The key, Harry Maybourne knew, was timing. Timing was important. Timing was everything, especially when it was virtually all you had. It was the particular kind of drama he'd always excelled at, the kind that made your actions look bigger and grander then they actually were. In that way, being a spook really had a lot in common with being an actor. Cues, rehearsed lines - because a threat was THAT much more effective when it rolled right off your tongue - the illusion of complete control. A vaguely concealed sneer, a slight flourish of the hand --
they both went a long way in the ever-present game of life known as psychological warfare. But one of the best commands by far was that of good timing.
Another was the ability to hide. To be commonplace. To blend, be forgettable, nothing special, nothing noteworthy. To not be remembered or seen. Harry was also quite adept in this department. He'd spent his childhood being nothing special, his adolescence in hiding, his early adulthood being properly efficient but remaining forgettable. And then he'd found the NID. Or, more accurately, they had found HIM.
Ironically enough, almost two decades later, they were looking for him all over again. Not to teach, to hone into the perfect officer-agent, but to strangle. Drop him in the ocean. Put a bullet in his brain. The means wouldn't matter as long as there was no disturbance, no mess, no body, no headlines. As long as Harry merely… disappeared.
Harry rather liked disappearing - it was another one of those handy theatrical talents of his - but not in THAT way.
So why the hell was he here?
For a man - a former NID operative, a former USAF officer - not having an absolute, unmoving peg on his motivations bothered him. There had to be some good reason, otherwise he wouldn't have felt so compelled to come, regardless of risk. And here he was. So his being back in
Colorado must in some way be self-beneficial. He just hadn't yet figured out how.
He certainly wasn't doing it for Jack O'Neill. He didn't owe Jack anything. They certainly weren't friends... anything but, in fact. They were… business partners. And their transaction had been completed months ago. They were even. Hammond had resumed his Kingship of the SGC, O'Neill had his little ragtag team back together, and Harry had his freedom. Life, in all its myriad forms, was as it should be.
But still, he was here. He was prepared to help. He just couldn't figure out why.
So he'd think about it later. It was hard to think and be properly dramatic at the same time.
Jack got out of the trunk, pulled a milk crate of magazines out of the bed, and looked around. The resident homeless nutcase was nowhere to be found; he'd heeded Harry's suggestion and made himself scarce. It had cost Harry, but it had been worth it. In fact, he thought, as Jack set
the crate down and turned to leave, Jack's reaction would make all the risk worth it.
Was that his motivation, then? Personal amusement? Harry frowned. He could think of much safer ways to amuse himself.
He stopped thinking, slipped onstage, and read his lines: "Hi, Jack."
As expected, the other man stopped in mid-step.
"Don't turn around."
Also as expected, Jack turned around. Not only turned around, but walked towards him, pulling off his sunglasses. And there, Harry thought, pulling a face, was Jack O'Neill in a nutshell. Contrary.
If O'Neill was much surprised to see him standing there, of all places, he didn't show it. "Harry! Where ya been? You never write... you don't call..."
Contrary with an exasperatingly sarcastic bent, Harry amended. "I have a gun," he said flatly.
Again, not much reaction, other then a common 'why are you telling me this' quirk of the eyebrows. "So do I." Obviously he had bigger things on his mind then the worry that he'd get shot by a wanted man in an abandoned parking lot.
"I'm just trying to protect you. I'm a wanted criminal," Harry reminded him, as though he needed reminding. There was actually something extremely gratifying about saying the words. He'd been one kind of crook for a long time, responsible for things even Jack O'Neill didn't
know about. But being a wanted felon was altogether different. He wasn't just wanted by the law; he was wanted by the very organization that had transformed him into the criminal he was now. "It's your duty to arrest me and all," he added, knowing that Jack would never do it. Not because he liked Harry, but because he hated the NID that much more.
"Always thinking of the other guy," Jack answered cryptically, which Harry found to be a pale echo of a customary O'Neill insult. "How'd you find me?"
Expected question, easily deflected. "Played a lot of 'hide and seek' as a kid. Funny, I could always find anyone, anywhere, but they could never find me."
"Because they didn't want to," Jack retorted, sounding pained. Putting on a show for his benefit, Harry wondered, or genuinely impatient and exasperated? And if he was that anxious to get on with it, why all the feeble wit?
For the first time, Harry noticed how damn uncomfortable Jack looked. Tired. Stressed. And noticeably uneasy. He couldn't take all the credit for that, and his curiosity was piqued. "What do you need, Jack?"
A pause. A tiny sigh of hesitation, to collect oneself, one last chance to reconsider the wisdom of his words. Harry recognized it well. Jack's eyes dropped and rebounded. "Carter's missing," he said shortly.
"Really?" he said lamely, kicking himself for his own delay, furiously trying to think.
Carter, Sam Carter, O'Neill's second in command. O'Neill, no friend to… well, a whole bunch of people, but most notably, most notoriously, the National Intelligence Division. What were the chances that it was a coincidence, some random kidnapping - or worse - that had nothing to do
with who Carter was and what she did?
Not damn likely.
"Bunch of guys in a van took her out of this lot four days ago." Jack motioned to the parking lot behind him. "Figured it might be some of your old friends."
And Jack knew it too.
"Not the word I'd use for them," Harry muttered, trying to think. A van in and of itself didn't help much; if you wanted to grab someone and run, the full-sized can was most certainly the vehicle of choice. Easy access, plenty of cargo space… Of course, if anyone was around to give chase, the van wasn't exactly the perfect ride for a getaway, but the idea was to make sure no one was around TO chase you. There was the slip-up in this scenario. Whoever had grabbed Carter, NID or not, had obviously missed the homeless guy. The homeless guy who, before abandoning his makeshift home with a crisp five dollar bill in his hand, had been muttering something about… ninjas.
The NID wasn't exactly subtle… but it wasn't THAT unsubtle.
"What'd you know?" asked Jack, operating on the assumption that he had to know SOMETHING. The problem was, it was a perfectly reasonable assumption based on past experiences… and based on the fact that Harry was acting squirrelly. He knew it. Certainly O'Neill could see it.
"Sorry," he said hoarsely, trying not to dwell on probabilities and a series of horrible possibilities that had sprung to mind. He didn't owe Jack anything. He didn't owe Carter anything. He'd come here to satisfy his own curiosity, to indulge in a little amusement at Jack's expense, right? So why didn't he feel even slightly amused?
He felt guilty.
Either Jack wasn't buying it, or he was desperate enough to keep plugging away regardless. "You didn't come back into this country and risk execution just to see me," he said, although the bluntness of his voice was tinged around the edges with anxiety.
What was he supposed to say? Run down the list of possibilities, scenario by disturbing scenario, just to give him something to take back to his friends? Something that would leave him looking more sick and haunted then he already did? If Jack was wasting what he knew was
precious time bringing magazines to a homeless man, Harry realized, it was because he was out of other options. If Jack had gone to the hassle of getting in touch with him, Harry, it meant that he was willing to risk his own safety and his position to get a lead. Any lead, no matter
Four days. Anything could happen in four days, anything at all.
Great. Now he didn't just feel guilty, he felt sympathetic.
This had not been in the script.
"God knows I could think of a hundred reasons why the NID might want Major Carter," he said, as truthfully as he knew how, "but I swear to you, I don't know where she is or why she was taken." And then, because Jack was likely to point out that 'a wanted criminal' might swear to
anything, he added, "Why don't you ask the NID?"
"Gee thanks," said Jack, his voice inching towards genuine harshness. "Hadn't thought of that."
Of course, asking the NID might not get him anywhere… but it would keep him occupied. Give Harry time to do a little scouting of his own, make a visit to a certain other business partner of his. The possibility was remote -- how could they possibly have gotten the files on Jolinar? And was Adrian Conrad really so desperate as to engage in kidnapping? Of a military officer?
But a remote possibility was still a possibility.
He just had to distract Jack for the time being. Knowing Hammond and his fondness for Carter, he'd have the rest of SG1 - if not the whole SGC - involved in finding her. Eventually, someone might figure it out.
"Try User 4574," he said, even though that was certainly not in the script either. Even if that meant something to anyone at the SGC, there was no way Simmons would even speak about it over the phone. That would require a trip to D.C. And that would take time. Even then, it was doubtful Simmons would know about the three million dollars, or tell if he DID know. Meanwhile, Harry could check his tracks, make sure he hadn't... inadvertently caused more problems then necessary… and would be able to disappear again with a clear conscience.
He couldn't remember the last time he had even spared a thought for his conscience. Jack was a bad influence.
Obviously the user number meant nothing to Jack. "What's that mean?"
But Jackson, Teal'c, and Hammond... he couldn't count on them being equally ignorant. He had to get moving, for Carter's sake as well as his own. Because the more he thought about it, the more the power of desperation seemed to press at him. Look at what lengths Jack was willing to go to for a friend. What lengths might Conrad go to... to save his own life?
What would it take?
"Wish I could stay and chat," he lied, turning to step away...
... but finding himself pausing nonetheless.
"We're talking about Carter here."
That was no actor's grimace, no practiced line. That was real emotion, real concern, a real and urgent need to MAKE Harry understand the weight of the situation. As though he should understand the extra importance… this wasn't some inconsequential pursuit, some little adventure to join in with should he have the chance. This was Carter… and if Jack were desperate now, what would he do when every lead - including Simmons, should he get that far - went completely dry?
What would he do?
Because there was always something to do. It just wasn't always completely legal.
"I know," said Harry, and he did. "I'm sorry Jack. I really am," and he was. "You know how this game is played and the type of people who play it. You have to prepare yourself for the possibility that she may not be coming back."
Again, he turned, and this time Jack didn't try to stop him, physically or verbally. In fact, he was eerily silent, so much so that after only a few steps Harry was compelled - this time by a compulsion that had nothing to do with his own benefit; pretty soon he'd have to actually admit to having a moral or two - to stop and look back. It didn't look like Jack had moved… or blinked… or taken a breath.
"I'm not willing to accept that," he said finally, in his brashest, most alpha-male, CO-on-the-warpath tone of voice… a voice that was seriously undermined by the brusque scrape of raw emotion.
Jack wasn't kidding anyone. He probably wasn't even kidding himself anymore. Not willing to accept? As though his acceptance made a difference? As though it was up to him to allow it to happen? There was no way he was that egotistical; no way he actually believed that.
"Is that because you don't trust me," Harry snapped, "or because you're in love with her?"
In one respect, the taunt worked. Jack's eyes snapped back into focus, and determined anger replaced the blank, hopeless stare. But there was a flinch of pain there, too, a slight cringe, and Harry felt himself sliding past guilt, away from sympathy, into actual regret. Something he hadn't felt much… hadn't felt any of since he'd joined the NID. That's what the NID was there for: the scapegoat when nasty things had to be said or done, the excuse for why you were doing it -- because it was your job and you had no choice.
"What is THAT supposed to mean?" Jack demanded, his shoulders tensing up defensively, as though he'd pop Harry in the face if he said the wrong thing.
He took another step back towards the relative safety of the foliage. "It means that if the NID took her, they might not even HAVE a real excuse. Don't go getting a swelled head, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was all about you. Hammond… the rogue SG-teams. You're not
exactly their favorite person."
"But Carter hasn't done anything to them," Jack persisted, driven to find some semblance of logic in a completely illogical scenario. "She doesn't mean anything to them."
Harry took another step back. Maybe at this rate he could be out of here by March. "She means something to you, Jack, that's enough for them. My 'old friends' don't care about playing fair, Jack, you should know that by now. Look what they did to Hammond just to get him to step
down. They either want you distracted, or they're trying to give you a message."
Jack was sullen. "And what message is that?"
Pausing for only an instant, Harry shrugged. "'Stay out of our way or suffer the consequences'."
"That's a cliché," scowled Jack.
"No," Harry corrected him, turning to go for the third time. "It's melodrama. It's what they do. Accept it, Jack. It'll make things easier in the end."
Harry let out his breath in a rush, picking his way through the greenery, back towards the road.
Timing was important. Timing was everything, especially when it was virtually all you had. But what happened when time itself had ceased to have any real meaning? Four days of silence, four days of a frenzied scrambling for hope. How many more to follow?
He didn't owe O'Neill anything more then he'd already given him. He was well within his rights to leave, just vanish again into the ether.
The problem was: if he disappeared, so would Carter.