ASN 3.2 The Briefing Room

by Matt P.

The main conference room at the Border Police Department Headquarters was elegantly done, if somewhat in need of updating. It had the classic boardroom style of dark wood for the table, chairs, and walls. The floor was a dark green carpet that held up well despite obviously having been installed in the 80s or 90s—and thinking about carpet from then needing replacement made Walter feel very old himself. The chairs were plush, and the table long and bowed out in the middle to create the impression of an oval or at the very least a rectangle that had let itself go.

Oblivious to the glares it drew from the officers, Ashland had marched herself to the head of the table and sat beneath the wall with the Border Police seal on it. She looked quite at ease in her little power play, although none of the people who knew her seemed surprised and Marshal Alexander didn’t seem bothered. The Marshal took the seat next to her with great equanimity while the rest of the officers and spectators filled in to their seats. Morgan remained standing, taking a back wall near Walter, while Tania blithely took the other seat next to Ashland and opposite Alexander.

“Forgive me, Marshal Alexander,” Ashland began in a polite tone, turning gimlet eyes to Morgan and Tania in turn. “I’m not sure this is necessarily appropriate to discuss with non-police employees. Frankly I’d even prefer to keep our mission quasi-confidential from the rest of the Department…” She let it trail off as if the rest were self-apparent, and she felt a little embarrassed at having to point out the obvious to him. He matched her tone with a grandfatherly smile of his own, as if he were taking her concern and embarrassment for him as wholly serious.

“I do appreciate the concern, Agent Ashland. But this is my briefing room, in my police department, in my city,” Alexander said very evenly. “Doctor Winters and…Tanya have proved to be very useful in previous cases—the Doctor for her medical knowledge, and her sister as a community interface.” That Alexander could label Tanya so smoothly as a community interface when she tended more toward an abrasive pusher of her own agenda impressed Walter, and reassured him that the man could keep up with Ashland.

Ashland, for her part, merely pursed her lips for a moment and then offered an apparently nonchalant shrug. “It’s your department, Marshal Alexander, I’m only here to assist. I cannot, of course, insist my advice be taken,” she offered, in a tone of voice that made clear she thought anyone who didn’t listen to what she had to say was an idiot. “But there are certain things, as we…evolve our relationship, let’s say…that I will want to keep secret for operational security.”

Ryan let out a snort. “OpSec, you mean like in Islamabad?” Ashland’s eyes may have narrowed at the interruption and the reference, but they were back to bland vagueness so quickly Walter wasn’t sure if it had been real or imaginary. “Or what was it…the second time in Kabul?”

“Second time,” Walter confirmed. “I don’t care about your OpSec and you don’t even really scare me any more, Ashland, so cut the shit and get on with it before I message Doodle and tell him you’re here. He’s still awfully salty about that money he never got,” Walter offered with an oblique smile of his own. That got a little bit of stiffness from her for sure, and a surreptitious glance at her cell-phone. Doodle could work wonders from distances measured in the thousands of miles, and she knew it. She gave him a steady glare but made an ‘as you will’ motion with her hand.

“The FBI, and certain resources they have had tasked to them,” Ashland allowed sourly, with a little bow, “have been focusing on the Salvation trade for the better part of a year.”

Tanya smirked. “That seems to me like a job for the clergy, not the FBI,” she offered in amusement. Ashland didn’t bother to hide the scowl she gave the journalist, before she looked over to Alexander.

“I can either give my briefing or I can trade witticisms with your pet civilians, Marshal. I’d really prefer not to do both,” Ashland offered in a tone of faux-sweetness. At Alexander’s quelling gesture to Tanya, and her return scowl to Ashland, the alleged FBI agent continued. “Salvation’s spread didn’t follow normal drug patterns, and for a long time even the FBI had difficulty in figuring out exactly what it was. It isn’t an opioid, a cannabinoid, or an amphetamine. Certain strains have had those cut in, but at its heart its source and its mechanisms were unknown. Well, recently, the FBI figured out on of them.” She paused, Walter knew, for effect.

“Still don’t know what it is but you know it comes from Border?” Walter guessed in a tone of pleasant helpfulness. She scowled as the moment for her dramatic revelation was stolen out from under her. “It’s disturbingly common, I’m finding out. So you tracked the source and the creation to Border, and somehow conned the FBI in to thinking you’re one of them to investigate?”

Ashland continued to scowl as he beat the dead horse of her cover, but she shook her head. “Would you like to call my Bureau supervisor, Walter? I guarantee he’ll answer.”

“Whatever FBI agent whose family you kidnapped can stay uncalled for now,” Walter shrugged in response. “So what great wisdom have you brought us, and when can you take our disinterest with you back to Washington?” Now it was Alexander who gave him a slightly sour smile—his baiting might have gone on too far, he thought.

Ashland’s smile wasn’t sour at all, which also gave him pause. “We’ve discovered Salvation may be much older than any of us ever believed. Maybe by a few decades. And,” she offered, giving the room a falsely beatific smile, “the FBI has assigned me to stay here and give our help to you all until we can solve where it came from and how it is distributed.”

“Shiiiiit,” Ryan opined from the back.