From Not Exactly Innocent:
When he was done giving Jarvis more authority and duties than originally planned, MacAvoy turned his attention back to Cookson. “All right. The Marines are deployed and you cannot use them as an excuse. And before it begins to worry you, we’re fully aware that the United States military isn’t supposed to do domestic law enforcement work. They aren’t doing law enforcement work. They’re training people on my team, not to mention an unwieldy number of folks who were shipped in for the seminar. As soon as they’ve got us civilians up to speed, they’re out of here. The Constitution wobbles from time to time, but I think it’s still standing, more or less, at least on my watch. Do you know why I moved to America?”
She was surprised at the sudden change of direction. She shook her head.
“Lots of reasons,” he said, “not the least being that Scotland didn’t have much lined up in the way of opportunity at the time. But one of the main reasons, silly as it sounds, is a letter I got when I was twelve years old, from my grandfather who moved to West Virginia when he was fifty and never came back.”
“What took him to West Virginia?”
“Doesn’t strike you as a hotbed of economic activity, does it? Or a cultural magnet, either? In his case it was following a widow he’d met in Glasgow after he became a widower. He loved West Virginia once he got there, by the way. Nice place. You ever been there?”
She shook her head.
“Nice folks,” MacAvoy said. “Overall, anyway. But, to what I was saying, this letter got under my skin. Or one part of it did. He said America was a place where people learned from history, but didn’t live by it. It’s true, you know, as far as it goes. The American ideal is to grab the best from every culture on the planet, while dumping the unwanted baggage your ancestors try to foist on you.”
“I don’t usually hear it said that way,” Cookson said, sporting a small grin despite herself.
“Most Americans haven’t a clue what’s great about this place,” he said. “They take it for granted, or refuse to admit that there’s an authentic American culture, that makes it different from the rest of the world. This is not to mention that power hungry slobs try mightily to make them forget the ‘no ancestral grudges’ part of the dream – even though the ‘everybody starting fresh’ part is the fun bit about American life. Also one of the best bits.” Having planted his seed, he let the silence build.
Cookson avoided his eye, and fiddled with a loose thread on the car seat. “It’s what he said about the fingers and the villages,” she said, all vestiges of a smile gone. “Rochester, I mean. And about the families, and the family dog.”
MacAvoy kept his mouth shut and waited.
“I mean, in the rest of the world, it’s not uncommon for people to punish families as a way of keeping people in line,” Cookson said. “Governments, I mean. Not people. Over here, crooks do that, but not the government.”
MacAvoy made encouraging noises.
Cookson went on, “It’s easy to pretend that the rest of the world is civilized, only in its own way.”
“Some of it is, Cecelia.”
“But not all of it. What I’m trying to say is that Rochester pushed home the idea that civilization doesn’t just happen. I guess that sounds stupid coming from a cop?”
MacAvoy shrugged. “Crime happens everywhere. Civilization’s a different concept altogether. Civilization is where people fight for what’s right, and wholesome, and healthy, and moral, and even for what’s beautiful. It doesn’t give anybody any immunities – just a little room to grow in, if they’re lucky. But speaking of governments, my adopted one is going to have my hide if I don’t get cracking.” He grinned, but his eyes were serious. “If you’re okay now?” he added.
She nodded but stared at her hand, which finally was resting on the door handle. “I’m not sure I did the right thing, giving you his name.”
“In this country, individuals rise or fall by their own choices. You’re not responsible for your relatives. Any of them. And, besides, maybe your uncle said something suspicious, but is innocent. We won’t know unless we check. Maybe you’ve been miserably wondering what to do about him for nothing. You’ve been a cop a while. You know that people sometimes are worried over misunderstandings instead of fact. More often than not, actually. Yes? Let’s hope that’s what this is.”
Cookson nodded and got out. MacAvoy bee-lined for his office. En route it occurred to him that no one had briefed him recently about what to do about any stray (not to mention probably treasonous) Russian who unexpectedly got talkative. He wondered if this was going to be something else that was going to be different in this administration, versus the one before it. He sighed. Every year the rulebooks got larger and more contradictory; the laws more like minefields than guidelines. Every federal election, he got new nudges from higher-ups. Enforce this more earnestly, they’d say. Let that slide for now, they’d say. It could drive a man half nuts, especially if he had to drop a case midstream.
On the other hand, overreaching and conflicting regulations were a day-to-day mess, something he fought when he could and ignored when he had to. What else could a man do, when there was no longer any way to abide by some rules without breaking others?
He’d been reading Scottish news on the internet. It didn’t sound much better back there. MacAvoy shook his head. He loved both countries, homeland and adopted. He’d risk his neck fighting for either. But there was no doubt that the cultures in general, and the governments in particular, were suffering some corrosions, and he wished America and Scotland would make better efforts at cleaning up their acts. Being a Scots-American was like living with teenagers, he thought – or at least what he imagined it would be like living with two over-energized, hormone-addled teenagers. The love was there, but it was sorely tested from time to time, no question. (His brother Robert, back in Scotland, liked to say that both countries were perilously close to replacing Lex Rex with Choose Your Gang – that is, law could no longer be king in a country where crime versus non-crime was based on who had power. He had his suspicions that Robert was at least somewhat right.)
He hoped their little chat had made Cecelia Cookson feel better. For his part, he was feeling sorely outclassed by a gutsy fellow from Russia.
What he thought of Russia itself at the moment – clamping down ruthlessly on those people who’d happily mind their own business if left alone, but letting loose somebody like Vadim Koriokin – was unprintable.
On the other hand, Russia being unspeakable was hardly new, and so far there was nothing about this mess to warrant fresh distaste or distrust.
Yet he felt grumpy and discontented.
He decided that the main reason he was grumpy was because he was scared that the world was up against a madman with impressive weaponry skills and resources, backed up by a death wish. You had to assume Koriokin had a death wish. Men who grew up working for Moscow didn’t taunt the Russian government while entertaining hopes of living very long. It didn’t happen. It just didn’t happen.
It also scared him that Cookson had been scared. That she’d chosen right then to finally report her uncle made MacAvoy think that she’d been really scared, as the Russian’s story had sunk in. What was the fancy name for it? Transference? Something like that, in any case. Cookson was very nearly unflappable. Usually. But she was also smarter than the average person. She could connect the dots.
Despite what he’d said about being sure of winning the war (which he was), MacAvoy was no fool about the losses that could be sustained from even just one big, ugly weapon, if it got unleashed on people not safely hidden in super-duper underground bunkers. With some of the weapons available, of course, even the bunkers didn’t provide any guarantees. His stomach lurched.
Rebecca came unbidden into his mind. He tried to shove thoughts of her away – there was work to be done! – but she kept coming back, beautiful and precious, operating courtesy of a heart that could be stopped. Life was so fragile.
He wondered how men with families survived the worries that went along with being the head of a family. He’d had no idea that love could reach so deep.
In his office, he used a special phone he hadn’t used in a long time. It was answered midway through the first ring. “I need an expert on Russia, who can tell me whether I’ve got a big problem or a little one,” he heard himself saying. (Which wasn’t quite what he thought he’d planned to say.) From there on out, he chose his words more carefully. He didn’t want a dead informant, much less a flattened Russian village, on his conscience.
After the call, he forced himself to review other cases. Just because one case suddenly got bigger didn’t mean the others didn’t matter anymore. For instance, a couple of kids had just been kidnapped from Spokane, Washington, a brother and sister. Kidnappings got top billing. It was the least you could do. Even if you were afraid the world was about to blow up, you had to look out for the kids who would be around to inherit the place if – by some happy miracle – you were wrong.
Not Exactly Innocent is the second book in the MI5 1/2 series. It’s available in trade paperback, large print, and for Kindle and Nook. It’s also found in The MI5 1/2 Omnibus, which is available for Kindle and Nook. The first book in the series is Not Exactly Dead. The third book is Not Exactly Allies.