Date: April 25, 2010
Expected aide comes in the form of a cab driver.
"Tax Dollars at Work"
Tracy's Safehouse - New Jersey
Saturday morning, hours before sunrise a dark figure jogs across the street toward a certain house in New Jersey with a bright red door. There is no knock, no ring of the doorbell, just the flip of the mail slot as an unmarked envelope is slipped through the door.
Later That Morning
"Mith Thtrauth~" is the sing song voice of a little girl as she slowly climbs the stairs with a letter in her hand. "Mith Thtrauth~ I got a ledder! Can you reeeeaaaad it to me~?" It is still before the crack of dawn and being Saturday, it's likely they're already all up and watching cartoons.
Crawling into the bed of the former Senatorial aide, she leans an inch away the woman's blonde head and just stares.
The little girl is incredibly lucky that she doesn't get frozen in place in 0.2 seconds. Thankfully, Tracy, while she's lived on-edge for far too long, has come to expect such surprises in this safe house. In only a thin state of sleep as it is, she's quick to shift to full wakefulness with a start as she spies the small eyes staring at her. Right there. After soft, low murmur in her throat, she pushes up to sit.
It's almost funny how the house can be more full of life and noise now that there's so few of them here; before it would often be silent with a house full of people.
"A letter— ?" It can only be mail meant for the previous owners, or junk mail, Tracy ascertains — but takes the envelope anyway, flipping it about in her hands and urging it open with a thumb.
The envelope and paper inside are both thick, the quality that someone might use for a wedding invitation or something as formal as that. The reason behind such a calling card is quite simple. Without opening the envelope, a curious person wouldn't be able to peek inside. The seal is quick enough to peel away and when the card is pulled out it flips open quite readily.
Dear Miss Strauss,
An Agent of mine that you are acquainted with has pointed me in your direction. She has indicated that you might be in need of aide finding parents or homes for any remaining children in your house. I will return April 25th at approximately twenty two hundred hours Eastern Standard Time. Please have as many children packed and ready to leave by zero hundred hours Monday the 26th.
The letter is written in very fine handwriting, as though the writer has spent years studying calligraphy.
Skimmed, criticized, and read twice, the message is then slid neatly back into the envelope, its calligraphy once more hidden — not read, after all, to the small safehouse resident. Instead, Tracy starts to pull the blankets back to give the day an early start — and to prepare for the next.
* * *
Sunday - 9:57 PM
Tracy stands outside the house, arms folded, one ankle crossed in front of the other. Her tall form obscuring just the left of the red door, and the outside light only half illuminating her pale hair in its slim ponytail, sleeveless black turtleneck and the dark shade of her jeans. The house behind her is quiet again, only an upstairs light on where all of the children and two remaining adults have been assembled. Blue eyes stare calmly out into the night; the road is desolate. The only sound is that of crickets and what might be frogs and other sounds of nature. Capitol Hill regular Tracy Strauss has been out of her prior habitat this whole time.
Promptly at 10pm a yellow cab pulls into the cul-de-sac and parks along the edge of the curb closest to Tracy's house. It's not a new cab, in fact, there are more than a few dents in it but it's running much smoother than one would expect a car its age to.
After a little bit of rummaging, a curly haired blonde man emerges from the car holding a briefcase in his right hand. He's dressed in a thin black jacket with a white t-shirt underneath and a pair of well worn jeans. In fact, his casual dress is fairly reminiscent of another blonde that Tracy is familiar with.
He saunters up her walk and pauses about five feet from where she stands. "You got my letter," he says with an easy smile. His eyes are a crisp blue color and his build is nearly whipcord thin. It's hard to believe that this man might in fact be Christopher Pyle, he just looks normal.
Appearances can be deceiving. Tracy replies to the man's obvious statement with one of her own. "And you must be Christopher Pyle." Spoken truly neutrally, save perhaps for a tinge of amusement, it's her eyes that betray her judgment: critical, they make an instant assessment of the stranger. She steps to the edge of the top stair leading up to the door. "Tracy Strauss," she says next; another obviousness, but a formality while she sizes him up. She holds her hand out to shake, an invitation for him to cross the distance.
He crosses the distance and reaches out one spidery long arm to grasp Tracy's hand in a firm handshake. Her hand is shaken no more than twice before he pulls from her grip and purses his lips in thought. "You were Senator Petrelli's aide, sorry to hear about your loss." He doesn't add the two little words he's thinking, he's a bit more tactful than that. Pyle's eyes dart toward the door, but he doesn't push or make any indication that he's in much of a hurry, instead, he relaxes his posture into an at ease stance. "So… ready to get started? I can set up just about anywhere."
Tracy's hand falls gradually to her side, post-shake, as does the other. There is still something slightly shielded about her pose, however, as she stands tall on the step and looks down on Pyle. She says nothing of the man's acknowledgment of Nathan; she only purses her lips, her features growing hard-edged. "No," she answers straightly. "Not yet. First, I think I should know a thing or two about who you are."
There's a small pause before the man nods his head once, encouraging her to continue. "You'll understand if there are a few things I can't answer. You know the procedure but I'll do my best." The briefcase in his hand is gripped by both of them as he stands there, quite still. He seems comfortable, almost too comfortable and too at ease. "I don't have many questions for you, so .. It's pretty much up to you to keep the conversation going." Pyle looks down at his feet for a moment before furrowing his eyebrows slightly and looking up at her again.
One of the woman's eyebrows nearly lifts, her gaze becoming rather incredulous, but her expression remains more or less reserved. Tracy doesn't really know the procedure; she can only make somewhat educated guesses on the cloak and dagger thing. Her first question is simple: "So if Baker works for you, who do you work for?"
"I work for Delta Force," Pyle answers simply, it's not evasive, just a simple answer. "If you want to know who I answer to, I'm a senior agent. I get my orders from near the top and pass them down." His eyebrows smooth out and this time his jaw tenses a little and he looks to the side, toward a noise in the bush before turning his gaze back to Tracy. "I forgot the coffee," he says, "You're not like Cody, she wouldn't talk to me if I didn't have coffee in my hand."
"You're right, I'm not like Cody," Tracy is quick to deliver. "Delta Force…" she considers, thinking back on what she knows. "Counter-terrorism," she adds, thinking outloud. A few details have slid into place. The woman nods, but her gaze remains cool and reticent, unmoving from Pyle. Forgive her if she's a little skeptical of operations with Greek letters who are supposed to be doing good. All the same, she steps back and opens the door of the house. She steps in herself, turning to face Pyle again after only a second. It's not completely dark inside after all; the lamps are just dim. "You've been placing people who've been captured, or … hiding," she ventures. "So you're basically cleaning up the Protocol's mess."
"Someone has to, it might as well be the professionals." He admits in a matter of fact tone of voice. "When we first found out about the Protocol program, I'll admit that we were preparing to eradicate them or clean them up from the beginning. This is the United States of America, there's always something for us to clean up." Perhaps a small clue as to why the lower ranked agent was sent in the first place. "If you're worried about those other kids, I got them all home safely. David was a two hour job, he knew enough about himself to track down his family easily enough."
True enough. Tracy can't argue. She even reveals a flicker of a wry smile before she steps aside enough to let the man inside. "Come in," she says, not exactly welcoming, but she gestures to the living area with its antiquated white couch, chairs, coffee table, fireplace and sparse decor. "The rest are upstairs. I don't suppose you have proof of your position… or proof that those kids got home okay." She gives Pyle a half-smile. "I'm sorry, it's just that everyone who's been here … we've been through a lot. I mean— " Tracy laughs faintly, barely a noise. "It was a gamble trusting even Baker."
Pyle makes his way inside the house and places his briefcase on the table. Pressing his thumbs to the tabs, the locks click open and the top is lifted up to reveal a rather impressive assortment of electronic equipment. Pulling out a small digital camera, he holds it out toward Tracy and gives her a wry smile of his own. "Here, I figured you'd want some proof. There's pictures of them meeting their parents. Delete them when you're done looking at them, it's not like I had them sign releases." Not that he's making money on the photos, but it's still an invasion of sorts if the camera should fall into the wrong hands.
There's fifteen pictures in all, five of each child as they greet adults. Some of them have tears, some have smiles, but all of them have hugs and/or kisses to the once missing children. "David's father had been captured by the protocol program, if you zoom in on his neck, you can see where the needle from the collar left a little scar."
The briefcase. Tracy was wondering from the get-go what setup he had in there. She follows to the table, a curious gaze pours over the case's contents. Without comment, she takes the camera, looking expectantly from Pyle to the digital screen. She takes several moments scanning the pictures one by one, zooming in, studying. Eventually, she hands the device back, sans photos, essentially convinced. It's a judgment call more than anything.
"There're only a couple kids left here," the blonde political aide states. "Plus some adults. One's only staying to look after them. The other— his house was repossessed while he was missing, he's looking for his relatives. There's a chance they were taken. Do what you need to, get these people back."
"A house, huh… Well that's going to take some work, but it's the government's mess to deal with, so we'll just have to get it back." The laptop flickers to life and quite a number of passwords are typed in before a few screens pop up. "We'll start with the kids, what have they told you about themselves so far?" He zeros in on the country's Amber Alert system and missing child sites first. "I'll need names, ages, if they remember what city they live in…"
As soon as the child sites are pulled up he switches over to a real estate database. "You know, the funny thing about cleaning up messes, they always give you enough of a slush fund to pretty much fix whatever went wrong. We'll try to get your guest's house back, or at least one in the same neighborhood. Once we have him set up, we'll look for the rest of his family."
Tracy resumes a folded-arm pose, more casual, this time, as she watches Pyle go through all the computer's security measures with idle interest. "If you wanna go ask them yourself … they're talkative." Barring that, though, she steps beyond Pyle to the kitchen counter, sliding a drawer open to retrieve a notepad of crisp white paper and her own neat handwriting: all the information he asked for, already retrieved and written out. "Or…" She sets it on the table by the laptop and thoughtfully, she eyes him sidelong. "Sounds like quite the operation you have," she says, commending and cynical at once — it may be hard to tell which is the legitimate sentiment. "Tax dollars at work."