu, "if I said that your comment about a set-up didn't keep me up thinking on nights I'd much rather be sleeping. So." Menu down; he's either decided or opted to stop using it as a shield. He stares her right down across the small table, arms lightly resting in that slim space between edge of table and edge of plate. "I thought for all the time of mine you'd cost me, I'd cost you a little of yours. Try the prawns. On me."

"I'm not really a fan…" Maggie offers a small flicker of a close-lipped smile in apology and looks at the front of the menu laid upon her side of the table. She does so without picking it up; it tells her little. Instead, she reaches a hand up around her neck under her hair; after a moment, it drops away and her gaze lifts to coolly and bluntly regard Hamm across the table. "I'd rather just hear what you have to say," she states, "if you came to a conclusion of your own on any of those nights."

"You can't say that, you haven't tried them yet," smoothly challenges Hamm, but he sobers to her regard. It isn't a buckling of willpower; he has no difficulty getting down to business as it's presented. "I came to the conclusion that nothing could be proved," he deliberates finally, not pleased with this fact, but fact it remains. "Nothing reasonable. Not now. Maybe at the height of his power, but— Salvatore's resources are scattered to the winds— and prisons. And he'd— " he reconsiders mid-sentence, is unhappy but resolute with his reenforced conclusion, "Never do it himself. The other enforcers were swept up, all, on life sentences." His arm curls down, letting him play with a fork here and there. "If there's anyone else… only Miles knows."

"That's not entirely true," Maggie replies, smoothly factual. Habit causes her gaze to search calmly around the tavern-like room, but it always returns to the agent. "There's no getting around the fact that Miles knows the most," she admits, "But a few months ago when I was working on the gangs case an… informant came across evidence that Salvatore was meeting with Natsumi Takahashi. That… information wasn't my responsibility at the time. It was supposed to go with Agent Sam Wright." Under the shapeless fabric of her outer shirt, her shoulders rise in a minor shrug. "It's obviously not proof. All it means is that Salvatore knows people who know people. People with resources. Maybe empires."

"Yes, well," rebuttals Hamm with a vaguely uncomfortable shift against his seat, "That information isn't exactly usable at the moment, thanks also to its sources… Besides, no," a soft, but very sure shake of his head, "This would be something Salvatore would keep personal," his finger stabs down on the table pointedly, emphasizing individual words, "Inside the family." Idly, he picks at the napkin, eventually drawing it out from underneath his utensils and formally towards his lap, "Anyway, in the end it won't matter if we have a viable suspect with no alibis…"

Maggie has no basis to disagree, and so she doesn't; she only goes silent for a spell, the din of the caf all around. Without the distance of phone lines, this pause has the detective simply continuing to regard the agent unblinkingly. Her silence is broken, then, with: "There has to be something— " A gesture of long splayed fingers cuts the air in front of her, and her features tighten; harden, clamp down against something, but don't stop bar her from some speech. "Do you know … for certain— that he has no alibi for any of the murders? You didn't ask him." A subtle raise of her brows questions, but ventures that the answer is, in fact, no. Not that it matters: "Granted. In all likelihood— he wouldn't answer…"

Hamm wastes not, wants not; into Maggie's silence, he flags a waiter and orders himself a Diet soda and some of those crispy prawns. His gaze, watching the server, has to revert to Maggie when she speaks. To her hardening, a single of his eyebrows darts up, creating an overly interested arc of itself where the rest of his face is otherwise only politely listening. "I have what I could… glean… without— no, no direct confrontation. Something we'd been hoping to avoid until certainty, but…" Elbows on the table, his hands spread helplessly, forced. "It's really starting to narrow in now. To my suggestion of personal protection for the remaining known gang members, I was told I would have to use local station resources, so… I imagine your chief, your fellows, will want an explanation."

"They'll want one; they don't need one," clarifies the detective. "It should be enough for the chief that the gang members are targets. There's evidence of that. Wouldn't it be better, in the long run — to keep his name out of it, as far as the station's concerned. Until there's a clear answer, there's no use in putting all of those eyes on him for something he might not have done." Maggie's hands move to fold under the table; it's not an especially relaxed move, that's for sure. A twitch of tension hardens her neck, her jaw, expressing her conviction.

"Personal protection for the remaining gang members should have been arranged before now," Maggie quickly goes on to express further, "maybe then we would have gotten some glimpse of who's responsible, or maybe the killings would stop. If the victims were anyone but criminals— there would be a twenty-four seven protective detail and surveillance around the clock on each of them." She watches Hamm with calm challenge for a moment, though her argument isn't truly with him. "Anyway, at this point, Agent Hamm, it's not as if Miles doesn't know what's going on."

"No," comes out of Hamm, but on the tail of a laugh — humorless, as the situation presents no excuse for it, but warm all the same. "I'm pretty sure they do need one. Are you familiar with the concept of the FBI not being allowed in unless asked? I'm already treading on the thin ground of having masked these killings this far under FBI jurisdiction," his lip curl ups distastefully, for a system he walks so professionally, "That's exactly the kind of dick battle I want to avoid at this delicate juncture."

Having been leant forward, elbows as they are, he takes Maggie's further words into consideration with, instead, a reverse; he pushes off from the table and into the back of his chair, head cocked now along with his eyebrow. "Yes, that'd be about how I sounded exactly, detective. After scene two. You can see how far it got me." His hand waves off his rest along the seat back towards some generic destination. When it returns, it's to his jaw as he gives the smooth skin there a rub, relaxing his mouth into the smirk it feels. "At… all times, I'm fifty percent certain he's aware of exactly everything," a glance to Maggie; whether she balks at or confirms this betting system, he goes on, "Especially me— me being on this case is how you know— but anyway— uhh…" A rare break in his poise, Hamm recovers with only a brief stutter, and a flicker of a smile, even. Off the chair, he leans a bit lazily at her. "I try not to say it, because it always sounds silly, but— he taught me everything I know."

The talk of FBI, jurisdiction— it earns a small, knowing roll of the detective's eyes; she's conscious of the reality, she doesn't have to like it in this case. Her gaze is quick to even out and level on Hamm — confirming nor balking; only Maggie's own brand of aware. "I've also noticed that there's a fifty percent chance that he'll appear out of nowhere at any given time," she notes off-handedly; as such, she's unsurprised by Hamm's observations. A small, out-of-place smile turns up her lips just so then, amused and — above all — knowing. "Everything. That's a strong word." Furthermore: "As for his awareness of… this investigation, agent… you can be a hundred percent certain."

Hamm stiffens to attention, giving an overly alert look about the cafe for that fifty percent chance that Miles is there right now. "Well," he notes, as he regains his former pose after this play-acting, "I found it's safer to overestimate than to not…" Nostalgic amusement coloring his eyes in a brighter light, he's on the verge of, perhaps, more of this reminiscing when Maggie's furthermore beats the easy-goingness right out of him. It all vanishes off his face in a blast of cold precision. His mouth twitches, but he staves off a more emotional reaction beyond the tensing of his fingers as they curl and the are forced to unfurl therapeutically. "Jesus, Powers— you've spoken to him."

In cool regard of the agent, Maggie sits there unabashed — but she does not confirm the implication; not outright. "Sure; I spoke to him a lot. We were working a case together," she answers, truthful as it is noncommittal. Keen eyes blink slowly. "Like you said … he has a way of knowing." Her ghost of a smile — truly a smirk, barely there — resettles and furtively disappears. "So," she goes on unconcerned, "since he knows — is he going to be questioned?"

"You know, I defended you." Agent Hamm isn't finished coming to abrupt starts and stops in his frustration, a tightly uncurled finger pulled back short of rudely stabbing at the unmoved detective. "When they were ready to string you up as an accomplice. Now I just don't think I should answer that." Or— as it seems, his phone; it's been trilling at him the past half minute without result. "And, no, Powers. He isn't going to be questioned— " Finally, with a jerk of his hand, he pulls the phone out. It's held waiting in the air as he finishes haltingly with Maggie, "He's going to be escorted into the back of an FBI truck and quietly never exist— Hamm." His cheek turns into the phone as he answers.

It's beyond clear that Maggie has more to say — protests, from the looks of it, by the way her mouth presses tightly shut and quietly fights against reply when Hamm's phone interrupts. Her gaze sharpens as she leans her forearms along the table's edge, having no qualms about blatantly eavesdropping on the agent's conversation— waiting for him to finish.

Short. Not just the agent, but his phone conversation: "Where? … You're— what? Are you sure? Yeah. Don't let anybody touch anything." Click; the cell is hastily pocketed as Hamm is already out of his seat, the other hand digging into his pocket for a money-clip. Bills are drawn out here and there, to be laid next to his untouched diet drink. "I apologize, detective— our theorizing has been fun, but the daydream's over."

Maggie uses her arms on the table as a starting point to pushing to her feet. Her eyes are quick, searching even as she rises. "Crime scene?" she queries, not a far cry from nosy — and a bit curt, under the circumstances. "Listen, what you said— " Following Hamm's hastiness, she determinedly moves in toward him directly around the table, the length of her white shirt skimming the edge all the while. "It's not like that. I'm only an accomplice to the truth, not any crime," she persists, becoming adamant, "you can't just haul him away, what kind of due process is that?"

Tipping his head upwards, Hamm's small, wearily grim — but prepared — nod and glance is all she needs for answer. And it isn't begrudgingly given as it is begrudgingly truth. But he bites her off at the next: "Forget what I said. I shouldn't have— " Since she's moved towards him, he skirts around her; in doing so, he brushes against a neighboring table, a hand jumping to steady their plates as he mutters an absent but meant apology for the disturbance. As he gets around Maggie, he looks her in the eye. And there it is — bitterness curling the edges of his mouth. "Again, I'm sorry— but I really have to be there for this one."

As she comes to a halt, Maggie follows the man by turning in place as he maneuvers around her. There is the slightest delay as she only regards him — noting, perhaps, that bitterness. None of the adamancy drops from her features, but the intensity drains from her voice as she allows without objection: "Go ahead." Flatly, but yet pointed and purposeful, she asks, "Is this a crime scene I'll be wanting to know about?"

"Could there be one you wouldn't?" Hamm's sing-song of a retort is cut off sharply by his own choice; that same bitterness now operates his mouth shut. But as he watches her, openly debating, his conclusion is reached with a throw of his hands in the air. What the hell. Drawing his arms back towards himself, the backwards shuffle he was employing to keep an eye on her beginning to reverse to front on his turn, he says, "There's a witness."

To this, Maggie barely reacts. Blinks a few times in rapid thought. Accepts that turn of events. A reach to, of all things, the neckline of her blue shirt at her chest says more. A prompt reach past that covering barrier of material presents— her NYPD detective's shield on a thin beaded metal chain. Brandishing it innocuously, both of her brows raise to their furthest height. "Can I come?"

Full-stop. Hamm's reached such a point as to be completely turned away from Maggie — all he has to do is walk away. So naturally, he pauses. Glances over his shoulder incredulously, yet not entirely rudely, at her. A few passing strands of thought stray his eyes to the wall before they return. He sighs. "And why should you be able to?"

"I should be able to get in my car and follow yours…" That was a joke … or was it. In the midst of these really rather weighty circumstances, Maggie outs with a hopeful and ever-so-slightly self-confident little smile. "And because I promise to be on my best behaviour and tell not soul." The smile raises in hope, brightening to become just short of beaming. A moment later, though, it softens downward soberly. Her arm swings to her side and her badge is left to hang freely in sight around her neck. "I'm just looking the answers, too," she says rationally, "Whatever they are."

Hamm's eyebrows knit his forehead somewhere between bemusement and loss of patience. The latter may actually be part of the former; the jury's out, and remains so as the expression moves on. The tug of smile at his own lips is wry in birth, shaping up to only slightly less skeptical as it comes to fruition. "Then I guess we're both about to get some. Come on," and he gestures his allowance that she follow; it also keeps him in charge, as then she's moving under the shadow of his ordering her to, "If you so much as twitch funny, I suppose I should be able to just have your phone tapped and your house turned out." That was also a joke — or, you know.

(continued in Complaining Witness)

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