Booth shifted, and in the dark privacy of his still-solitary cell, grimaced. The new bruises, from this morning's attack in the cafeteria, overlaid the ones from yesterday and hurt like a son of a bitch.
It helped, marginally, that he knew he'd given as many bruises as he'd received. So far. He wasn't stupid, and sooner or later, they'd gang up on him.
Five weeks he'd been in this hell hole. Two weeks longer than when he'd been captured by the enemy during that army mission, and worse by far. In both instances, there had been the need for constant vigilance, the awareness that his life was at risk. And pain. His body didn't see the difference between torture in an enemy camp, and having the shit beat out of him by a guy who outweighed him by seventy-five pounds.
But there, he'd known his guys were coming for him. That the army he served in the name of the US of A was actively working to get him out. Here? That same government was hoping he'd die, sooner rather than later.
No. Not the entire government. Not everyone. He would still salute the flag, still believed in what it stood for. But after five weeks, if Brennan and the others hadn't found a way of freeing him, it meant that the corruption was more wide-spread than they'd thought. And without honorable men and women who were willing to stand up for those ideals, the flag was just a piece of cloth.
A buzzer sounded, followed by a PA announcement. Mass would begin in fifteen minutes in the common room. Prisoners who wished to attend should indicate such by coming to the door of their cell.
Booth shifted, tried again to find a comfortable position. He still believed in God, too. But three weeks of essentially the same homily - turn from the sins that brought you here, jail is an opportunity to start over - and he was done with it. If innocent-until-proven-guilty didn't reach to church services for men awaiting trial, he'd add 'skipping mass' to his sin total. More than once, he'd wished for Aldo, had considered writing him. But what could he say? And if Booth's struggles with the toll of the lives he'd taken had driven his friend away from God, what would the reality of Booth's false imprisonment do?
An opportunity to start over - the priest was right about that. When he was freed, he would find a way to break the conspiracy. But then? It might be time for something else.
At that point, as they inevitably did, his thoughts turned to Brennan. She was exhausting herself, and there was nothing he could do. Generally, when she was wearing herself thin over a case, he could pull her back from the edge, find a way to help her relax her brain. But not this time. Not when he was the case, and he was helpless to make a difference. She'd told him she was looking for a new place to live, and he thought that might help. He appreciated all that Max was doing for them, but they needed more space than a shared bedroom in a small house.
He was glad she was selling the house. While home, for him, would always be where she and Christine were, where Parker came on his visits, it was no longer that house wrecked by betrayal and violence.
A fresh start. Maybe the priest had a point, after all.
"Brennan, you need a break. You need to relax. So does Christine."
She'd moved on from 'sweetie,' Brennan noted. "A barbeque won't help Christine, Angela. Finding a way to bring her father home will."
"An afternoon with friends would be good for both of you."
"I'm not going to engage in social activities while Booth is in jail."
Her friend made a noise of frustration. "You're worse than he was, you know." At Brennan's look, she continued. "When you were on the run from Pelant, and we were all trying to make sure he was okay."
"Look, you're missing the point. It's not a party, just a chance to relax with friends...friends we need to be able to talk openly with, without anyone wondering why the DOJ and FBI are at the lab for a meeting. We need to get together. All of us, including Sweets and Caroline."
Ah. Brennan's brain caught up with what her friend was saying. She was right. And there were no active cases to explain an official meeting right now. Brennan sighed. "Very well, Angela. When is the barbecue?"
"Our place, 3PM on Saturday."
Watching Christine chase Michael Vincent around the Hodgins' back yard, Brennan was forced to admit that maybe Angela was right. Booth had been in jail for six weeks, and the separation was taking a toll on the little girl.
And her mother. Brennan had never required as much sleep as others seemed to, often managing on three or four hours for multiple nights in a row before sleeping a full night. But many of the nights since he'd been gone, she'd not even bothered going to bed. What was the point, when she'd either lie in bed, her mind racing, hunting for a way of freeing him, or she'd sleep, and revisit the night of the attack, over and over, in her dreams?
And Booth? Brennan saw him once a week - the most the jail would allow - and week by week, was watching him fight harder for the optimism that normally marked his life.
She didn't know what to say to help him. If she could tell him the angles they were working, the progress they were making, maybe it would help, but all she could safely do was drop hints. And subterfuge wasn't an area of strength for her. Sometimes, humor would briefly touch his expression, and she'd know he understood her clues and was amused, but mostly, the visits were grim. The new bruises he seemed to have every week didn't help, though he dismissed them.
After the meal, which Brennan had to admit was a pleasing mix of cuisines and styles, Arastoo took the children into the house to read to them so the adults could talk without interruption. "I invited Wendell and Clark," Angela noted. "But Wendell was going to be with his mother, and Clark had other plans as well. I didn't see the others after we decided to do this."
"It's just as well," Cam said. "Right now, none of the rest of them are at risk due to what they know, because they don't know anything."
"The problem is that none of us know enough," Hodgins muttered.
Sweets cleared his throat. "Here's what I know, well, what I'm nearly sure of: the agent who was promoted to Booth's position, Drew Marlow, knows what's going on. And if he knows what's going on, he's in on it."
"Even the press noticed he doesn't have the credentials or experience for that job," Hodgins said. "They're going to crucify him if he can't close cases."
Angela topped off her wine. "Hard to close as many cases as Booth did, when they've shut us out as well."
Ignoring the look she gave him, Hodgins took her glass, and sipped from it. "I know one I'll bet they have trouble with. Did you hear about those bones that were found yesterday in the basement of that cabin that was damaged by the storm? It once belonged to the mob, and there's already speculation it might be that mob boss who vanished ten years ago - or his twin brother, who disappeared at the same time."
"How do you know these things?" Angela plucked the glass out of his hands. "Get your own refill."
"Hey! And I follow the news."
"You ask me, if not for Dr. Saroyan's reputation, they'd have done more than just pull you off cases," Caroline said.
Brennan looked at her. "What do you mean?"
"They wanted to shut the lab down completely, but couldn't figure out how to do it without causing themselves more problems. Dr. Saroyan's willingness to investigate you when Pelant framed you made her the golden girl. No way for them to make you look bad with that behind you."
Cam paused in the middle of sipping her own drink. "Is that a warning, Caroline?"
"Be careful, all of you. They don't really understand how dangerous you are to them. They think with Booth out of the picture, you'll turn into test tubes or something. You need to make sure they keep thinking that."
"It was clear during my interrogation that they are remarkably ignorant of what forensic scientists do," Brennan said. Her eyes met Cam's, and she realized they both recalling that Booth had once been the same way.
"Different topic," Angela swirled her wine in the bottom of her glass, a frown on her face. "The press has been totally one-sided in going after Booth, but there's not been anything out there to counter the official story. But if we gave them what we have, would it be enough to help him?"
"Well, the bureau keeps reminding them of the official story," Sweets said. "And ...slow news month."
"Lay it out for me, chere. What do you have? I've heard bits and pieces from Boy Wonder here," she motioned toward Sweets, "about DNA and a shell, but I don't know how it fits together."
Cam shook her head. "I'm not sure it does. We've confirmed that one of the men from the house was also one of the men who killed Foster. The DNA on the shirt that Dr. Brennan found was a match. We're still working with the other samples from the house, which were more degraded."
Caroline shook her head. "Your official report was that Foster died of misadventure. You try to take that back now, whoever's behind that won't even have to say please to the press to have them tear you apart."
"I knew I shouldn't have let Booth persuade me to falsify that report," Brennan said.
"Too late now for attacks of conscience. What else do you have? What's this about a shell?"
"I found a shell from an MPK5 in the rubble of their house." Hodgins said. "It's issued to special forces, not FBI."
"I take it Booth wasn't hiding one in the garage along with the C4?"
Brennan ignored the sarcasm that was clear even to her. "No. It was one of theirs. But I detect your meaning."
"Not a reason in the world they won't jump on that. Anything else?"
"I've been going through a list of all members of the special forces, looking for three who don't have DNA on file with the government. I've found one so far."
"You have both lists through legal means?"
"Yes. I was provided the full list a few years ago, when I was researching deaths of soldiers due to brain injuries - before they shut me down. The DNA database is one of our standard ones."
"That might hold up," Caroline said after a moment's consideration. "But it's a risk. You spring that on them, and they find a way to discredit it, then before you blink, your lab will be shut down, and that evidence will go away, too."
Brennan spoke up. "I saw Danny last night. He told me that he's discovered a file on one Delta Force agent that doesn't match a different database. But he's also realized he's being watched, so is being very careful."
"The spooks are being spied on? Man, that sucks."
Brennan threw Hodgins a glance. "The conspiracy is far-reaching. But once he has sufficient proof, he'll bring it to me."
"It sounds like you've got a lot of little pieces," Caroline said. "But you need more than a bunch of things these guys can twist and use against you. You need a whole smelly pile of smoking guns."
Brennan swallowed and looked away. She'd worked criminal cases for most of her career. She knew full well what it took to build a case, and what it would take to clear Booth. And they didn't have it. And tomorrow, she'd have to go in and tell him that they didn't. And then she'd have to get up and walk away from him. Again.
She was failing him. Every punch he took was because she'd not been able to find a way to clear his name and get him out of there.
"Hey now, chere." She looked over at Caroline's voice, realized they were all watching her as she blinked away tears. "You get enough of those little pieces, it will do the job."
There were two modes in jail, at least for a cop: bored brainless and scared shitless. They both ran pretty much all the time, and survival depended on making certain no one saw the fear.
It was exhausting. It was something Booth had first learned a long time ago, in a country where English wasn't the first language. But it was just as true in DC. And bored prisoners were like powder kegs waiting to go off. That, too, was the same. Maybe the guys who thought chain-gangs a good idea had been on to something.
Sitting straight up on the rock hard bunk, his back to the wall, he let his eyes partially close in concentration. Most of his time was spent trying to figure out where the next attack would come from, but because fixating solely on that would actually make him more likely to miss a threat, he also spent his days working through every agent, every bureaucrat, every tech he'd ever encountered in the FBI. Which ones were capable of conspiracy? Of blackmail? Of murder? No matter how smart they were, or how good they were, there would be clues. He'd just never known to look for them before.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Booth's eyes snapped open, but the only other indication of his fully alert state was his hand, loosely resting on his knee, slowly closing and then re-opening. The man across from him on the other bunk had been shoved into the cage a few hours earlier by a smirking deputy. Barron was going to be pissed. "I'm solving a problem."
He knew his cell mate by reputation. Darrin Wright - tattoo of a claw on his neck - had convictions for armed robbery, assault, drug trafficking and God knew what else. Everything except murder, which he always seemed to slip out of.
Wright sneered. "With your eyes closed?" His body telegraphed his plans to Booth, and in the short seconds it took for him to come across the cell, Booth was on his feet, waiting. But the other man simply stopped in front of him, and then moved in very close. "I don't like cops," he said conversationally. "So they put me here hoping I'll kill you. But I'm not stupid. And I'm not going down to make things easier for them fuckers. Won't stop anyone else who wants to, though."
Booth met his gaze. "That's handy. And I'm not all that easy to kill."
Wright shrugged, stepped back to his bunk and resumed his seat. "Not going to find out. At least not unless you really piss me off in some way."
Silence resumed, broken only by the shouts and sounds of way too many permanently pissed-off, afraid people living in cages in far too little space.
"Heard you killed three agents who came to arrest you."
Booth hesitated. It was a field of landmines. Tell the truth? Lie? Say nothing and risk pissing Wright off? Wouldn't that be a kicker, if he was cleared of murdering the supposed agents, and arrested for killing a prisoner in self-defense? "That's the story," he finally said. Lying was far riskier than the truth, he decided. He didn't need Wright trying to get traction for his own case by repeating lies Booth had told him. Then again, no one would believe the truth, anyway. Yet. They would someday, whether he was alive to see it or not.
"What were they arresting you for? What do you got to do to get three agents after your ass?"
Booth shrugged. "We didn't discuss it. They broke into my house and started shooting. I fired back."
Wright sat up. Booth's story was apparently more interesting than the inside of his eyelids. "You got to know what set them off."
"Supposedly, there was a warrant for something I did during a classified mission in the army years ago." Boggy, boggy ground. Shouldn't even acknowledge the mission, let alone bring it up in conversation. But that part had been in the news, that first day. Since then, the exact reason for why the 'FBI agents' had been serving a warrant on him had largely been skipped over in favor of 'DECORATED FBI AGENT MURDERS THREE OTHER AGENTS' headlines.
The other man's eye's narrowed. "FBI wouldn't come after you for that." He stabbed a finger at Booth. "Had a cousin who did the army for a couple of years."
"That's the story."
"Shit. You pissed someone way off."
"Looks that way."
Wright turned, stretched out again, and closed his eyes, the entertainment portion of the day over, apparently. Booth relaxed marginally, considered the conversation. If a con could see the holes in his arrest, why didn't anyone else? The media was notoriously fickle, and generally more interested in what would get ratings than reality, but shouldn't someone by now have asked the question that Wright had just asked?
Someone in the FBI was working very hard to keep the public focused on the dead agents, including their completely fabricated lives of service in the bureau, honors, and grieving families. Families who were in currently in seclusion, and not giving interviews. And so far, everyone seemed to be buying that, hook, line, and sinker.
It didn't surprise him as much that other agents, clean ones untainted by the mess, wouldn't have started wondering why no one seemed to know the men. There were a hell of a lot of agents, and no one knew all of them. And as cops, they were hardwired to not ask questions about fallen comrades, even if they were privately confused by the lack of details being released about what field office the 'victims' had worked out of.
There were clean agents out there, along with untainted judges and politicians. Honorable men and women who served their country with pride. He had to believe that. To Booth's mind, the extent of the conspiracy proved only the skill of the one behind it, his or her's determination to find weak people who could be blackmailed and exploited. It couldn't be everyone, because the more people whoever was driving the whole thing snagged, the more people he'd have to watch.
So, no. Not everyone. In his mental run through the agents he knew, he'd divided them into groups: people he'd absolutely trust with his life; people he didn't know well enough to judge, and people, who, yeah, something there made him uncomfortable. If he ever got out of here, he'd be taking a closer look at the last group.
The system was good. Though his first group was much smaller than it would have been a few months earlier, the idea behind the US government, of checks and balances, and limited power, was good. When he'd enlisted in the army decades before, he'd taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and had understood his life might be the price for that defense. He'd taken a similar oath when he joined the bureau.
The same organization charged with combating 'public corruption at all levels.'
He was no less ready to sacrifice his life for his country now than he'd been twenty years earlier. He believed right would win, even knowing that sometimes the cost of victory was a man's life. And if he died here, he knew Brennan and the others would never stop until the conspiracy was completely shut down.
But he had a hell of a lot to live for.
They spent so much time together - work, home - that not being able to turn to her whenever he wanted was like a missing limb. He kept having conversations with her in his head. And Christine...how had Brennan explained any of this to her? Parker was old enough to understand the basics, but how would his curious little girl be making sense of any of this?
God, he missed them.
She shouldn't look. There was nothing productive in checking news sites to see what they were reporting about Booth. The media was all still, as Hodgins had worded it, 'drinking the FBI's Kool-Aid' and reporting on all the evidence against him, including full histories of the supposedly heroic men he'd murdered, not one of whom had actually existed.
And yet, she couldn't help herself, and every few days would google his name to see if anyone was even asking relevant questions.
"Brennan?" She was about to hit 'search' when Angela's voice from the door stopped her. "Cam needs us."
Because she identified the urgency in her voice, Brennan didn't ask for details, merely followed her up to the lounge. In addition to Cam and Hodgins, Sweets was there, as was Clark.
Cam stood next to the rail, her hands clasped in front of her. When she saw them, she nodded toward the sofa. "Sweets has something for us."
For a moment, hope that it was something to do with Booth was live in Brennan before she shut it down. That wouldn't come via this sort of meeting.
He didn't keep them in suspense. "The bureau is giving you the remains found in the cabin, the one that belonged to Frank Morelli. Their people can't figure out whether it's Frank or his twin, Fred."
Angela frowned. "I thought they weren't sending us any more cases."
"They don't know what to do with you," Sweets said. "It's not within their power to shut down the lab, and no one here's accused of any wrong doing. But they don't like your relationship with Booth." His look at Brennan was full of apology. "But now, though the media has been focused on Booth's arrest, some of them are starting to ask why the bureau can't figure out who those remains belong to."
"So Dr. B IDs the guy, and sticks it to them."
Sweets looked from Hodgins, to Clark, to Brennan. "They're insisting Clark take lead on it," he blurted.
It should bother her. A few months' earlier, it would have. Now, it didn't seem particularly important. Not while Booth was in jail.
Clark cleared his throat. "They approached me last week about working in their lab. It was to be a trial. I work with them, ID the remains, I get my own lab there, making more money than I'm making now."
Complete silence fell as they all stared at him. He shrugged. "I told them no. Look," he focused on Brennan. "I may never be you, but I'm a damned good forensic anthropologist, and the reason I am is due to you. I'm not going behind your back, and I'm not going to help them push you aside.'
Brennan opened her mouth, and nothing came out. Gratitude, exhaustion, fear, grief...it was harder now to put aside emotions. "Thank you."
Sweets looked relieved. "That's good. That's very good. Ah...for this case, I'll be the liaison with the bureau."
"They couldn't find anyone else, could they?" Hodgins asked.
"They actually didn't want me to do it. But they couldn't find anyone else. Two agents have resigned in the past few weeks, and I think it's because they're angry over what's going on. Some people are buying that the Delta Force guys were agents, but others have been quietly talking about how odd it is that no one knew them, no one knows anyone who went through Quantico with them. And the guys who knew Booth best? Totally not buying it."
"How do we know this case isn't a trap?"
"It's possible, but I don't see how," Sweets told him. "They have to keep the focus on Booth as a criminal, not their own incompetence."
Brennan frowned. Motivation was so not her area. "Are we hurting Booth, then, by helping them?"
"No," Cam answered. "We're helping ourselves by not giving them a reason to shut us down, which they were clearly hoping for in their offer to Clark. We stay in business, we can continue to work to free him."
"Let's get started, then," Brennan said. Maybe an actual case, with physical remains to study, would be good for them. Would allow all of them to approach Booth's situation with a fresh eye.
"There's one other thing," Sweets said. He looked so uncomfortable, even Brennan knew that for what it was. "I'm supposed to warn you to limit your investigation to this case, to these remains."
Brennan stared at him, baffled, and Angela said, "They don't want us working the conspiracy case. What the hell do they think we've been doing?"
"They don't know you," Sweets said. "They don't get any of you, not really."
"That's how we're going to take them down," Cam said.
Brennan looked from the remains spread out in front of her to Clark. "This is everything they sent us?"
"This is all of it." His expression was as confused as hers.
"We were told it was the skeletal remains of a single male, correct?"
"That's what they said. It's what it's been reported in the news, as well." With gloved hands, he re-positioned two of the bones, and frowned. "Maybe Hodgins was right and this is a trap, an attempt to discredit us."
"Since they gave them to us because they couldn't identify them, I don't see how. But their scientists should have seen this."
"None of them are forensic anthropologists."
"Even Cam would see this if she stared at it for as long as they did."
"Did I hear my name being taken in vain?" Cam asked as she stepped into the room. "Any progress?"
"There's a single skeleton here," Brennan said. At Cam's puzzled look, she added, "But the bones are from more than one individual."
"They're very similar," Clark said. "But not the same person. There are occupational markers on some of them that should be accompanied by other markers on others and aren't."
Brennan moved the magnifier so Cam could see. "Also, there's an remodeled injury to the head of the humerus that would have extended into the scapula based on what we see here, and it doesn't." She glanced at Clark. "Did they provide us with crime scene photos?"
"Yes." Clark moved to the computer, tapped some keys. "The bones were found behind a false wall in the cellar of the cabin. When the tree fell on the cabin during the storm, it dislodged part of the wall."
"That makes it difficult to determine how they were positioned before the storm."
Cam moved closer. "They're certain there were no other remains in the wall?"
"That's the story," Clark said.
"Although we've not determined cause of death yet, there's no indication the remains were cut apart before decomposition."
Clark looked over at Brennan. "So someone killed two or more individuals and later combined the bones to make it look like just one person was buried beneath the cabin?"
"And the bureau couldn't determine if it's Frank or Fred Morelli because it's some of both?"
"The FBI criminologists are morons," Clark said under his breath.
"We don't have evidence yet that it's either Morelli," Brennan said in answer to Cam. "But I assume the fact that it was combined remains confused them." She looked down at the bones.
Before Cam could respond, they heard steps, and Angela came to the door. "Hey. A courier just dropped this off for you. He wasn't one I've seen before." She handed a padded envelope to Brennan. "I scanned it."
It was small, and nearly flat, making it unlikely to be an explosive device, but Brennan appreciated the caution. She opened it, and pulled out a single piece of paper and two USB thumb drives. Glancing at the paper, she said, "It's from Danny. He says he thinks it will interest us, and that he has to leave town for a while. The second drive is a copy of the first."
"In other words, what's there is important enough for him to send a backup." Angela reached out and took the drives. "These are 64 gigabyte drives. There could be a lot of information on them." She looked over at the PC. "We won't look at it here, though. Not on the network. We'll use the one in my office."
An hour later, Angela sat back and looked at Brennan, Cam, and Hodgins. "It's all here. Full files on three men showing their Delta Force histories, work they did for the CIA, their DNA, all of it."
"They were never FBI."
"I don't see how. They've been busy with Delta Force missions. And there's a separate file where Danny included details on the Quantico classes they were supposedly part of, and if they were there, it was not only when they were actually working for the CIA, but they didn't graduate with distinction."
"But the FBI doctored the files," Hodgins said.
"Not these, and they're going to have a damned hard time explaining why the CIA databases don't match the FBI ones, particularly when these are more complete and a computer forensics specialist could prove these haven't been tampered with."
"No wonder Danny left town." He turned to Brennan. "This should clear Booth."
Weeks of failure, of not being able to put together enough pieces to do so had Brennan beating back the hope that sprang up at Hodgins' words.
Cam cleared her throat. "I hate to be a downer, but what do we do with the information? Until we know who we can trust, who isn't part of the conspiracy, anyone we take it to could refuse to act on it."
"Or use it against us," Angela said slowly.
Brennan hesitated. She was unused to not knowing what step to take. Decisions were always a matter of reasoning out the consequences of actions, of determining the rational course forward. But when you couldn't depend on other people acting the way they should, the way logic, reason, and morality expected them to, what was the best choice?
Her phone rang, and she looked at the display as she answered. "It's Barron," she said to the others. "Hello?" It took a moment for the words to penetrate, and when they did, she had to make a conscious effort to push back her terrified response. "I see. Thank you for notifying me. Please keep me apprised of his condition." She disconnected but continued to stare at the phone. "Booth was stabbed by another inmate, and is on way to the hospital. They do not believe his life is in danger." Her voice broke on the last word.
Angela came to stand next to her. "But he's still on the way to the hospital?"
She took a breath. "Barron says he was told the skiv hit muscle and bone, most likely a rib, and didn't penetrate to the lung." She repeated the words for herself as much as them.
"And you still won't be able to see him. Fuck that," Hodgins said.
Brennan looked at the monitor again, then reached over and picked up the USB drive that Angela had copied and then removed from the computer. "I know who to give it to. This has to end."