Conspiracy of Swords
Disclaimers for Conspiracy of Swords: Please see Chapter One.
It was late by Mountain Standard time, and later still in Washington. But Teren found herself wide awake in a plane full of snoring passengers. She would have slept if she could, but her mind wouldn't quiet down.
Instead, it kept going over her earlier conversations with Carl, Ann, and with Alex.
Finally tired of trying to sleep, she opened her window shade and looked out into the darkness. There was no view, just a glimpse of cloud cover beneath them, reflecting the lights of the plane. Teren had always loved such vistas. They seemed to match the darkness and cover she had to live in, and she always felt a comfort in shadows. Tonight, however, she could only feel uneasy.
She went back over her meeting with Carl. He was an old CIA agent, who had survived the cold war, only to be shot by a robber in a convenience store hold-up. His leg had never quite healed right. The Agency, always practical, had given him the money to start a used bookstore, on the condition he would allow them to place operatives, masquerading as workers, there at various times. Sometimes these operatives were hiding after a mission, or were there to keep an eye on certain factions in the city. Denver was, after all, one of the largest cities between the Mississippi River and California. It was a contrast to its conservative southern neighbor, Colorado Springs, being only slightly less liberal than Boulder. It also had a large and growing population of exchange students, foreign nationals, immigrants, and illegals. Having a guaranteed cover for agents watching for subversive activities was something the Agency wanted in all big cities, especially one that was home to a large portion of the nation's robust aerospace industry. While it was the FBI's job to root out domestic terrorism, they could do little if the planners were outside the US. The CIA used that as an excuse to plant undercover agents in many American cities.
For a time, Perry and Teren had been in Colorado on such an assignment. As their experience grew they had become international operatives, based out of Denver. Teren had worked in Carl's bookstore, which was actually called The Bookshop, for a little over two years. Perry had spent that time as a student at Denver University. By the time the Agency released them from their covers, Teren was involved with Ann, and Perry chose to stay in the same city as his partner. When she left he did, too.
But Carl had stayed, growing a little slower, and a little heavier, but still with the same keen eye. He kept his hand in everything, per his agreement with the CIA. When Teren came looking for information he may not have known exactly why, but he knew how to get it.
"Okay, you want me to look into these Swiss Bank accounts? Want to tell me why?"
"Not really. And I'm telling you, you'll need to cover your tracks. I'd ask for the information through my usual channels, but I think these people are dangerous."
"Whose name do you think it's in?"
"I don't think this particular account has a name. I think it's been there since the forties, or even earlier, and I think the person, or persons, who started it have been dead for a long time. I don't care about that. I need to know who had signing privileges on it six months ago, and who has them now. I also need to know every single transaction in the last six months." She looked at him. "Can you do that?"
Carl chuckled. "You're asking me to get you information out of one of the most heavily guarded financial institutions in the world, while telling me it could be dangerous, and now you think to ask if I can do it?"
Teren gave him a sheepish grin. "Guess I should have asked that first, huh?"
"No. You shouldn't have asked at all. You know damn well I can do all that."
She nodded. "I thought you could." Teren sighed. "I wasn't sure if you would, though."
Carl had been lifting a cup of coffee, but at her words, he stopped. "What are you talking about? Why wouldn't I help you?"
"Well, I'm not officially an agent right now, and I don't know if I ever will be again. Right now I'm kind of on loan to the Bureau for this case, though that's even unofficial. And it's always possible that the powers that be don't want this case solved."
He regarded her while scratching his cheek. "Why do you say that?"
Teren shifted in her chair. "Well, for one thing, the Bureau has a low percentage of minority agents. This task force has a very high percentage."
"Couldn't that be simply because they thought the minority agents might put more effort into this?"
"Possible. But then again, they chose carefully from among their minorities. While most of them are certainly qualified, they're not the top agents, and they have little to no experience in this kind of thing. One is an expert in hate crimes, and has made connections that most people never would, but in many ways, she's out of her league. Another is an expert in domestic terrorism, but is way past his prime; in fact he's close to his pension. The leader of the task force has never been assigned something this big, and he's certainly no expert on assassinations. Most of the time the higher ups keep him busy with meetings on budgets and personnel, things that he really doesn't need to be in on. Even he recognizes that the meetings are keeping him from truly jumping in and leading the team, but he hasn't figured out that it's probably intentional.
"But the final thing that tells me someone doesn't want this solved is the group of agents they sent to protect Reginald Dabir. Granted, they were all team members, experts in hate crimes and forensics, and excellent agents. But not one of them had any knowledge of terrorists, or security against terrorism, foreign or domestic. They did their best to prepare, but they couldn't stop someone from walking in and shooting Dabir."
Teren picked up her own coffee mug and took a sip. "Though I do have to say that Perry and I were partially responsible for that."
"What do you mean?"
"When I left Perry on that hillside, I had both our ID's. When I was shot, I dropped them, and only recovered my own. Mather found Perry's and altered it, using it to get past the security guards."
"That's how the son-of-a-bitch got in. Damn." Carl took another sip. "Yeah, I guess I can see how you might think someone doesn't want it solved. Sounds like the same shit as usual in DC."
"Yep. You should be glad you're out here."
He snorted. "Right. Did you know I'm living just an hour's drive from over 85 religious right organizations? And several are very right wing, if you know what I mean."
"That many? Jeez. I knew the Springs had a lot of conservatives, but, damn."
"Yeah." Carl pondered for a moment. "Actually, you might want to check a few of them out. How they're organized I mean."
"Well, there's a lot of groups, and lots of members in each group. But the leadership doesn't seem to consist of too many people."
"You mean people lead more than one group?"
"No." He put his mug down and stood up. "I think I have the name of someone you might want to talk to. We've conversed on email a few times, and he's sent me some interesting information on right wing leadership. You know how you told me Dawkins runs this group south of here, but also sits on the CMF board?"
"Well, that ain't the only board he sits on. If I remember right, he's on a few others, too. And the leader of CMF is on the board for this Religious Families Group. See what I mean?"
"About the leadership? Yeah. Is that consistent though?" Teren stood and followed Carl as they moved to his office. "I mean, does every board consist of the leaders of other right wing groups?"
"Mostly. You'll have to ask my friend. I'll give you his name and address," Carl pulled a slip of paper off his pad, and copied a number from his bulletin board, "and you tell him that Carl told you to talk to him."
Teren took the paper and slipped it into her pocket. "I'll be sure to do that. In the meantime, how soon do you think I can get that other information from you?"
Carl scratched his chin. "I'm not sure. I wouldn't think it would take longer than twenty- four hours. And even if it does, I'll send you what I have tomorrow, okay?"
"Sounds great. How will you send it?"
"I'll make sure to give a call, and get a security box set up for you. You'll be let in, I promise. The stuff will be waiting in the box."
"Good. That'll give me time in the morning to see your friend, and in the afternoon I can pick up the material."
"Okay." He held out a hand. "It's been great to see you, girl."
"Same here, Carl. One of these days you've got to come back East and spend some time with me."
He shook his head. "Not a chance. I love these here mountains. Even when everything gets crazy, I know they'll be there, steady on as always." He looked at her. "Don't you ever miss them, Teren?"
She nodded. "All the time, Carl."
And now, she was once again on a plane leaving those mountains. Heading back into a case where her involvement had started out unintentional. Even now, she wasn't really sure how that had happened.
Sure, Graves had gotten her over to FBI Headquarters by telling her about Perry's badge. And she had wanted to see if Alex could lead her to the men who paid Mather. But how did she become a part of that search, she wondered?
She could blame it on Sarah and Maggie, she supposed. After all, they had invited her to their house to meet Alex, who had talked her into helping. But that wasn't fair because she had had every intention, and even the opportunity, to say she couldn't make it. Instead, she had agreed, shown up, and even agreed to drive the blond agent back to her apartment. After that, there was no way to stay out of the investigation.
So, Teren thought, it's Alex's fault. She's the reason I'm involved in this mess.
Teren smiled to herself. Involved. Ann had put a whole new meaning on that word.
She and her former lover had a short but affectionate conversation after Alex left them alone. It had started with Ann's question about how she knew the blond FBI agent, and Teren's story of being on loan from the Agency.
"So, you are still with the Agency. I had wondered. Even worried." Ann was holding Teren's hand. "How is Perry?"
Teren bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood, but managed to finally say it. "He's dead, Ann. He died about six months ago."
"Oh, Teren, I'm sorry. I didn't know." She stroked Teren's cheek, trying to get the woman to look into her eyes. "I know how close you and he were."
Teren lowered her head and nodded. "We were."
"How did he die, can you tell me? Or was it --" She broke off.
"Yes, it was in the line of duty, Ann. The two of us had our cover blown in Eastern Europe. I got out. He didn't."
Teren said all of this without raising her head.
"Goddess, Teren, I'm so sorry. I had no idea." Ann tried to put her arms around Teren's shoulders, but the sling and the IV got in the way. She had to settle for holding even tighter to her hand. "I'm grateful you got out at least. And I know Perry would feel the same."
"Yeah. As a matter of fact, he told me that. He said if he was going to die, he didn't want me to be there beside him, and I should get my ass to the helicopter."
"And you did?"
"Yeah. I almost made it, too."
Ann's eyes went wide. "What do you mean, almost?"
"Just before I got there, somebody shot me."
"What did you do?"
Teren grinned. "I got back up and dragged my ass to the chopper. Wasn't any way I was going to the afterlife then, just to have Perry pound on me for not making it another four feet."
That brought a smile to Ann's face. "So, you're okay?"
"Yeah. A couple of scars, but I'm fine."
"Uh-huh," Ann sounded doubtful. "You're fine? Right. Why don't I believe that, Teren?"
"Hey, it's true, I'm okay. Really."
Ann nodded. "So, tell me how you got involved with Agent Reis?"
"We're not involved, Ann, we're just working on the case together."
A smile slid across Ann's lips. "I never meant anything else, Teren. Was that a Freudian slip?"
Teren chuckled and shook her head. "Nice try. No, it wasn't." Was it?
Here in the plane Teren was reminded of that little afterthought. She had time now, to look at it again. No, she hadn't meant involvement with Alex, that was absurd. Sure, Maggie and Sarah had tried to set them up, but the two of them were just working together. Yes, she was involved in this for Alex, but it wasn't the only reason. She really did care about this case.
As for being involved with Alex, it was a preposterous idea.
David had dropped his seat all the way back, and was snoring softly. Alex, sitting by the window, wished she could get some sleep. She needed to be able to function tomorrow, but at this rate would probably not even be awake.
It would have been easier to fall asleep if she could get the voices out of her head. It wasn't that they were really loud,but they were very persistent. The voices were actually from memories, from her day, and everything that had happened. Especially the last conversation with Teren before she left.
The former spy had business back in Washington, and had returned to the capitol as planned. Her plane left twenty minutes before the flight for Philadelphia, and Alex and David had stayed with her at the gate until it was time for her to board.
"Are you sure you don't want to join us? This is an area we could probably use your expertise in."
"I'll meet you guys up there, David. But first I have to check with some contacts in DC. It's important."
He shook his head. "Be careful, Teren. From the way you and Alex were talking in the car, this Treville might try to make you our next victim. I'd rather not see them put you in a body bag."
She smirked. "That's not what you would have said Friday night."
He grinned "I know. Amazing what forty-eight hours can do, huh?"
Alex wasn't happy about the situation either.
"Can you tell me what's so important about meeting these contacts?"
Teren glanced up at Dave who had wandered away for the moment. Then she met Alex's eyes.
"I might have a lead on the money angle. I know Treville spent time in Lithuania, Poland, Switzerland, and Germany, before returning to the states. Ostensibly, he was touring right wing Christan groups in those countries. But as you know, that wasn't his only reason for being there."
"You think he found, what, a treasure trove, and brought it back to the States?"
"No. I think someone else has been guarding this treasure trove, and simply allowed Treville access to it."
"How can we prove that?"
"We probably can't. But I might be able to at least uncover the source of his funds."
Alex nodded. "But that brings us back to those bank accounts, doesn't it. If that's part of his funding, and you mess with those --"
"Look, Alex, one problem at a time, alright? First, you find Brogan, and I'll try to find the link between Treville and the treasure. Once we get those out of the way, we'll worry about the rest."
Alex let her chin slump to her chest. When she raised her head again, she looked at Teren with deadly seriousness.
"You be careful, understand? Don't go putting yourself in the line of fire. You may not believe it yet, but this team needs you." I need you.
Teren smiled and nodded. "I promise."
"Besides, if you get yourself killed, Maggie and Sarah will never forgive me." I'll never forgive myself.
Teren laughed at that.She placed her hand on Alex's shoulder and gave it a light squeeze.
"Alright, I have to board. You and David take care. As soon as I can, I'll be calling Cliff for your location so I can meet you. Stay in touch with him, okay?"
"You won't be available on your cell phone?"
"No, or at least not consistently. There are places inside the building that you're not allowed to bring things like a phone into. Since I need to get into one of those places, I won't always have my phone with me."
"Will they let you in, even though you're supposed to still be on leave?"
"Yeah. Don't worry. Just remember to stay in touch with Cliff, alright?"
"Got it." Alex leaned forward to hug the taller woman, but stopped at the last moment, not sure if Teren would accept the physical touch. Instead, she held out her hand. She was surprised when Teren grasped it and pulled her into an awkard hug.
Then Teren was gone down the ramp.
David and Alex waited until she had turned the corner before picking up their own bags and heading to their gate for the flight to Philadelphia.
Now, as she thought about it, Alex wondered about the whole scene. She couldn't remember ever being worried about Teren before. It was obvious the woman was an excellent fighter and could probably handle herself no matter what the danger. So why was she still so worried?
Plus, Alex couldn't remember the last time she 'needed' someone. The only one she'd ever said she needed was her father, but even then it was the kind of needing that all children have for their parents. She had always felt the need for her father, and his presence had been sorely missed since his death. But how did that compare to this 'need' she thought about towards Teren?
She could admit that the investigation definitely needed the former spy. After all, without her, they might have taken forever to find half their evidence, and they'd still be unaware of many of the connections they were now looking into. The task force really did need her, and that, she argued to herself, could be taken to mean that Alex, as a part of the team, needed Teren.
Alex thought she could live with that explanation. She did need Teren, but only as a teammate. Finally, the voices inside began to fade as they gave in to her body's demand for sleep.
She was beginning to float peacefully away, when a stray thought drifted through.
If she only needed Teren as a teammate, then why had she been jealous to learn of Teren's relationship with Ann Seffren?
As much as she wanted to play with that question, her exhaustion won out, and she finally fell asleep.
To Be Continued
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