The Sword Of Damocles, Part II


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Scene Title The Sword of Damocles, Part II
Synopsis Bradley Russo's investigation into the Liberty Island incident begins with Avi Epstein.
Date March 14, 2018

Rochester New York is roughly a five hour drive from the NYC Safe Zone across mostly rural stretches of the state once you get past Albany. The headquarters for Wolfhound sits on the banks of a river that divides the city of Rochester into eastern and western halves, an old former hydroelectric plant converted into a paramilitary installation. Though from the looks of it on the outside, it doesn’t appear to be much. The crumbling concrete facade of the largest of the multi-building campus and its blown out windows implies that renovations haven’t completed. But security cameras whirr around nearly every visible space of the facility.

The primary offices of Wolfhound are in a smaller beige building past the power plant. Here, everything is remodeled with a sleek and Spartan aesthetic of exposed concrete, polished stone, bare wood, and other minimalist touches. Today, though, Bradley Russo will be spending the majority of his time in Wolfhound’s conference room, a brick-walled space with a glass topped table lined with black leather chairs and multiple — currently deactivated — flat screen displays.

The Bunker, Conference Room

Rochester, NY

8:08 am

Avi Epstein cuts a broad silhouette where he sits on the window-side of the table, morning light filtering in over his shoulders. His sleek navy blue suit looks fit for someone with his CIA dossier, though most of the file photos of him from recent history show him more unshaven and bedraggled. It’s clear he’s cleaned himself up for the interview. When Agent Russo slips in through the conference room doors, Avi slides up from his seat and steps around the table to offer Russo a hand.

Agent,” Avi’s voice is a low rumble, and the first small detail Russo notices about him is his right eye never quite focusing or looking in the right direction. A glass eye, according to his file, to replace the real one he lost during Operation:Apollo in Madagascar. Not long before he dropped off the face of the earth and landed with the Ferrymen.

But that part of the past wasn’t the prologue to this meeting.

Bradley Russo sits next to his partner across from Epstein. Much like Epstein, he’s dressed in a well-fitted suit. But it’s grey. Standard for Brad to wear something less conventional, but the black dress shirt underneath. The paisley blue tie gives stark contrast to the rest. Having read the files at length, he has some idea of the man in front of him. Just enough.

“Mister Epstein,” Brad has an easiness about him as he glances at the file folder he has in front of him. No reason to open it yet, but it’s there if needed. “Thank you for being willing to meet with us today.”

His partner is dressed similarly, but with a very thin tie that isn’t quite with fashion right now. Corbin Ayers had never exactly been on trend, but his tie isn’t paisley. Normal black, that one. But thin and long. One of those ties. “Yes, thank you, Mister Epstein.” In many ways he’s just along to assist Russo in any way the man might need, but he’d always wanted to see Wolfhound in operation. He’d always respected what they did.

After all, they were hunting down and bringing to justice some of the very people who destroyed what little good he’d had hoped to do when the Company had started to turn things around. Somewhat. Martin had died, due to the actions of many of them. And some of them had even been Ex-Company too. Just like him. He half wondered if they had a file on him, or would come after him if they knew what lurked on the edges of his vision.

Avi makes a noise in the back of his throat, one hand scuffing at the back of his neck. “Yeah, it’s… “ he breathes in deeply and exhales a sigh, looking between Corbin and Russo. “So we’re clear here, this isn’t my first go-around in a meeting like this. I know you boys did your research, you know what my profession was before freedom fighter was en-vogue. So, let’s just cut straight to the chase and get to what you’re both looking to hear about.”

Folding his hands in front of himself on the table, Avi glances over to the door to the conference room, then back again. “So, this is going to be a lot like dancing. You lead,” he motions to Bradley, “and I’ll follow along to the beat.”

A smirk follows Epstein’s analogy. Brad side glances Corbin and then dives in. “Alright. So, I know you’ve been through this before,” probably far more than anyone would want to relive anything, “but can you walk us through what happened the night of Lowell’s death?” His fingers steeple on the table in front of him.

There’s a nod and a grin from Corbin, before he looks more serious and pulls out a notepad. Because if there’s one thing that always happens in these kind of interrogation— questionings— is someone starts to take notes. The scribbling of a pencil against paper makes a sound that a pen against paper can not, so he immediately starts to make little shorthand notes on what question is being asked, nodding at Russo with approval for the way he’s choosing to start.

He too has been through this before. He had to testify against his old employers, after all. And that had included many rounds of questioning where they checked to make sure he didn’t hide anything, or evade.

Breathing in deeply, Avi leans back into his chair with a real of the leather. “I'd been in the Safe Zone a couple days. Resupply flight, I’d come in with our specialist Harkness. He had business of his own, I had mine. I took a couple days personal leave. The night Lowell died,” Avi looks at his hands. “I was out for a walk not far from the Red Hook Market, warm summer night. I got caught in a little rain, started making my way uptown…”

Avi opens and closes his hands, looking at the lines on his palms. “It was dark, no lights on the part of the street I was on. I saw somebody come out of a side street with a gun. Came right the fuck at me. Training kicked in, I tried to disarm him and there was a struggle and he got a few shots off that went into the air and — I think a building nearby. I was pretty sure it was either me or him. I had an opportunity, pulled out my knife and hit him once in the neck.” Avi’s brows raise, then slowly lower.

“I got the gun away from him, I think he was almost dead by the time I started trying to figure out what happened. I went for his ID, saw the SESA badge and… right about then heard the sirens.” Avi rolls his shoulders, then looks down at the table. “Military Police arrived within a minute, Lowell was already dead. I surrendered myself to them willingly.”

Avi looks up from the table, first to Corbin and then to Russo. “That's what happened.”

Brows furrowed and attention leveled on Epstein, Bradley Russo draws in a deep breath and is about to speak again when the phone in his pocket vibrates loudly. Epstein looks down to the pocket, and Russo reaches into his coat with an apologetic smile. After one look at the front screen he turns to Agent Ayers and leans in to speak in confidence.

“I need to take this, can you keep pressing him for details?” It’s more a directive than a request, even if Russo politely paints it as such. The delineation is made when Russo doesn’t wait for Corbin to respond before standing up, drawing a look from Avi.

“This can’t wait, Agent Ayers will continue the questioning.” Russo accepts the call a beat after, placing it to his ear as he walks to the door. “Russo,” he says into the receiver, and Avi exhales a slow sigh, letting his attention slip over to Corbin.

Good thing he was a reporter in his former life. Corbin straightens up, looking toward Russo for a moment, before he looks back at Epstein. He would make a comment about how Russo’s either putting a lot of faith in him, or the offhanded — ‘I have better things to do’ had been to put the man being questioned on edge or at ease or whichever one a sudden phone call being more important than this would make a person feel.

It suddenly feels like a tactic, even if it hadn’t been.

“I guess the first question would be, is there any reason you can think of that a SESA agent would have been following you with the intent to attack? Or do you think his intentions had been different and your training caused you to respond as you did, which is of course understandable.” It happened all the time, after all. Officers who swore their life was in danger acting with lethal force only to discover it hadn’t been.

Epstein unfolds his hands to gesture broadly. “In my past experiences of having government agents try and kill me?” One brow raises, and he isn’t joking. “It’s because they’re dirty, or dirty-adjacent.” Epstein’s hands come back together, head tipped to the side. “Everything about his body language screamed threat, seemed like it was going to be me or him, and… I’ve been in the field a long time. I made a snap decision.”

A snap decision that killed a federal agent.

“Seeing as how I’m not back behind bars,” and the story of Avi’s escape from Liberty Island is a whole other affair, “I’m having a hard time seeing myself as the aggressor here. So either this guy was dirty, or there’s enough suspicion that he wasn’t on the level that you’re not hauling me back under Lady Liberty’s frock.”

“We’re not here to press charges and put you back under the pretty lady’s skirt again, you have no worries about that,” Corbin responds with a grin, writing down a few things. He understands how certain people can access a threat and react to it. “So he didn’t actually get the chance to attack you, just had body language that implied he would?” His question comes off as someone who believes the man, but wants to get the details right.

“Did you find any evidence after you identified him that could be helpful in determining why he would have done such a thing? I’m sure you’ve looked into it since you’ve been out. I can’t imagine anyone with your training would have sat on their hands afterwards.”

“He had a gun out,” Avi explains with a wave of one hand and a fingerguns gesture. “I think that was my, uh… no pun intended, my trigger.” Epstein briefly quirks his brows up, then begins to idly pick at a cuticle on one of his thumbs.

“I didn't look much into him after, either. I found his badge after the altercation and knew he was SESA. I'm out of the spy game, so you'll excuse me if I didn't go digging through a dead man’s linens.” Then, with an incline of his head to the side he adds. “Beside that, since I got out I've been busy doing my job. Business has been… busy.”

Avi can't feel the arms around his shoulders, can't feel the silken brush if black hair draping over his shoulder or the sinuous way a woman wraps her arms around him from behind and leans her face down over his shoulder.

Smiling like a cat that ate the canary, Hokuto Ichihara offers a side-long look at Corbin with pale yellow eyes. “He's hiding something,” she asserts with a knowing confidence, letting her lashes flutter down as she leans to bring her mouth close to Avi’s ear.

“I smell… wet concrete and baby’s breath, tea leaves and freshly laundered linens. There's a warmth in the air, dust, and sadness.” Hokuto’s yellow eyes level back on Corbin again. “His apartment had two beds. Ask him about them.”

What Avi would see would be Corbin suddenly looking at the air around him, rather than at him. As if someone stood over his shoulder, as if he saw something that— well— wasn’t there. And then he goes and nods, as if he heard something he had been hoping to hear. “A pistol out is a good indication of threat, certainly.”

But he does not sound as if he believes the man hasn’t tried to look into it, even a little. But that wasn’t what had made him nod, that hadn’t been what gave him pause.

“Your apartment. When we searched it we found two beds. Tell me about that.”

The question has Epstein tense, brows furrowed, and he throws out the most obvious of throw-away answers. “I sometimes have sleep-overs, and I’m a bed hog.” There’s a twitch of a smile at the corner of his mouth, and Epstein looks away, then down to the floor, then back up to Agent Ayers. “I’m a single divorcee, Ayers. A man’s got needs, and not all of them include sharing the bed the whole night. S’rude t’kick a lady of the night out onto the street.”

Hokuto laughs, running her a hand through Avi’s hair the way one might a mischievous toddler. Her yellow eyes level back on Corbin. “He’s lying, I’ve seen his dreams. There was a young girl living with him, scared and alone. He was protecting her from something…” Hokuto circles around the shorter end of the table, comes to lean beside Corbin and drape an arm around his shoulders. “A shadow. Long, terrible, grasping. He feared her, her ability, but he also loves her dearly, like she was his own daughter…”

Turning yellow eyes back to Avi, Hokuto points out at him with one hand. “He is trying to keep you from knowing of her, but that may not be a detriment to your case. He has had nightmares of killing this man, Lowell. She is in his nightmares there, scared and soaked to the bone by rain.” Yellow eyes turn back to Corbin, one dark brow raised. “Tread carefully, love.”

A girl who had been like a daughter, yet wasn’t? Cause the man had one, according to the file, one who probably had never been in his apartment, much less slept in that bed. Corbin closes his eyes as the ghost of a woman drapes on his shoulders. No one else can feel it when he watches her do it to them, but when she does it to him, he can. And it’s even more distracting than her voice when no one is actually talking.

After a slow inhale and a warning to thread carefully, he opens his eyes again and offers the man across from him a smile, “Agent Lowell— is it possible he had not been intending to threaten you, but someone you may have been around recently? It would help if we knew what we were looking for regarding his potential intentions. Especially if he had been working with others.”

Without the benefit of his sunglasses, Avi’s squint at the question is visible. “Maybe he had a beef with Wolfhound,” is his deflection. “We’ve made a lot of enemies over the years. Bad people who’d go to a lot of lengths to make sure we never get to find them. Like killing a CO, or…” Avi raises one hand to gesture in the air, “who knows, right?” He looks down to the table, then back up to Corbin.

“Hell, I worked for the CIA for a long time. Maybe I hurt somebody he knew for the government. There’s a million reasons why somebody might want t’put me down, or put me down because of my associations. Wasn’t all that long ago I was one of the bad guys taking orders from… heck, maybe it was Nathan Petrelli, maybe it was Sylar.” Avi shrugs, “It’s like that owl in the Tootsie Pop commercial says: The world may never know.”

“We may not learn all the details, but we’ll find something.” Corbin responds, tilting his head a little. Hokuto had told him to tread carefully, and now that he’s suspecting this young woman might be one of the reasons he did what he did, he might not hesitate to leap across the table if he suspected a similar threat. Having a pencil suddenly feels like the wrong idea. This guy could kill with less, he’s sure. Even with the limp.

The man reminded him of those that the Company had often considered legends. Like Thompson, Ryans and Bennet. One of us to the one of them, and definitely not one to be trifled with. Not like Corbin’s kind of one of us, at least.

Instead of pushing it, he decides to move on to another, potentially sensitive topic. “When you escaped, with the help of Ms Demsky— It says here you were in the middle of a similar situation as this. What do you remember about the man who questioned you?”

“Oh yeah, that asshole.” Avi reaches up and runs one hand through his hair, looking down to the tabletop for a moment. “Didn’t have an ID on, didn’t tell me who he was. But he was real interested in a lot of old shit. Movements of the Ferry, stuff Wolfhound knew about the Institute, what went down in the Ark. Colin Verse came up, guy we bagged at the Ross Dam back over the summer… guy we handed over to DHS.”

Avi’s brows raise at that, and then he folds his hands in front of himself. “The asshole grilled me for a few hours, I think the stuff about the Ferry was chaff, trying to distract me. I’ve had a few months to really think long and hard about it. There was some cagey questions about other potential targets of ours, former government. Georgiana Mayes, other fucks who managed to avoid the noose. He kept trying to frame it as if I was going after the current administration. He sounded like he was nervous he’d been found out, t’me.”

Checking the notes, Corbin half glances behind him to see if a certain ghost remained on his shoulder and if she had anything else she might want to add to his questioning. To stall for a moment, when he looks back and glances toward his notepad as if, well, he had run out of things to ask. It isn’t quite true, but he’d covered the bases that had been asked of him, he thinks. “If you were in my position, with your case, is there anything else you would ask?”

After all, this man started the interview with the mention that he’d been on the other side many times. And it helped that he knew the answer to whatever questions he would ask of himself.

The ghost in Corbin’s periphery vanished sometime between when he first noticed she was silent and a moment prior. If she was ever there at all to begin with. Thankfully, Corbin’s question to Avi elicits a worthwhile response.

“Fair,” Avi starts, both surprised and impressed by the question. “I'd ask why subversive federal agents — or those masquerading as them — felt like they could work out in the open in the Liberty Island facility without anyone questioning their presence. What Houdini trick was happening?”

Avi smiles, spreading his hands. “And I’d answer: if I knew that, I wouldn't be here right now.” Helpful as ever, Epstein leans back in his chair and folds his hands in his lap. “I wish I knew more, Ayers. I really did, because last I checked my ass is still on the line.”

With the lack of his ghostly companion, Corbin absorbs the question and nods at it. “That is definitely something we’ll be looking into.” He isn’t sure how they’ll figure it out, how they’d managed to do what they did— but that is the real mystery. “I won’t take up any more of your time, Mr. Epstein,” he states as he stands up, gathering his notebook in hand and glancing in the direction Russo had gone with his phone.

After a second, he looks back and adds, “Until we crack this, you should be careful. You and anyone else who might have been a potential target.”

That last comment has Avi looking down to the table top, brows furrowed in thought. He doesn't feel the hand at the back of his neck or see the red-clad woman slip away from him to join Corbin on the other side of the table. But nevertheless, Avi feels a weight in that moment. Not of a hand, but if a worrisome burden.

And a secret he's kept from Hana for too long.


“No, I understand. It's absolutely a priority.” Russo paces back and forth in front of the office where Corbin is wrapping up the interview with Avi. “I understand the importance of something like this and… if she's in the field now, I'm going to need to put in a request to borrow her.”

Russo nods again, once. “Of course, Sir. Right away sir.” As he spots Corbin’s shadow approaching the door through the glass, he ends that call and starts another.

“Deputy Director,” Russo smiles for her, even though she can't see it. “I need to talk to you about one of your agents…” he looks back briefly as Corbin steps out of the office, then focuses on the call again.

Cassandra Baumann.”

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