Down the Rabbit Hole

 

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Prologue

Special Agent Donovan Phelps remembered seeing the email somewhere in the big pile of his work email that he was due for an annual appointment with the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit. He did not know if was just him or the rest of the agents of the FBI but the annual, or biannual really, appointments to BSU had come to be a pain in the ass. From almost a year ago, things had really changed for Phelps. He was no longer a paper pusher, tasked with keeping track of some well known criminal with a CIA counterpart and partner.

Barnes, his CIA partner had disappeared months ago. Originally, after his failed stint as an undercover agent in San Diego, he was assigned to Washington, in a drab building that was shared by some random branch of the CIA and a section of the FBI's Domestic Terrorism Unit. He was not really sure who or what branch he had been assigned to in the beginning. But he walked in his first day and picked up the first file that came across his adjoined desk, Carolyn Shore's records. The file itself had been as thick as reference book. His CIA contact was in a constant pissy mood, always bemoaning his position. Then he got a random text from her. This Carolyn Shore. Then she invited him to her beach house for a weekend. Then she told him her life story (a 2,000 year old vampire, who would believe that). Then he saw her for what she really was. And she saw him for what he was, or rather, who he used to be? An awkward silenced period followed until he got a text one Monday afternoon inviting him back down to Virginia Beach. They surfed the cold winter waves. He taught her how to skateboard. A trust was built. A friendship ensued. And now, he could not imagine himself without her in his life. And during this time, Barnes had all but disappeared. First not show up for work, and then his things vanished, and then Phelps learned he was gone. He was left alone to deal with this supposed vampire and he was fine with that. Now it was just them. Or him.

But he still had a shrink appointment. He followed the receptionist back to the office. The office made him gag as it was full of fakery. He winced and planted himself in a large, overly stuffed leather chair and crossed his legs. He was lost in his thoughts when the shrink appeared.

“I know this unorthodox,” the doctor replied, looking rushed. He pushed an errant hair behind his bald head and smiled. He held out his hand.

The doctor was older. “And you are?” Phelps asked, walking into the office and settling himself in the large leather chair, greeting the man's outstretched hand. “No offense.”

“Agent Phelps, I am Doctor Nickles.”

“Five cents for the shrink?” Phelps said sarcastically.

Peanuts,” he replied, taking a seat across from Phelps. “I can respect that.”

“Why am I here?” Phelps asked.

“Annual, or rather,” the doctor checked his notes, “your biannual check up. I see you went through quite an ordeal 18 months ago.”

“Uh huh.”

Phelps closed his eyes and tented his fingers in front of his face. “Can we cut to the chase? I have an appointment to get to today.”

“On a Friday afternoon?” the shrink asked.

“It's personal,” Phelps replied quickly.

Dr. Nickles smirked slightly and jotted something done on his legal pad. Phelps noticed a large manila folder next to the doctor on a inn table. “So, how would you describe your self, Agent Phelps?”

Phelps loosened his tie slightly and crossed his legs. He nodded to the file. “What does my file say?”

“What would you like it to say?”

“I am no psychologist.”

“History with a minor in criminal justice.”

“Something like that. I would hope it says I'm a good FBI agent, I do my job, I go home, I stay out of trouble.” He paused, shifting uncomfortably. “Are you asking about the explosion?”

The doctor lowered his glasses, which Phelps had now just realized he had been wearing. (What was wrong with him?) “It says here you were treated for PTSD, suicidal tendencies, and an ongoing alcohol problem. Before this, you were a star at Quantico. Handpicked for an undercover investigation by the San Diego field office. And then things went south. What happened, Donovan?”

“Phelps,” he correctly shortly, tenting his fingers in front of his face. “Or Agent Phelps. Don't call me by my first name.”

“Fine, Agent Phelps. I can do that. So answer my question. What happened?”

“I still seek treatment for the PTSD on occasion,” he answered quietly. He thought back to Carolyn and how their early morning surfing sessions had brought him center and all but rid him of his suicidal tendencies and calmed his PTSD. The drinking... “I haven't had any issues with my....tendencies since last year. The records reflect this and have cleared me for duty.”

“What about the drinking?”

“Do you see any reprimands on my record about coming into work drunk?” he asked dryly, growing annoyed suddenly.

“But your formal partner, Rico O'Leary,” the doctor began, looking down at his notes. Phelps visibly shuddered. The doctor failed to notice it. “His reports during your time undercover, they specified you developed a drinking problem.”

“Well, I did things I did not want to live with,” came his tense reply. “After the explosion...I couldn't live with myself anymore. I got drunk. A lot. I tried to kill myself. So they gave me current assignment.”

“Which is supposed to keep you behind a desk in D.C.”

“Well, obviously it has not.”

“Let's talk about your partner.”

“Which one?” he asked, arching his neck, as if trying to get a glance at his service file.

Phelps wondered how much the Bureau knew about his relationship with Carolyn. True, she was his asset and he was her handler, as Barnes to put it so delicately. His superiors referred to his job as a glorified baby sitting job to some international arms dealer that the government found useful. In reality, he was tasked keeping track of a 2,000 year old vampire who was capable of walking in the daylight who made a career in this life time as an arms dealer who also happened to own a beach home and loved to surf and bodyboard too.

One cold February day, she had reached out to him, very uncharacteristic of her from what he learned researching her. She invited him to Sandbridge, her beach house, for the weekend. And then she told him everything about her life. He listened and then saw her true nature. Then he did something he did not expect, he covered for her after an arms deal had gone bad. That earned her initial trust. Then she invited him back the following weekend. What had begun as a initial trust between asset and handler, blossmed into a friendship, and then a partnership between the two. Back in July, they ventured to California, and uncovered a conspiracy deeper than either one had imagined.

“What do you mean?”

“Myles Barnes, your CIA agent counterpart,” the doctor clarified. He smirked. “Who did you think I meant?”

He shrugged, glancing down at his feet. The FBI had been tapping both of their services, his and Carolyn's, recently to held out with domestic terrorism. It started after they came back from California. She created a story that he had chased her out there, to make sure was being a good little international arms dealer. But his old alias, David Phillips, had been coming up recently in chatter that the domestic terrorism units listened to. And when that was added to the face he had been seen with the legendary Carolyn Shore, the bureau decided to take advantage of this, unofficially. More and more recently, he was being sent out into the field as David Phillips again, assuming his undercover alias from years before that nearly cost him his career and sanity. Except he was not alone this time. He had Carolyn.

“I don't know. I've been...” he paused, searching for the right words. “I've made a new friend recently and it feels like that has more actual impact on my life.”

“What does this have to do with Agent Barnes?”

He shrugged, dismissing it. Maybe he should keep it to himself. “I see him every now and then. I mean, when I got on my first assignment, he was there only briefly. The past few months, I think the CIA took him back. I think he is in some desert in Afghanistan.”

“So, you pretty much work alone these days?” the doctor asked, making notes. “Like during your undercover assignment?”

“How much...” Phelps paused. “How much is in there about my undercover assignment in La Jolla?”

“Just what pertains to this visit,” he said. “Much of it is still classified. What I am concerned with is your well being. What is on your record that I am worried about is your drinking problem, the PTSD, and the failed suicide attempt.”

“Okay,” Phelps sighed, sitting up straight. He flicked one finger and began to count. “One, I only attempted once. I was cleared and I sought treatment. I have not had any recurring...episodes. Two, the PTSD I still suffer from. On occasion. I am seeking help for it, just not in the traditional sense. And three, my drinking? It has not affected my work like it used to. I am not an alcoholic.”

A drunk, he thought to himself, but not an alcoholic.

“If you say so, Agent Phelps.” He looked at his watch and then back to Phelps. “I don't think we are going to make much headway with today, wouldn't you agree? I would like to continue this another time, if you can.”

“Do I have to?”

“Preferably. This is not mandatory but please, I would like to help you.”

Phelps bit his tongue as he pushed off the overplush couch and shook the doctor's hand and accepted a business card. “I'll think about it,” he said quietly.

Phelps looked directly ahead and did not say anything else to the doctor as he left the BSU office building and walked onto the grounds of Quantico. He put on his sunglasses and drew out his phone, noting he had a missed call and a new text. He looked at the text and saw it was from Carolyn. 'Call me when you can.'

He smiled to himself before noting the missed call was from his office, likely his boss. He dialed her number and she picked up on the second ring. “Hello?” she greeted sleepily.

“Did I wake you?” he asked gently.

“Hm.” He could hear her yawning. “Maybe. I'll be up around nine tonight. I am expecting you to show me all the sights in Washington.”

“You're going to be here because the FBI desires an audience with you and I, your diligent handler, need to ensure your cooperation,” he said sarcastically. “With that being said, make sure you bring that skateboard I got you and I'll see you at my apartment at nine. I got some rum I am pretty sure you have never heard of.”

“I doubt it,” she said, yawning again. He could hear her smile though. “Phelps?”

“Hm.”

There was a long, pregnant pause. “I'll see you tonight.”

“Counting on it,” he smiled into the phone.

 

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