Days later, Hobbs still couldn't get O'Conner's arrogant smirk out of his mind.
For an asshole who'd betrayed everything the badge stood for, he still had an investigator's instincts for conversation. He'd known just what to say, and when, to push Hobbs' buttons; and he'd been no less incisive with Toretto's crew-- which should probably be more accurately called Toretto and O'Conner's crew, if the glimpses Hobbs had seen were normal behavioral patterns.
The FBI files were wrong; O'Conner's defection couldn't have been a case of an officer bought and heeling at his mark's command, or a fool caught by the short hairs looking the other way for his lover's brother. Either situation should have led to an inequality in the group dynamics that just wasn't there. O'Conner had been a full partner in the heist planning, enough so that all their other associates had looked to him as much as Toretto for leadership.
That made it worse, in some respects; a weak man Hobbs might have been able to scorn and write off as a less important target than Toretto, but Brian O'Conner was anything but weak. If Toretto had been the star of that little group before O'Conner came along, they were a much more powerful binary system now, drawing in anyone with the misfortune to cross their paths, one way or another.
Even, or so gossip back at headquarters already had it, the previously unstoppable Lucas Hobbs himself.
"Hell of a mess," he'd told O'Conner, shaking his head over the wreckage the pair had made of Rio.
"Yeah, it is," O'Conner had said, grinning back at him, as though he knew something Hobbs didn't.
And then they'd disappeared with all their money and his promise of a twenty-four hour grace period, leaving him in a town that had just lost one of its richest citizens, a vast number of corrupt senior law enforcement officers-- and the carefully welcoming image Reyes had spent years abetting in advance of the city's bid to host the 2014 World Cup. All of that damage, physical and political, would be laid at Hobbs' door. And even if his superiors agreed it had been the price of doing business... well, he'd met John McClane after that Thomas Gabriel mess a few years back. He'd seen what that kind of wrecking-ball reputation could do to a career.
And if it ever came out that Hobbs had been actively assisting, not just trying to stop them... hell, he'd be fortunate not to face censure as it was. He'd caught them, fair and square; he'd done his job to the letter until the ambush. But everything that had happened after that... he'd made choices he wouldn't be able to retract. Part of that had been the anger and grief driving him, true; but he couldn't deny that there'd been other factors involved as well.
Toretto had offered his hand, there in the street, when it would have made his life easier to let Reyes' men kill him. He'd taken Hobbs at his word and read him into the plan the moment he'd volunteered to help strike Reyes. And before that-- he'd had the presence of mind to pull his blow when he'd had that wrench in hand, Hobbs under him, and a threat to everything he held dear for motivation. Somewhere along the line, Toretto had developed control enough to leash the beast under his skin. He wasn't just the brutal thug in his file anymore. He was dangerous-- but also worthy of a certain wary respect.
Hobbs could see, now, how he'd managed to draw in a punk like O'Conner, who had so few other interpersonal bonds in his life. The bright, beautiful sister wouldn't have hurt matters, either. And all the other ridiculously competent people who'd coalesced around that little nuclear unit: any law enforcement organization would give their eyeteeth for a team with those skills. Hobbs' men had kept up with them, but only just, and they'd been the best the FBI and the DSS had to offer.
It was going to take a hell of a lot of luck for Hobbs to catch them again. Good luck on his part: the right intel, a strong team, and a fucking tiger cage of a plan. And bad luck for the Torettos and O'Conner: another entanglement like Reyes drawing them up above radar, or an observant officer in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. They were too experienced at running to invite notice otherwise. And if they were smart, they wouldn't travel together, either, which would only multiply the problem.
Hobbs swore under his breath as he started filling in the next set of paperwork. This was going to be the case that just kept on giving, he was sure of it.
Hobbs had a pretty good idea what to expect when he met Customs Agent Monica Fuentes. She'd been undercover in Carter Verone's organization for nearly a year, so she had to be smart as well as gorgeous; and she'd earned O'Conner's cooperation, so he was willing to bet on sassy, too, with an undercarriage of iron.
She lived up to those expectations and more. Hobbs liked what he saw of her as he shook her hand: attractively dressed, badge prominent on her belt, with a firm, no-nonsense expression.
He liked her attitude even better: she neither deferred to him nor tried to assert her own superiority, standing her ground in high-heeled pumps that gave her just enough extra height to put her on eye-level with his mouth. She lost no time informing him that she hadn't heard from Brian O'Conner since he'd helped take down Verone-- and that considering the threat she'd also face from Verone when the former drug lord got out of prison, she'd be more than willing to assist with Hobbs' investigation.
Which was fair enough. He believed her, as far as that went, and her Customs background gave her a valuable alternate perspective on the case. It was a pity her taste in men seemed to lean toward devil-may-care white boys, but she was a decent cop. One he wouldn't mind having on his team-- if she'd trade those heels of hers in for something with a little more traction.
Over the months that passed after Rio, as he slowly put a new team together, proved to the agency all over again that he was the baddest motherfucker they had on the payroll, and checked a bunch of other names off his list, they slowly assembled a pretty good picture of where the satellite members of the group had scattered to. Without solid physical evidence-- like hell Hobbs was going to point out the old factory building full of his own prints to federal crime scene investigators-- the warrants for Toretto and O'Conner's associates had lapsed, leaving them all free to travel. Gifted escape artists or not, sooner or later each of them crossed an electronically surveilled border he could monitor, mostly in pairs, and washed up in urban centers in various corners of the world.
If they ever gathered again, Hobbs would be there before the dust settled. But until then, the much trickier targets of the Toretto family trio continued to evade every tracking method accessible to him. Without paying obscene amounts of money to send private investigators into Rocinha favela to track Rosa Matthews' and Elena Neves' every move, he had limited options available to improve his chances. For a group as memorable as they were-- all absurdly attractive, strong-willed, and restless-- they were remarkably good at fading into the woodwork. Even when that woodwork wasn't neon-lit, or sand and surf.
But there was one thing he knew for sure could draw them out, one thing he'd seen firsthand could make them damn the consequences. He wouldn't endanger the friend's widow or her kid to make it happen. But when Monica arrived with a file containing Leticia Ortiz' picture and news of a high-speed heist in Germany...
Family: that was Toretto's weak point. The reappearance of the girlfriend he'd buried the year before would knock over his applecart, if he didn't already know-- and Neves' continued 'vacations' were pretty suggestive of the fact that he didn't. In fact, going by the Braga file, maybe only one or two people did: the unnamed first responders who'd arrived at the wreck and examined Ortiz' body. They'd been the ones to report her badly burned, shot and most importantly deceased before her handler had ever been notified, and it had been a closed casket funeral.
Something stank to high heaven about that. Context wasn't his problem, though. All that mattered was that their luck was finally in.
Hobbs grinned in satisfaction and arranged to have a suitably notated copy of the image faxed to Neves' desk at the delegacia de polícia in Rio. If anyone would have Toretto's contact number, she would.
It was time to pack his bags. Lucas Hobbs was going to Berlin.