Conspiracy of Swords
Teren liked silence, Alex noted. At least this time it was a comfortable quiet as they drove to Alex's place.
But Alex had too many questions in her mind to let it remain silent.
"So, your talk with Cliff went well?"
"Yes. I like him."
"I have to say I'm a little surprised that you're joining us."
"Because he told us you'd have to play by the rules, and I don't see you as a rulebook type person."
Teren smiled. "I can be when I have to be. But, we agreed that since my involvement is strictly unofficial and off the record," she shrugged, "not quite all the rules will apply to me."
"Really. Which ones are those?"
"I'll let you know when we run across them."
She glanced at Alex with a grin. Alex smiled back. "It's nice to have you on the team, Teren."
Alex let the silence envelope them again, keeping a close eye on the woman at the wheel. She noted the way Teren scrutinized the traffic, constantly aware of the cars around her. While her speed moved them past many of the other vehicles, her ability allowed her to maneuver safely through crowded streets. Alex, who had always hated it when David sped through the same area, felt no fear with Teren at the controls.
Teren, for her part, found herself completely aware of the woman besider her. She could feel Alex's eyes on her, but for the first time it didn't bother her. What she found annoying, however, was the silence. Teren frowned. Since when was she uncomfortable with silence?"
"Cliff told me you wouldn't tell him the whole story of Perry's death. Thank you for that."
"No problem. I had to tell him and David, at least where I got the name, but the rest of the team won't even hear that much."
"He also said he threatened to write you up for letting me take the watch."
"Well, he kind of did. I'm to consider myself on report."
Alex leaned back, relaxing into the leather seat. "It means I'm on a kind of probation. As long as he feels I'm not screwing up, he won't do anything. But if I violate anymore rules, he'll write me up for everything."
Teren frowned. "I guess I got you in trouble, didn't I?"
"Yeah, but that's okay. It's not like I've never gotten in trouble before." Besides, it was worth it, she thought.
"For what good it will do, I'm sorry. I didn't think there'd be a reason to tell anyone about the watch."
Alex turned back to Teren. "That reminds me. I have a question."
"I hate questions."
"I especially hate it when people ask me if they can ask me a question."
"Okay, I'll remember that. Now, mind if I ask you something?"
Teren rolled her eyes. She pulled up at a red light and looked at Alex. "I walked into that, didn't I." Alex nodded, with a wide grin. Teren shook her head. "Okay, ask away."
"If I hadn't asked to see the watch, and you found the key later, would you have brought it to our attention?"
Teren watched the light turn green, and she stepped on the accelerator. "Yes. Probably not right away,though."
"I would have tried to find the box first. Then after I checked to see what was in it, I would have either turned it over to you, or at least let you know about it."
Alex turned to the window, and sighed. "You can't think like that, anymore, Teren. You've got to let us know if you find something."
Teren shook her head. "No, I don't. I have to let you know."
Alex turned back, confused. "What do you mean?"
"I explained it to Cliff, and he agreed with me. There are certain things that I might become aware of through less than legal means, or through people it's better you never meet. If that occurs, I'm not telling the team anything. I will let you, personally, know the information, and you can decide what, and how, to tell the others. That way, everyone's protected."
Alex gazed at her companion. "What you're saying is, number one, I'm your pipeline to the group. Not me and David, just me."
"And number two, it could become dangerous for you."
It was Teren's turn to sigh. "No, Alex. It could become dangerous for me, and you." She glanced at her passenger. "I guess I should have tried to explain this to you before, but I wanted the information on that account."
"What are you talking about?"
"Let's just say this: the accounts in Switzerland, the ones you traced from that Cayman Islands bank, are owned by some very deadly people. I knew that. If they had found you snooping in their direction, and they had any idea that you might cause trouble for them, they wouldn't have thought twice about having you killed."
Alex stared at her and swallowed. "And you didn't want to tell me this because?"
"Because I needed your help." Teren looked over to see a pair of wide green eyes. She hated the feeling of regret that filled her, but she couldn't do anything about it.
"And that was it. You needed help, so it didn't matter if I, or anyone else, was in danger. Anything to get the information, huh?" For the first time, Alex wasn't sure about Teren.
"I'm sorry, Alex."
The words were very quiet, and Teren kept her eyes forward as she pulled to the curb in front of Alex's place. She refused to look at her companion. Alex, however, couldn't look away from Teren's face.
"If you'd rather I didn't go with you, I'll accept that."
As Alex watched, Terens's face took on a haunted look. The natural shadows under her eyes seemed to lengthen, stretching down her face. The frown she wore curled her mouth down, and lifted her chin. A vein near her temple seemed to throb, and the muscles in her neck bulged as she clenched her jaw.
What was that I told Cliff, Alex thought. Contradictions wrapped in dynamite.
"I want you to come with us, Teren," Alex said quietly. "But I also want your word you'll be honest with me. Completely. Not only with any information, but also any danger." She leaned forward and touched the arm of the shadowed figure. "I can't defend myself if I don't know, Teren."
Teren looked down at Alex's hand where it rested on her forearm. Then she looked up and met Alex's eyes. "I'll do my best, Alex."
Alex hesitated, then nodded. That would have to be enough for now.
She reached for the door handle and stopped. "You want to come up? It'll be better than sitting in the cold."
"I can keep the heat on; it won't be that cold."
"No. Come on, I promise my cat doesn't bite."
Teren smiled, and nodded. She shut off the engine, and climbed out of the car.
"What's the cat's name?"
"And you're sure he won't bite?"
"Positive," Alex said as they entered the house. They climbed the stairs, and she stopped halfway. Looking back at her companion, she said, "But you do have to watch for falling cats."
Alex grinned. "You'll see."
She unlocked the door, listening closely for the tinkling of a tiny bell. Then she cautiously turned the handle.
Appleby was waiting on top of the bookcase. Alex was ready, however, and caught the leaping feline in her arms, letting him then scramble up to settle for a moment on her shoulders. He looked at Teren and meowed at her.
"Teren, meet Appleby."
She turned to see the other woman grinning.
"Falling cats. Gotcha."
It didn't take long for Alex to pack a bag and be ready to go. She gave Appleby a good hug, then left a note for Sarah and Maggie, who had agreed to cat sit once again.
They were on their way to the airport when her cellular buzzed.
"It's Cliff. Got the word back from the lab on that stuff from the box."
"Two things. Number one, you were right. The dagger is from the 1930's, and probably made in Germany. Number two, there were fingerprints on it. Guess whose."
"Well, yeah. But besides that."
Alex felt her pulse increase. "White's?"
"Shit. We got him, Cliff."
"Not quite. We can prove he knew the guy, that's all. But there's a little more."
"Lab said they had a ninety percent match on White's prints, but they also had a fifty percent match on somebody else's. Kyle Brogan's, to be exact."
"Oh, yeah. I think we should send that little piece of info down to Ken and Rick."
"Done. Faxed them a picture of the knife and a copy of the lab results. They're going to talk to him tomorrow morning."
"Are they arresting him?"
"No, but they're not going to do the cozy chat at home this time, either."
"I hope they break him."
"Me, too. You on the way to the airport?"
"Yeah, Teren and I are almost there. David is supposed to meet us at the terminal."
"You guys keep in close contact, alright? I want constant updates. Make me feel like I'm right there, Reis."
"Got it, sir. I'll keep you posted."
"Good. Safe flight, Alex."
She folded the phone, sliding it back into the clip on her hip.
"They pulled Derek White's fingerprints off the dagger."
Teren nodded. "Nice. Doesn't do much for you, though. You already knew they were connected."
"Yeah, but that was circumstantial. This is physical proof. At the very least we'll be able to pull him in for questioning."
The former assassin gave Alex a sinister look, curling her eyebrows into knots. "Let me question him alone for ten minutes. He'll tell you whatever you need him to."
For a minute, that sounded like a really good idea to Alex. Then her conscience seemed to smack her, and she shook her head.
"Can't do it. It's against all the rules, and it's just downright cruel."
"Cruel for who?"
"Me. I wouldn't be allowed to help you."
Alex was surprised to find that Miri and Arlea had accompanied David to the airport. It was a pleasant surprise though, and she reached out to capture her playmate while David introduced Teren to his wife. She was so caught up in the child's laughter that she never saw the bemused look Teren was giving her, or the carefully watching eyes of the child's mother.
She didn't notice Miri approaching until she had already sat down beside them. Alex had the toddler riding on her knee, and Arlea continued to giggle, though Alex didn't know if it was because of the bouncing, or because of the silly faces she was making.
Finally she noticed Miri, and she looked at her friend.
"So, I hear you're teaching her to use the phone already."
"Nope. She learned that trick all by herself." Alex turned back to the gigling girl on her lap. "Didn't you, Arlea? You grabbed the phone and talked all by yourself, didn't you?" She mixed her words with little tickles, enjoying the laughs it illicited.
"Where'd Dave and Teren disappear to?"
"David went to get some gum, and Teren wanted to pick up a magazine for the flight. They should be back soon."
"Good. We've still got an hour till boarding, right?"
"A little over."
"How about we all get some dinner together? David and I can put it on our expense account."
"Alex, is that the woman that threatened to kill David last night?"
Alex stopped tickling Arlea for a moment. She looked at her playmate's mother.
"And now you're all taking this flight together?"
Miri was quiet for a moment, then looked Alex in the eye.
"You promised me you'd protect him, Alex. I'm holding you to that."
"Look, Miri, David was being an insensitive ass last night, and Teren was on edge. It's alright now. They even apologized and shook hands. There's nothing to worry about." Alex had to finish her statement around the tiny fingers trying to invade her mouth.
"When you're married to an FBI agent you worry about everything, Alex."
Alex was surprised to see the look of grief that drifted across her friend's face. Miri had always worried about David, even more since Arlea's birth. But the sadness and fear, almost dread, that showed in Miri's eyes was something Alex had never seen. She shifted the squirming child onto the next seat, then reached out to hug her worried friend.
"Don't worry. Everything's going to be fine."
Miri nodded against Alex's shoulder, but Alex heard her sniffle as well. The two clung to each other for a moment, then was forced to release their hold as Arlea grabbed a handful of Alex's short hair, and pulled.
"Yeow! Arlea . . ."
Miri laughed, and tried to help Alex get free of her attacker.
David and Teren chose that moment to reappear.
"David, does your daughter often attack your partner?"
"Absolutely. I encourage it."
"Because if she's attacking Alex, she's not attacking me."
Alex held Arlea for a few more minutes so that David and Miri could say a somewhat private goodbye. In reality, they just wanted to kiss each other for several minutes, but that was impossible with a one year old demanding attention. So Alex took charge of her playmate again, eyeing the couple with a tolerant smile.
"Come on, you. There's someone I want you to meet."
"Alex," David called. "Before you introduce them, make sure Teren's gun is empty, huh?"
"Oh, go play kissy-face, David. Me are Arlea will be just fine."
She took the few steps up to the dark woman who was leaning against the wall by window.
"Teren, this is Arlea. Arlea this is Teren."
Teren nodded at the little girl. "Nice to meet you."
Alex held her playmate out, and Arlea reached for Teren's neck. Teren reacted without thinking, and suddenly the child was in her arms.
"Um, Alex, I'm not really good with kids."
"Well, you're just going to have to hold her for a moment, cause I need to tie my shoe."
Alex didn't really have to tie her shoe, but she leaned down for a moment to fuss with it, giving Teren the opportunity to examine the tot in her arms.
Arlea had a cinnamon complexion, similar to her mother's, and the fine straight hair that fell in the same pattern as her father's. Her nose was still very tiny, but straight, and Teren could tell she'd have a long nose, but not a big one. She also had high cheekbones, much like both her parents, and she definitely was blessed with her father's inquisitive nature.
Though, Teren thought that was more of a curse at the moment. Arlea had her one tiny fist wrapped around the dark silk of Teren's hair, and she was trying to stuff that handful into her mouth, while the other hand reached up to play with Teren's face.
"Um, Alex, could you come back up here, please?"
Alex stood, stifling a laugh at the situation Teren was in. She considered letting her playmate continue her exertions, but relented when she was the look of panic in Teren's face. With a quiet chuckle, Alex reached out and took Arlea from the taller woman. Teren gently pried her hair loose, then leaned out of arm's reach. Arlea yelled in outrage.
"Okay, Teren, what did you do to my daughter?" David almost laughed at the shocked look of panic on Teren's face.
"Nothing, I swear."
Alex did laugh. "Nah, Arlea just decided Teren was something new to play with and she didn't want to give up her toy. Did you, sweetheart?" She kissed her playmate, then handed her over to Miri's waiting arms. Arlea began fussing again, but not as loudly.
"So, David, are we ready to go?"
"Just about. They called our flight."
"Yep, I heard. Teren, are you ready?"
"In a minute." Teren was busy wiping at her hair and jacket, where Arlea had left her calling card. "Does anybody have a towel?"
Alex and David grinned as Miri reached into the diaper bag for the baby wipes.
To Be Continued
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