Conspiracy of Swords
Disclaimers for Conspiracy of Swords:
General: All characters in this story are of my own creation. This is an uber story, which means that two of the main characters will sound remarkably similar to the characters of Xena and Gabrielle, who are owned by Renaissance Pictures and Universal Studios. No copyright infringements are intended. Characters in this story come from my own imagination, and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. There may however be some accurate historical facts introduced.
Language & Violence: The story does contain action scenes and some adult language. Since it deals with criminals and law enforcement, you can expect bloodshed, guns, and other sundry symbols of today's society. If this bothers you, please skip this work.
Sexual Content: This is an alternative uber fan fiction story and therefore does depict a love relationship between two consenting adult women. So if you are under 18 or are offended by adult themes and the physical expressions of love between women please pass this story by and move on to something else.
Reality: As I am not an FBI agent, nor am I involved in any aspect of
law enforcement, I may have taken a few liberties with the activities in this
story. If you have knowledge of these matters, and find a glaring mistake, please
let me know -- but in a gentle manner.
Copyright 2000, All Rights Reserved.
"Conspiracy of Swords" will soon be released as a trade paperback by Jane Doe Press. For information about its publication status, and more great titles, please visit www.janedoepress.com.
Alex Reis sat in the hallway near the emergency room, with her elbows on her knees. She brushed at the blood stains on her black pants, and frowned at the dried redness on her hands. She knew she should go wash, but found she just didn't have the energy. The alarm had awakened her a little before five, and it was now just a few minutes till midnight. Alex was tired, her head ached, and she needed caffeine. But it was just too exhausting to stand up.
She couldn't figure out just what had gone wrong. David had told her earlier in the evening that everything was running smoothly, and she shouldn't worry. They had every door into and out of the Sheraton covered. The two halls leading to the banquet room each held a security checkpoint with a metal detector. Anyone attempting to enter the area had to present an invitation, or a specific press pass. Hotel personnel had to have special clearance, and had to be wanded with a hand held metal detector before entering the attached kitchen. Even the police and FBI agents were checked for proper identification.
But, despite everything, the assassin had gained access to the ballroom. Reginald Dabir, former head of the NAACP, ex-mayor of Philadelphia, and newly announced candidate for the U.S. Senate, had been gunned down at his first big fundraiser. The killer had quietly walked up behind the candidate, pumped two bullets into the back of his head, and quickly but calmly headed for an out of the way exit. The suppresser he had used guaranteed him enough time to get into a utility corridor before anyone tried to stop him. All the police and FBI could do was race after the suspect as he fled. David Wu, Alex's partner, had been leading the chase, with twenty other officers at his heels.
Alex had stayed behind, trying to stem the tide of liquid life as it drained out of Reginald. She'd ridden beside him, listening to the chatter of the paramedic who was vainly trying to revive the dead man, as the ambulance sped toward Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Now she sat in the depressing white and green corridor, bent forward, elbows on her knees. As her short blond hair hung over her eyes, she could see that there was a smear of red mixed with the pale yellow. Alex had held Dabir's head in her hands, using her jacket in an effort to stem the tide of liquid life. As a result she was covered in Dabir's blood. It stood out against her blue shirt, turning it to the color of the night. The thick fluid had mostly dried, changing the fabric from soft silk to the consistency of cardboard. She'd already tossed her bloody jacket in the garbage; there was no way it could be cleaned.
Whatever had gone wrong, Alex felt responsible, and she knew that her boss was probably going to place the blame on her shoulders. For Alex and her partner, sleep would not be an option tonight -- despite being bone tired.
Speaking of partners, Alex wondered where David was.
As if in answer to her thoughts, she heard her name being called. She raised her head as her partner, and fellow FBI agent, approached.
He looked as ragged as she did, though he wasn't coated in red. He had also lost his suit jacket somewhere, and stains had appeared on his white starched shirt. His face, normally smooth, was deeply lined with the frown he was wearing. Though he was taller than his partner by four inches, the weight of his shoulders seemed to pull him towards the floor, making him look shorter than his five-ten stature.
David took one look at Alex's face, and shifted direction to the soda machine just beyond Alex. He fished for quarters in his pocket, then pulled out a bottle of Advil while the Coke clattered down the machine's insides.
Alex gave a deep sigh. "Yeah. DOA."
David winced and handed her the soda and two tablets. With a short nod of thanks, Alex downed the Advil, and followed them with a few swallows of soda. Its icy coldness tingled in her throat, and she could feel the headache recede just a touch.
Seating himself beside Alex, David leaned back against the wall. He ran his fingers through his short black hair, then rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Well, it looks like we're batting double zero tonight."
"What d'you mean?"
"The assassin's dead, too."
Alex's shoulders dropped another inch. "Damn."
"I know, partner." David reached over and patted Alex's knee. "He had a car, waiting in an alley, and a big enough lead on me that I knew we wouldn't catch him before he could jump in the car. So I slowed, and took a shot at him while I called for backup, and for cars to try and block any escape routes. He got to the car, the driver hit the gas. The shooter returned fire, almost taking out two of the officers who had raced past me."
"So, how'd he get killed?"
"He got as far as the corner, then --" David raised his hands, trying to illustrate, "boom. The car blew up."
Alex groaned. "So that's what that noise was."
David wiped absently at a black mark near his temple. "Yeah. I tried to get the guy out, but the flames were hot enough to melt the tar under the car."
"Is that how you got soot all over you?"
Alex frowned at her partner. "Do we know why the car blew up?"
"Yep. An incendiary device attached to the underside of the vehicle."
"In other words, a bomb."
"Somebody offed the hitman?"
Alex 's frown turned into a grimace. "I knew I should have stayed in the research department."
They were both quiet for a moment, then Alex looked at David. "Is it too late for me to be an accountant, instead of working for the FBI?"
He gave a short laugh. "No. But you'd be bored silly inside of two days. By the end of the week they'd have to bring the guys with the white jackets to take you away."
"Are you saying I'm an adrenaline junkie?"
"No. You just love excitement." They gave each other a halfhearted grin.
Alex took a deep breath, picked up her soda and got up from her seat. "Okay, David, let's go."
David stood beside her. "Where to?"
"The hotel." Alex began ticking items off on her fingers. "I know the local guys won't be very happy to see us, but this is our case. I want you to gather the video tapes - if they've been thinking, Keller and Price have already pulled the tapes and sent them to Washington. I want to know where this guy came from, how he got into a secured area, and who the hell he was. I want to talk to the officers who were at the security checkpoints, and those that were in the parking lot. Lieutenant Wister already promised me a list of all officers, and where they were stationed." She stopped and looked at her partner. "That door the guy went through. You and I checked on that, remember? We made sure Wister had somebody there, but the officer didn't exactly slow up the shooter. I want to know why."
"He could be dead."
"Maybe. If he's not and he left his post, then he just might wish he was dead."
Agent Wu nodded solemnly.
"You think the killer came in that door?"
David rubbed his jaw. "I don't know, Alex. If I remember right, it was a fire door; you couldn't open it from outside."
"Right, but the alarm didn't go off, did you notice that? What if he cut the system, then somehow got the door open?"
"It would show in the surveillance tapes. The door was in camera range. But the guys in the camera room never gave an alert."
"Which means they didn't see anything suspicious until the same time as everyone else. Damn." Alex took a final drink from her soda, then tossed it in a recycle bin. "If the killer, or someone else tampered with the door, then I wanna know. I want to check out the scene again, then look at those tapes." She stopped and looked at David."We also need to check with the M.E. and find out when the autopsy -- sorry, autopsies -- will be held. One, or both of us, need to be there. Maybe they'll find something on the killer's body that will help us out."
"Right." David nodded. "Uh, Alex, don't you think we need some sleep?"
"Sleep? David, have you forgotten that we have a phone conference scheduled with our boss for 8:30 this morning? Cliff probably already knows that Dabir is dead, and he's gonna want answers. So far, we don't have any. It's now," Alex looked at her watch, then scratched off the dried blood so she could see the numbers, "ten minutes after midnight. That gives us eight hours and twenty minutes to come up with something. I personally don't want to sit there and tell Cliff that we don't know how the assassin got in, we don't know who the assassin was, and we don't know why, despite everything we did, Reginald Dabir is dead." Alex turned and started walking down the corridor, David trailing after her. "I have a feeling we're going to get our butts chewed no matter what information we have, but I'd kind of like to leave that conference with at least a little bit of flesh on my sorry carcass. If that means a night without sleep, so be it." She stopped and took David's arm so he would look at her. "I was the lead agent, David. I have to tell him something."
David sighed. "You're right. You're right. So, it's back to work." The two of them started off down the corridor. "Tell me we can at least get some food, and more caffeine before we sit down to look at any papers. Otherwise I'm gonna fall asleep on Cliff, and then he'll really be pissed."
"Agreed. We'll get showers now, then meet near the ballroom. If you want, you can see if the hotel will keep the kitchen open for us."
"If they don't, I'll just sic you on them."
"Ha, and ha, ha."
David just chuckled as they left the building.
As the water from the shower pounded against her back, Alex tried to let it massage the anger out of her. In her mind she tried to picture the frustration seeping from her pores, mixing with the water, and sliding away down the drain. It was a mental calming technique Sarah had been urging her to use, saying that it would help the agent rid herself of negative energy.
She hated to prove Sarah wrong, but it just wasn't working. In fact, the only picture she could really see was one of her banging her own head against a not so proverbial wall.
Alex reached out to turn off the faucet, shaking her head. Mentally calm she wasn't, but she knew how to let her mind divide her emotions from the list of what needed to be done. The former would be pushed away, trapped inside her own mental closet, and the latter would be handled in a thoroughly professional and detached manner.
Stepping out of the shower stall, Alex grabbed a towel and vigorously dried her hair. She stood in front of the mirror, staring into the half-fogged glass in front of her. Her image stared back, with its short blond hair spiking out in every direction. As she lifted a hand to smooth her wayward locks, her glance landed on her own green eyes. With a heavy sigh, Alex had to admit, if only to herself, that she was tired.
This wasn't the first case where someone had been killed. Hell, Dabir wasn't even the first person to literally leave their blood on her hands. She'd had worse experiences. The serial killer she and David had chased down the year before had left a string of bodies, including a thirteen year old girl, who had all been violated beyond normal human comprehension. Alex had taken the case in stride, never having to worry about her emotions getting in the way. She'd cried for the victims when she was off duty, and spent her on duty time trying to mete out justice. She'd never had a problem separating the two.
Now, though, with this case, it seemed her emotions were always waiting to leap out at her. She'd been frustrated on cases, but never like this. She'd been angry over a person's senseless death, but never to the point of wanting to punch someone or something. But this case . . .
At the hospital, when Alex had spoken to Lieutenant Wister and Captain Davies, the arrogance of the Captain made her fists clench. It wasn't the first time local law enforcement had been angry at the "interference" of the federal agents, but it was the first time it had been insinuated that she didn't know her job, didn't belong with the Bureau, and that she had been responsible for someone's death. When the Captain finally finished his tirade and walked away with a smug look on his face, Alex had been trembling with the force of her anger. It had been the first time she ever wanted to actually harm another human being.
Somehow, she'd told the Lieutenant what she needed from him, and that she would wait for her partner to pick her up. The Lieutenant, who had remained silent during his Captain's comments, had simply agreed. He'd been about to turn away when he stopped.
"Agent Reis, it's not my place to say anything, but in my opinion, you're a good cop. What happened tonight wasn't your fault." Then he'd placed a hand on her shoulder, and walked away.
Alex had simply stood in the hallway, staring at nothing. She didn't know whether she wanted to vomit or punch something. She'd settled for crushing the plastic coffee mug she held in one hand, squeezing it so hard that the flexible plastic had cracked and splintered, coffee splashing to the floor in front of her. She'd apologized to the nurses, who had solemnly nodded and told her they'd take care of it. Then she headed for the corridor to wait for David.
So, here she was, in her hotel room, staring into the mirror, trying to find the energy to get dressed and go meet David. She sighed deeply, noting that it was quickly becoming a habit. She leaned forward, examining her eyes more closely.
"Damn. If this keeps up, I'll have bags over my eyes. It'll make my nose look like a pack horse."
She watched as the corners of her mouth went up in a quick grin. Amazed that she could still make jokes, she reached for her toothbrush.
Feeling much more awake, and a thousand times cleaner, Alex approached the entrance to the ball room. She showed her identification to the uniformed police officer. He looked at it carefully, then let her through the door. Alex smiled at him as she passed, realizing it was the rookie she'd yelled at before the banquet began. She'd seen him allow an officer into the area after only seeing his badge. Protocol insisted that everyone, officers included, had to show personal identification. For his mistake, Stein had endured a five minute lecture on following procedure.
"Haven't they let you go home yet, Stein?"
He gave a tired smile back to her. "Not yet, Agent Reis. I've been on door and checklist duty for a couple hours now, but they've promised me breakfast and all the coffee I want. Speaking of checklist," the young man held out a clipboard, "would you sign in please?"
Alex quickly signed the roster of people allowed into the crime scene, noting the time as 1:35. Glancing over the list she noted with satisfaction that Lieutenant Wister and Captain Davies were both still there as well. If their officers were going to be up all night, it was only fitting that their superiors suffered with them.
She handed the clipboard back. "So, Stein, where were you when the shooting happened?"
"The parking lot, ma'am. Too far away to join the chase, though."
"I thought you had checkpoint duty."
Officer Stein grimaced. "I originally did, ma'am, but after you scolded me so effectively the Lieutenant decided he didn't want to take the chance I'd screw up again. He needed someone to help with parking, so he sent me out there to help the Sarge."
The FBI agent winced. "Sorry, Stein, didn't mean to come down on you quite so hard."
"No problem, Agent Reis. Sometimes a guy needs his butt kicked just to keep him thinking, you know?"
She grinned at him. "So, no hard feelings?"
"Good." Alex patted his arm, then headed over to her fellow agent Kendall Thomas. Thomas was the third member of the FBI that had traveled from Washington to Philadelphia in an attempt to protect Dabir. The other agents assigned, Rick Price and Chad Keller, were both from the Philadelphia office.
Alex had always appreciated having Ken along on a case. His specialty was forensics, and his background included a bachelor's degree in chemistry and physics, as well as one in criminology. He was known as a methodical agent, always following a logical path. He had joined Agents Reis and Wu on the Minnesota serial killer case the year before. Alex knew she had a habit of letting her intuition leap to a conclusion, and had appreciated it when Ken forced her to use logic to reach the same end. Alex had been more than happy to have him along.
She also had been forced to admit that part of the reason was that he was African-American - the only African-American agent assigned to this case, despite the fact that Dabir was Aftrican-American himself. When charges had been made that the "white" federal agents hadn't understood the "black" concerns, Ken had taken it upon himself to bridge the gap, explaining to each side the ways of the other. Alex's respect for the man had risen sharply over the last two weeks.
Ken Thomas was seated at a table near the wall. He was speaking intently with a young man in a firefighter's uniform. She noticed that his blue shirt was stained and smudged with soot.
"Hey, Alex. This is Mike Jones. He's one of the guys that helped put out the flames on the car. We were just talking about it."
"Nice to meet you, Mike. I'm Special Agent Alex Reis. Sorry you had to stay here so late."
"No problem. Captain Davies said he wanted someone from the crew to stick around. Said he needed to talk to us. Figured I'd stay, since it'll mean overtime." He reached out to shake Alex's hand. "Good to meet you, Agent Reis."
"Call me Alex. So, what have you two been talking about?"
"Mike's been telling me about what they found in the car, after the fire went out." Alex could see a look of nausea cross Ken's face."From what he said, it doesn't sound pretty."
"Got that right. Didn't smell too good neither."
"So, you saw the bodies before they pulled them out?"
"Yeah. Not much to see, really. Mostly charred bones. Could tell they'd had clothes on 'em. Couldn't tell what kind."
"Not much left, huh?" Alex's voice was softer, and her eyes were focused on the table in front of her.
"Nope. Little shoe leather. Back of the driver's coat." Mike was silent for a moment. "I could see the guns, though. They both had shoulder holsters."
Ken leaned forward. "Could you tell what kind of gun?"
"Naw. Don't know much about hand guns. Now, if they'd had rifles or shotguns, I could tell you."
Alex frowned as something tried to click in her mind. "Was the passenger wearing a coat?"
"Nope. Or if he was it was burned completely off."
"Mike, when they put the bodies into the ambulance did the guns go with?"
"One of the cops pulled 'em out. Funny, too, cause the guy tried to grab them with just his fingers -- burned the heck out of 'em. He had to use a glove, and a rag, to pull them shooters outta the holsters. They was smokin'."
Alex and Ken exchanged a look, and Ken nodded that he'd get the report from the local police.
"Any idea where the bomb was placed?"
The young man nodded. "Bomb squad showed up. Heard 'em talkin' bout it." He gave a snort. "Not that you couldn't tell."
"What do you mean?" Alex was content to let Ken lead the questioning, but she couldn't help jumping in a bit.
"Could tell from what was burned and what wasn't. Driver's side was gone. Front dash gone. Fire reached back seat, and blew the gas tank, but you can tell where the bomb was. It had to be under the driver's side, probably hooked to the gas pedal. Figure it either blows at a certain speed, or it's timed." He scratched the back of his head. "Could also been a remote."
"Anything you can tell us about the car itself, Mike?"
"Ford. Escort, maybe a '96." He shrugged. "Not much else. Definitely not a sports car. In fact," Mike frowned and sat up a little straighter, "it looked like a family car."
"What do you mean, family car," Ken questioned." I thought it was a sedan type, not a station wagon."
"Well, yeah, it was. But, I don't know. Just something . . . " He snapped his fingers. "That's it. Back seat. There was a lump of melted plastic, and the seat belt was buckled through it."
"Yeah. Kinda like a car seat. You know, for a baby?"
Alex and Ken traded shocked glances. Ken recovered first. "Are you telling us that there was a baby seat in the car?"
"S'what it looked like."
Before either agent could think of something else to ask, a uniformed officer informed them that Captain Davies wanted to talk to the young man. They thanked him and watched as he was escorted over to another table, where Davies and Wister were waiting. Davies glared back toward Alex before turning his attention back to the young firefighter.
"Don't let Davies bother you, Alex. The man's got a bug up his ass about feds because he was turned down."
"I take it you heard about our . . . discussion . . . at the hospital."
"Yeah, Wister told me. And he said it wasn't a discussion. It was Davies spouting a lot of garbage. Let it go. Nothing to do with you."
It took another minute before Alex could look Ken in the eye. "Thanks, Ken. I needed that."
Ken grinned at her. "I know." He leaned forward and looked over his notes. "Okay. I'll check with our local buddies about ballistics, and try to find out what I can on the guns. I'll also see if I can get on the team that's going over the car."He gave a short chuckle. "I went to college with one of the guys in their forensic department - and he owes me a favor."
"Good. You work on the car and the guns. David and I were planning to check out the tapes, then prepare anything we have for our meeting with Cliff."
"Oh, shit, yeah, I forgot about that. That's at, what, nine?"
"Damn. You want me back for that?"
"No. You stick with forensics. David and I can handle the call."
"Okay. What about the autopsies?"
"No, don't worry about those. We're planning on being there. I'll call you if there's anything I need you to follow up on."
"Got it. So, when should I report in, boss?"
"Don't call me that. And I don't know. Let me check with David. Keep your cellular with you, and I'll call when we set a time."
"Sounds good." The two of them stood. "Alex, it wasn't your fault. We did everything we could think of. Dabir was better protected than Kennedy in Dallas. They just got lucky."
Alex nodded and reached out to Ken. "I know. We all did the best we could." They shook hands, Alex squeezing Ken's just a little longer than usual. "Now, get out of here. You'll need to corner Wister to get access."
"No problem. Call me when you're ready for me."
Alex stood there for a moment longer, watching Agent Thomas cross the room with his long strides.
"But it feels like my fault, Ken."
She shook her head, and left to go find her partner.
Alex found David in the surveillance room, watching a television intently. She noticed he was much cleaner, and in a fresh suit, though the shower and change seemed to have done little for his disposition -- he was still frowning.
He looked up as she approached. "Hey, Alex. There's a buffet set up in the room next door. Just biscuits and such, but they've promised us eggs and pancakes by five o'clock."
"Yeah, I know, I spoke with the front desk." She sat down with him. "What are we watching, David?"
David turned back to the screen. "It's a copy from the video camera in here. We're just about to the shooting."
The two of them watched Dabir move smoothly through the crowd, accepting congratulations and wishes of luck. He was laughing with a small group of women, when someone asked for a picture with her daughters. She took a few steps away, the candidate put arm around each of the teenage girls, and they all smiled for the camera. The flashbulb went off, and Dabir seemed to slump in the arms of his young supporters. The girls moved slightly farther from him, and the candidate fell to the floor. For half a second there was just a quiet murmur of concern, then a scream broke through the whispering as people noticed the blood.
As she watched the events on the screen, Alex saw a flickering movement that went against the movement of the crowd. While most everyone was surging toward the fallen man, including the image of Alex herself, one individual was headed towards the side corridor. A woman got in his way, and was rudely pushed against the wall. David stopped the tape.
"It was here that I spotted him. I saw the gun in his hand and the girl hit the wall, and I just went after him."
Alex's eyes were half closed, but David could tell by looking that the motor behind them was working frantically.
"Has anyone spoken to the girl, can she tell us anything about the guy?"
"Yeah, she was interviewed, I read the officer's notes. Didn't see much, just felt the guy bump into her, then she was hitting the wall. She said she barely noticed, all she could think about was Dabir."
Alex nodded. "Have we found out what happened to the officer stationed on the door? "
"Officer Buckner was found outside, propped up against the wall. He'd been killed from close range -- coroner said the powder burns indicated the weapon was less than six inches from the back of his skull. Possibly the same gun that killed Dabir."
Alex stood and began pacing across the rust colored carpet. "So he whacked the guard, then came through here and hit his target. Then he went back through that door --"
"No, Alex. He didn't come in through this door. He used it for an escape, but it's not how he got in."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. It was locked, no one from the outside could get in, though the alarm had been cut. A couple of officers tried the door from outside. They couldn't get in." David motioned to the tape. "The camera shows, no one came through it. However the guy got out, he didn't use this door to get in."
Alex just stared at the TV in front of her. "How good a picture can we get? Of his face, I mean."
"If you watch close you can follow him from just a few minutes before the shooting. Price confiscated the original tapes. They'll go out to Washington by courier later this morning. But he did have copies made of this, and the parking lot. A copy of the camera in the corridor is on the way. I'll send a message to Washington that we need this tape enhanced, and stills made of all frames that show the killer's face. Technical should be ready, and with any luck, they'll have it finished by tomorrow night."
Alex nodded. "Good job. Maybe with the stills, someone can tell us who this guy is - or was. Have you already seen the parking lot tape?"
"Yeah, for what good it did. Problem is, the place the car was located wasn't in camera range."
"Wait a minute, I thought the entire lot was on camera, and anything that wasn't was off limits."
"Exactly. The car was parked in an off limits spot. I noticed that when I saw him jump in."
"Who the hell authorized that?" Alex was glaring at David. "Did you ask Wister?"
"He just said that Sargeant Leonard, who'd been in charge of the parking lot, had received an authorization. He didn't say who it was from."
"So where the hell is this Leonard? I'm gonna rip his goddamn -" Alex stopped as she noticed a figure in the half open door.
Officer Stein cleared his throat. "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt. Thought I'd let both of you know that breakfast is here. You might want to eat while everything's hot."
David nodded. "Right. Thanks, Stein."
The young man hesitated in the door way. "Um, Agent Wu, Agent Reis, you wouldn't be referring to that blue Escort, would you? The one that exploded?"
Both agents looked at him. Reis cleared her throat and took a step towards the young man. "Yes, Stein, that's exactly what we're referring to. What do you know about it?"
"Well, didn't you and Agent Wu okay that vehicle to park there?"
"No, Stein, we didn't," Alex's voice was strained. She hoped she wouldn't have to yell at the poor man any more; he did seem to have the makings of a fine officer. "Did you see the car, Stein?"
"Yes, ma'am. When I was reassigned to the parking lot, I noticed it was in an off limits area, and I asked Sarge about it. He said a couple of agents parked it there, and they had your permission. I remember, he was grumbling about you changing your mind on things without notifying anyone. He's my superior, so I didn't question him, but I remember thinking that you don't seem like one to change your mind without a good reason."
Both FBI agents just stared at him. Alex recovered a second before David did.
"Stein, I take it Sarge is Sargeant Leonard?"
"Yes, ma'am. Sargeant Robert Leonard."
"He said I had authorized a change in the parking?"
"Well, he said that's what the agents told him."
"He didn't say. Just told me there'd been two FBI agents. One had stayed with the car, and the other went inside. He'd never seen them before, he said, but they showed ID."
Alex nodded. She could tell that David was fuming behind her and she needed to get Stein out of the room before her partner exploded on the young man.
"Thanks, Stein. I'll check it out. Are you still on door duty?"
"No, ma'am. I just got released. I actually came over to tell you and Agent Wu that the buffet was up."
"We appreciate that. What I need you to do, right now, is tell Lieutenant Wister exactly what you just told me. Then tell him I authorized no such change, and all agents were accounted for - they were inside the building from early evening on. Let him know we need to speak to him, now. Can you do that for me?"
"I'll go find him."
She watched the younger man walk away, then turned to her partner. Alex could almost see the heat coming off of him.
"Jesus fucking Christ!" David exploded. "Why the hell didn't they just call you to confirm? That's the whole reason everyone was carrying a fucking radio, for God's sake!"
"I don't know, David." Alex leaned back in her chair, her arms folded. David's voice was low, but forceful.
"You know, I think even Stein could probably out think this Sargeant At least he knows how to follow procedure."
"Sure, after I yelled at him yesterday."
"You're right. Maybe Leonard trained the guy." Alex was watching as David's anger finally started winding down. "You know, I haven't even met the guy, and I don't like him."
"I think I remember meeting him. I didn't like him either."
David took a breath and let his forehead rest against the wall. His eyes were closed, and he waited a moment before he exhaled. When he did, he looked at Alex, and she could see he was back in control of himself.
"Okay, Alex. Now what?"
"I think we wait for Wister." She shook her blond head. "I don't know what exactly happened in the parking lot, but at least this answers a few questions."
"Like how the guy got into the ball room."
"Oh." David waited a moment. "Want to tell me?"
Alex rolled her eyes. "Come on, David. Stein said the guys showed Leonard FBI credentials. If the Sarge wasn't lying about that, then it's obvious they used those ID's to not only get the car in the right place, but to get the shooter into the building."
"No, Alex, that's not possible. They might have been good enough for the parking lot, but they would have had to run the ID through the machine at the checkpoint. That would have stopped them."
"Oh, come on, Alex, the new ID's are practically fool proof! They can't be forged, and they have to match the correct fingerprint. Otherwise the machine throws an alert."
"Okay, David, then how else did this guy get a gun into the ball room? Did he take it through the metal detector?"
"No way. They were all calibrated less than two hours before the party."
"I don't know, maybe someone slipped him the gun inside."
"Okay, how did they get it in?"
Alex pinned him to the wall with her glare. David could tell that she'd already reached her conclusion, and was trying to make him follow her logical road.
"Maybe one of the kitchen staff brought it in?"
Alex shook her head. "Nope. All kitchen staff were wanded before entering the room. They had to have all metal in sight of the officer scanning them." Wanding referred to being scanned with a hand held metal detector, and David knew that it was quite effective if used properly. "And if you're going to say someone there screwed up, you better be ready to argue with Ken on that, 'cause he was a part of that team."
"So, maybe a police officer gave it to him?"
"Fine. You go tell Captain Davies that one of his officers concealed a weapon, then passed it to the assassin once he got into the room."
David sighed, knowing he'd been trapped. "No. There's no proof of that either."
"That's right. All we really know, David, is that two guys were supposedly flashing FBI badges. Personally, I'd like to clear that up before we go accusing Philadelphia's finest."
"Right. So what now?"
"Like I said, we wait for Wister. We can find out from him where Sargeant Leonard is, and what he told the Lieutenant. Then I want to check the ID machine, and take a reading of all badges read last night."
"You think Leonard was telling the truth?"
"I don't know," Alex answered. Her face was grim. "But if he wasn't I'll have his badge before noon."
Cliff Jackson slapped the manila folder down on his desk. He stood and began pacing, still directing his voice toward the speaker phone on his desk.
"Let me get this straight, Agent Reis. You had three security cameras, two walk-through metal detectors, over twenty local police officers, and four - no five, FBI agents. And this guy just walked into the room, shot Dabir in the back of the head and walked out?"
There was silence from the other end, and then Agent Wu's muffled voice came over the speaker. "Well, no, sir, he didn't walk out, he ran."
"You find this funny, Agent Wu?"
Alex's strained voice answered. "No, sir, there's nothing funny in this at all. The two of us are tired, and David's a little . . . punchy." There was a muttered "sorry" from David in the background, and then Alex continued.
"As far as the hitman is concerned, I'd have to say, sir, that we covered all the bases except for one."
"And that was?"
"The guy had an FBI badge and ID."
Cliff was silent for a long moment.
"You're sure about that?"
"Yes, sir. Not only was it seen by a member of the local police force, but it was used to gain access to the banquet room."
"Shit. You're right. That was unexpected. Fuck." Cliff returned to his seat and opened the folder he'd thrown on the desk. "It says here, though, that you had the new ID machine. Weren't you running the cards through?"
Back in Philadelphia, Alex tensed. This was going to be difficult for her boss to hear.
"Yes, Cliff, we were using the new machine. All ID's were checked for microchips -- and they all had them."
There was only silence from the speaker phone in front of Alex and David.
"Agent Reis, that's not possible. Those chips cannot be forged."
"Well, sir, either that's not true, or . . . "
"Or there's a rogue agent out there, sir, " David concluded the statement for her.
It took Cliff a moment to process this. "What was the name on the ID, did you find out?"
"The name was Watson, Perry Watson. Registry number, 4568935771-6."
There were several expletives from the speaker.
"That's not an FBI registry number, Alex."
It was Alex's turn to stare in shock at the phone. "Then what is it?"
David leaned forward, frowning. "What the hell is the CIA doing assassinating senatorial candidates?"
"Good question, David. I'll run right over and ask them." The two agents could hear the sarcasm in his voice. "All right, Reis, what else do you have?"
"Well, it looks like Mr. Watson was not acting alone. We don't have the name of the other guy, but we know that there was a second man, a driver."
"Was he found?"
"Yes, sir. Unfortunately, he was in the same condition as the hitman. Burned beyond recognition."
"I don't get it, Reis. Who would have wanted these guys dead? Besides us, I mean?"
"I can't tell you, sir. Maybe they wanted more money, or maybe they'd become a liability?"
"In that case, why go to the trouble of rigging the bomb? Why not just kill them later?"
"Possibly to make a point, or to present us with an obvious dead end?"
"Then why not just disable the car and let them shoot it out with the cops?"
Alex rubbed her forehead. "I've been thinking about that, sir, and the one thing that keeps coming up is that they didn't want to chance our taking either of them alive. They wanted 'em dead, not in prison."
"Good point, Reis. But if this unknown agent was indeed CIA, then you're saying the CIA killed its own operatives just to keep them from talking, after they had one of them sign into your little party using his own ID. Does that make sense to you?"
"I never said any of this made sense, sir. And if the CIA is indeed involved, I don't expect anything to ever make sense."
They could hear a chuckle from the phone.
"Another good point. All right, you two. I want your reports by Monday at nine a.m. Got it? I know that doesn't give you a lot of time, but we've got a team meeting on this at ten, and I want a chance to at least glance over them. Finish up there, then get your butts back down here. We've got a lot of work to do." He paused. "And Alex?"
"Don't beat yourself up over this. You took all the appropriate precautions. Nobody could have predicted that the killer would have the ID to get in. I know it doesn't help right now, but it wasn't your fault. Do what you can, come home, and let's nail the fuckers behind this."
Alex was silent a moment longer. "Yes, sir, thank you, sir."
"Safe flight, you two."
David reached over and turned the phone off. There was a sudden quiet in the hotel suite. Then David yawned.
"Yeah, yeah, I know, you need sleep."
"Hey, get serious, we both need sleep, Reis."
"I know." Alex looked at her watch. "Tell you what. Our flight leaves at 9:30 this evening. We'll sleep for four hours, be up around one. The autopsy for the shooter is at two-thirty, so we can make that and maybe still have time to meet with Price and Keller."
"Sounds good. I'll call Ken and let him know."
"Tell him we'll meet here after the autopsies. That usually takes at least a few hours, so tell him about five thirty."
"How 'bout I bring caffeine and lunch to you at 1:00?"
"That'd be great."
"I just hope you're up, Alex."
"I'll be up. I'm not saying I'll be coherent, but I'll be up."
The phone rang at exactly twelve-thirty, and Alex leaned over to pick it up. She listened for a second to the buzz that said her wake up calls had started. Then she put the phone back on the hook and fell back onto her pillow.
Ten minutes later, the phone rang again. This time Alex didn't even open her eyes. She simply picked up the receiver and dropped it back to its base.
Five minutes later the alarm went off. Alex rolled off the bed and dragged herself to the dresser. She slapped at the clock until it was finally silent, then sat on the floor, knees against her chest, arms around her knees, her head resting on her forearms.
At precisely one o'clock there was a loud knock from the corridor. Alex stumbled as she got to her feet, finally opening the door after fiddling with the locks for several moments. She stood aside as David, looking rumpled but alert, entered. He was carrying his briefcase and some folders.
"Morning, Alex. Ready to go back to work?"
David dropped his briefcase on the small table, then turned to meet the sleepy gaze of his partner. He barely stifled the chuckle that threatened to erupt. It was obvious that Alex had not woken up yet, and she stood glaring at him with eyes half-lidded. She wore only a pair of sweats and a tank top, and her hair stuck straight up as if at least that part of her was at attention. For some reason, the sight reminded David of a fuzzy-haired troll. He kept that observation to himself, realizing that, at least for the moment, his partner would not be receptive to his unique sense of humor.
Alex, for her part, kept up the stony silence as she flopped gracelessly into the chair beside the small hotel table. Her eyes stayed on David, blinking rapidly. She was about to ask him if he hadn't forgotten something when there was a knock at the door.
It was room service, with the promised lunch. Alex let the smell of hamburgers and french fries fill her lungs. She reached for one of the cokes that sat on the tray. After downing half of it in a few swift gulps, she leaned back in her chair watching David sign the check.
The two of them had an agreement between them. On days when they had to be up early, David would present himself at her place at the appointed time, knowing Alex wouldn't be close to wakefulness. He'd bring caffeine, and sometimes donuts -- or, at times like this, a full meal. In return, Alex would do him the courtesy of not speaking until she had food and caffeine happily floating in her body. That way, Alex received the necessities that brought her alert, and David could avoid the foul temper that plagued Alex while waking up.
It didn't take long until both agents were tucking into their meals. As they did so, Alex took the opportunity to really look at her partner. His short black hair, which he kept about the length of his finger, was never out of place. Clean shaven, as most Asian American men are, he looked like he'd just gotten out of college, though Alex knew he was much older, nearly five years her senior. His eyes, deep and black, could show their age and experience when David let down his guard. It wasn't something he did often -- normally only around his partner and his wife.
Alex remembered how uncomfortable it had been when Miri, David's wife, found out her husband's FBI partner was another female. It had taken several long talks between the two before she came to grips with the situation. After Miri had adjusted to the idea of a female agent as her husband's partner, David and Alex had let her in on the secret: Alex was gay.
At first, Miri had looked shocked. Then she had smiled, and just said, "Cool." It had been Alex's turn to be surprised.
Alex could remember when she'd first been approached about joining the FBI, and how worried she'd been about their reaction to her sexual orientation. After graduating from Northwestern University with a Bachelor's in Sociology she'd had to choose between work and graduate school. Finally choosing Duke University, she'd graduated in 1994 from their Master's in Sociology program. Her final thesis, on hate crimes and their perpetrators, had been enough to place her back in the running for the Academy, which she had entered in January of 1995.
Although physically small, Alex had worked hard all her life to make up for what others saw as her only handicap. At five feet, five inches, she was the shortest person in her class at the Academy, and she'd had to take quite a few jokes from her fellow students. After holding her own in most of the physical tests, Alex had finally gained the full respect of her classmates during an inter-Academy kickboxing tournament. She'd gone through the early rounds with no problem, reaching the final against a man nearly a foot taller than she was. Although being beaten, with a split lip, a cut over her eye, and a cracked rib, she'd managed to stay on her feet for the entire match-- the only one of the champ's opponents to do so. After that, there were no more wisecracks about her size.
She'd gone on to a job in Records and Research, spending two years helping track criminals on paper. Every six months she had put in for transfer to Special Agent status, but it had taken until late ninety-seven for her to be awarded the position of field agent. David Wu, who graduated from the Academy two years ahead of her, had been named her partner. The two of them had worked together before; David and his former partner Kevin had met Alex when searching for clues in a file cabinet seized in a drug raid. Using Alex's combination of logic and intuition to make sense of the patterns in the coded files, the two agents had been able to join with DEA agents to take down a drug ring operating in Chicago. This had resulted in promotions for both of them. Kevin had been promoted to a desk position in the Chicago office, while David went from Chicago to Washington. Knowing Alex wanted field work, David had requested her as his new partner. In the four years the two agents had known each other, there had been no one foolish enough to cast aspersions on Alex because of her 'secret' sexual orientation.
The secret wasn't really a secret, she supposed. It wasn't like she was in the closet. Cliff, her immediate supervisor, was well aware of her preferences, as was her partner, his former partner, the desk chief, and all the guys in her class at the Academy. She had even been acknowledged as a lesbian by a senior agent with thirty years experience. He didn't like it, thought "all that queer stuff" was perverted, but he did respect her for her talents and her abilities. Alex's favorite memory of her time in the FBI records department was hearing this legendary agent tell someone else that Alex was "a damn fine agent -- even if she is a dyke." Even David had had to grin about it.
After that, her sexuality had never been an issue. Cliff had even called her into his office, right after she'd been assigned to the hate crimes unit, and told her that he didn't care. As long as she kept her preferences and her politics out of her career, he'd have no problem with her. Since then there'd been a few comments, but nothing serious. Mostly, it had been local police who'd given Alex grief.
Alex was brought back to the present by David clearing his throat. He had finished his burger and was slowly eating his fries, dipping them first in the pool of ketchup on his plate. He had noticed that his partner seemed far away. Normally she ate as quickly, and as much, as he did, her energy level not allowing her small portions or long slow meals. Once awake, Alex was almost never still.
But she was as still as she could be right now, and David watched her quietly. He was worried about her. In their years as partners he had never thought anything would dampen the enthusiasm, or the spirits of his idealistic partner. No matter what kind of situation they had been in, she'd always been ready to give him a brilliant grin, or a thumbs up, to let him know she could handle it. But in the last few weeks, those grins had faded in frequency and wattage.
He knew Miri was worried about Alex as well. They both considered the younger woman a close friend, and they'd had her over for dinner often. She'd been holding one of Miri's hands when the couple's daughter had been born. To them, she was more a member of the family than simply a colleague of David's.
David and Miri had celebrated their daughter's first birthday just before he and Alex had left for Philadelphia. Although Alex seemed the same as ever on the surface, her friends could see the tension that flowed just under the skin. After the party, Miri had asked David if Alex was all right, and David hadn't known what to say.
He did know that this case was getting to her. The assassination task force had been formed in November of 1999 after several left-wing politicians had been killed. Five months before, in the early spring, the leader of Human Rights Campaign had been gunned down without warning on the streets of New York. The killing had been professional, done in the middle of a crowd. Everyone had first placed the murder in the realm of anti-gay sentiment, since the HRC was a gay rights organization. But three weeks later, the new head of the NAACP, Max Rhodes, was gunned down in the middle of a political rally in a suburb of Baltimore. A letter had then appeared in the Washington Post, claiming the killings had been the opening shots of a war between "patriots" and "the Zionist government pigs." The letter also had a list of other potential victims, and it guaranteed that at least ten would be killed. Four already had died. Reginald Dabir, a black candidate for Pennsylvania Senator, had been number five.
The FBI had created a task force to look into the death of Max Rhodes. After the letter, the scope of their investigation was broadened. When a brochure from a white supremacist organization was found at one of the crime scenes, Alex had been assigned to the task force. She was, after all, an expert in hate crimes.
The task force had warned every person mentioned in the letter. They had offered protection and secure locations for individuals to hide. Several had taken their offer. Others, like Dabir, had chosen to ignore the warnings, up to a point. They carried on with their everyday lives, with extra security.
Cliff Jackson, head of the task force had sent three of the agents under his command up to Philadelphia to protect Dabir. Dabir had been killed. David knew he was feeling guilty about it; he felt like a failure. He could imagine that Alex was feeling even worse. This had been the first time she was assigned as SAIC, Special Agent In Charge, on a case. Not only was Dabir dead, but so was the person responsible. They had few clues to go on. The situation was very depressing, and David could almost see the weight on Alex's shoulders.
But, try as he might, he couldn't see it in her face once she put on her determination. David knew he often had a guarded look in his eyes, but at least people could see some emotion in his. Alex's eyes gave no clue as to what was going on inside her head. They showed only that she was alive -- nothing more.
David was shaken out of his thoughts by the sudden sound of Alex's glass hitting the table with a solid thump. Looking into those green pools of hers, he saw the gameface he'd grown so used to. The food and caffeine had done their job; Alex had officially woken up.
"Are we ready, David?"
"Let's hit it." He glanced at the clock. "It's twenty after. Do you want to head to the morgue now, or . . . "
"Well, first, I need to jump in the shower for at least a minute. You know you're the only one that gets to see me like this."
David grinned. "I feel privileged."
"You should. Then, I want to check in with Ken about the car. Maybe he's found something there to give us a lead."
Alex could see David's doubt. "I don't know, Alex. That thing was pretty well fried. I mean, they scraped those guys out of the car with a spatula and a brush. What do you think we'll find?"
"I'm not sure. But I've got this feeling about it. Also, I had an idea. You remember what Leonard said, about how the guys were dressed?"
"Yeah, I remember. They were both dressed in suits, with coats and hats. So? It is February, and it is cold."
"Right, but was this Watson wearing a coat or a hat when he shot Dabir?"
David's eyes widened. "No."
"Un-huh. Did he stop in the hall way and put them on?"
David gave a snort of laughter.
"So what happened to them? He didn't leave them in the car, Leonard said he was wearing both items when he entered the building. He wasn't wearing them when he left the building. Where are they?"
"Good thinking, Alex."
"Told you sleep was good for you."
"Shut up and hand me the phone."
Continue to Chapter Two
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