Conspiracy of Swords
Disclaimers for Conspiracy of Swords: Please see Chapter One
The task force meeting was scheduled for ten o'clock Monday morning. Alex knew that she'd need plenty of caffeine to get her through the meeting, so she turned in her report to Cliff Jackson's secretary, and headed out to find a large bottle of Coke. Instead, she ran into Cliff just outside the elevator.
"Alex, glad I caught you. Are you and David ready for the meeting?"
"As ready as we can be, sir. My report is on your desk; David's finishing his."
"A few things. You can read it in the report."
"Don't need to. You and David will present your story at the meeting."
Alex stared at her boss, completely missing the elevator she'd been waiting for. "Excuse me?"
Cliff sighed. He'd known she wouldn't like it. "Deputy Director Bishop will be there. He wants to hear verbal reports from all the teams directly involved with the homicides. Then he'll make recommendations to the Director on whether to increase the size of the overall task force. I know you weren't prepared for this, and believe me, neither were the other teams. I thought we'd do a brief on Dabir, then do a brainstorming session to map out any strategies. Instead, we have to do verbal reports cause this guy doesn't have time to read." He shook his head. "If I ever say I don't have time to read reports, just shoot me, Alex, okay?"
"You're on, Cliff." Alex took a deep breath and ran her fingers through her hair. "Well, it looks like I'm gonna have to skip the trip for caffeine. I better warn David, and then we'll come up with something to present."
"You worry about this presentation, Alex, I'll have Jodi order a two-liter bottle of coke for you."
"Bless you, Cliff."
"I thought you were an atheist."
"Actually, I'm more of a pagan. But for a two-liter bottle, I'll be as Christian as you want."
Deputy Director Bishop, in his dark suit with a crisp white shirt, sat stone faced at the front of the room. He had insisted that the meeting be held in this theatre type auditorium, where the seats went from the floor level up. It reminded Alex of the huge lecture rooms she'd sat in at college.
Rather than going in chronological order, Bishop requested that the newer cases be presented first, so Alex and David had been the first to stand at the podium and face the crowd. Each of the agents had a copy of Alex's report in front of them, and they nodded as the two agents went through the events from Philadelphia. They finished, and were about to start fielding questions, when the Deputy Director interrupted them.
"Thank you, Agent Reis, Agent Wu. I don't have time to listen to questions. Let's get the next team up here, shall we?"
David breathed a sigh of relief as he and Alex found two seats near the back of the room. "Damn, I'm glad that's over," he whispered to Alex. "At least he didn't have a million questions for us. Maybe that means we did okay, huh?"
Alex shook her head, and opened her notepad. She tried to focus on the new speaker, but found her mind wandering. She knew that the reason Bishop hadn't asked questions had nothing to do with whether or not they'd done okay. The man simply wasn't interested. Several times she had glanced at him to find him staring into space, not even paying any attention. The only time he'd seemed to notice anything was when they'd told of the forged badges and the possibility of white supremacist involvement. At those times he seemed to grow slightly agitated, but gave no sign that he heard anything in the rest of their report. He hadn't even bothered to open the front cover of the written copy she'd hurriedly made for him.
A nudge on her arm brought Alex out of her dismal thoughts. She turned to David to see him handing her a coffee mug. She reached for it on reflex, surprised when she felt cold rather than heat. Then she noticed Cliff silently hiding a red bottle under the table in front of him. She smiled, and took a sip. Ice cold Coke. Maybe David was right; maybe they had done okay.
After downing half her cup of soda, Alex tried to concentrate on the presentations of the other teams. Pulling out her notes, she compared them to the details the speakers were relating to the group.
The first man killed was Steven Fletcher, National Director of the Rights of Humanity Campaign. After leaving a meeting at a New York gay community center, Fletcher was walking with four other people to a rented car in the parking lot. Several shots rang out, and Fletcher was dead, just yards from the safety of his car. The assassin had used a high powered, semi-automatic rifle, from the roof of a nearby building. When the police investigated, they found a couple of shells on the rooftop, but nothing else. The building itself was a condemned apartment house, three stories tall. On the back side of the building, facing away from the shooting location, there was an intact fire escape. It was suspected that the killer went down it, then either drove away, or met his getaway ride. There, the police investigation had stalled. Unfortunately, the FBI inquiry was similarly mired down. The only thing they'd been able to add was that the bullets used had been 7.62X39 mm, and had most likely been manufactured outside of the United States. Nothing else had been found.
The second death was that of Max Rhodes, director of the Regional African-American Caucus. He had been shaking hands in the middle of a political rally near Baltimore when two shots had struck the side of his head, killing him instantly. Once again, the killer had been in a near by building. This time, however, the police responded quickly, as did the security guards in the office building. Even though the shooter was not apprehended, he had been glimpsed as he exited the rear of the building, jumping into a blue sedan. The license plate had been noted, but was discovered to be stolen plates belonging to another car. The only other clue was the rifle, a Colt carbine semi-automatic, which had been left behind in the empty office. It wasn't really a lead though, since the gun held no prints. The serial number on the rifle identified it as being one of five rifles to have disappeared from a sporting goods store in a robbery six months earlier. The description of the shooter had been vague; approximately five-foot, six-inches, with sandy blond hair, wearing a brown suit and sun glasses. It was estimated that the time between the first shot, and when the shooter jumped into the car, had been less than four minutes. Once again, the investigation stalled.
Victim number three was a Hispanic male in downtown Los Angeles. This murder had confused the task force. Instead of following the set pattern, a semi-automatic rifle shot from a building, the killer had borrowed the tactics of gang bangers from the inner city. As Mr. Mario Arturo, candidate for representative in the state of California, walked from his front door to his car, a sedan, this time black, had driven past, with a shotgun firing out the window. Arturo, who'd been expected to win the Congressional seat, had died before he hit the ground. There had been only one witness, who described the car, but had been too close to get a license plate. This killing had left hard feelings between law enforcement and the Hispanic community in California, feelings that increased as neither the police department, nor the FBI offered any hope of catching the killer.
The last victim, before Dabir, had been killed in Atlanta, Georgia. Doug Wilson had run a community center in a black neighborhood. A white man, he was initially mistrusted by the people he was interested in helping. Slowly, though, he had managed to prove himself, and the neighborhood had rallied around him when he fought against the drug dealers who openly plied their trade. For six years he had worked to create a community among the people, finding ways to keep kids off the streets, and help many stay in school. He had denounced many officials in the Atlanta area when they cut funding for many social programs. His intention, he announced, was to run for the city council in order to reverse those funding decisions. When the list of potential victims had been handed to the task force, Wilson's name had been number four on the list. He had been the second on the list to die when his car blew up in the parking lot of his apartment complex. The FBI investigation team, which had originally included Ken Thomas, had determined that the bomb was triggered by the vehicle ignition. When parts of the bomb were found and examined, it had fit no known bomber profile. Once again, there were few clues. A couple of people remembered a blue sedan that they had never seen before in the area, one with tinted windows. One woman said it had been in the parking lot the night before the bombing, and that she had seen a young white man with brown hair climb into the car. Sketches had been made, and compared to the very vague description of the individual seen in Baltimore. They had not matched.
Realizing that there was little, if any, new information on the other four investigation fronts, Alex began to relax. She leaned back in her seat, finishing her soda, and wondering why the deputy director had really wanted to sit in on their meeting. This was certainly not anywhere near how the task force usually conducted itself. In another room, down the hall from this one, they had set up a contol center, where they met at least twice a week. The walls in the room were covered with sheets of paper. The paper was in turn covered in names, dates, places, and other facts pertaining to the murders. The names of all the potential victims were on one long list next to the door. There were several computers in the room, along with other office equipment. During their meetings, the agents would find seats somewhere in the room. If it was a full crew of sixteen, there would always be a few people on the floor, or leaning against the wall. They'd review what they knew, and look at what they needed to know. After that, there would be brainstorming on what roads the investigation should take.
Background checks on the victims had yielded few results. Fingerprints on the rifle found in Baltimore had been negative, as had all fingerprint tests in Atlanta. There were no footprints found, and no tire tracks. Ken had traced a few of the Atlanta bomb components, but they had been sold at several discount hardware stores in the city. Cash had been paid, and no one had any memory of who bought them, or when.
The most productive line of inquiry, surprisingly, had been the list itself, but even that had given the agents little in the way of clues. While the letter attached to it had been delivered to the Washington Post, and the people who had handled it had left many fingerprints on it, they had also found several fingerprints that had not matched any of those known to have touched the letter, nor did they match any civil service employee. Also, the fingerprints had been found on both the letter and envelope, which ruled out the letter carrier. Other than that, however, there wasn't much. The post mark was from Georgetown, an exclusive area of D.C. The return address had turned out to be a closed gas station earmarked for demolition.
Alex's thoughts were dragged back to the present when she realized Cliff and Deputy Director Bishop had stopped the meeting. Bishop was thanking everyone for their time, and said that he'd present what he'd heard to his superiors. He left, and the room was silent for a moment.
The muttered word from Cliff broke the tension in the room, and many of the agents chuckled.
"All right. We've wasted most of the morning, and I have phone calls to make. Everyone get some lunch, but be back here this afternoon ready to work. We'll meet in Task Force Central, and put some new sheets on the walls. During lunch, try and study Alex's report; we'll go over it in depth later. Any questions?"
"Yeah, " David said. "Only Alex's report? I handed mine in."
"Yes, David, I know you did. But we both know you only copied Alex."
This brought more laughter from the agents. "Not all of it, Cliff. I mean, I changed a few words here and there."
"Yeah, like the name on the cover sheet." More laughter. "All right, get out of here, get food, read the report, and I'll see you at one."
Alex gathered her papers and followed David down the aisle and out the door. Cliff was waiting for her, and pulled her aside.
"Your Coke." He handed her the bottle. "Great job, by the way. All the facts set out, plain and simple."
"Thanks. I don't think Director Bishop liked it, though."
"Don't take it personally. The guy probably slept through most of it. He's been known to sleep with his eyes open."
"By the way, Alex, what time you plannin' on leaving tonight?"
"I don't know, Cliff, depends on when we finish the session, and when I get a couple of reports I'm waiting on. I should be getting a phone call from Philly at some point."
"Well, if you can stick around till six, I'd appreciate it. One of my connections finally came through, and I've got someone from the CIA coming in. He won't come during business hours, though, so we agreed on my office at six o'clock. I'd like you to be there. I'd ask David as well, but he insisted only one agent."
"That's fine. I can be there at six. Do you mind if I at least let David know? That way he'll know to expect me at his place if we get anything important."
"Fine. Just let him know that I could only have one of you at the meeting. I chose you 'cause I thought he'd want to get home to his wife. After all, you two were gone for quite a while."
"Yeah, we were. Wait, what are you saying, you chose me because David has a life and I don't?"
"No, no, absolutely not."
" It's just that lately, your job is your life."
"Oh, thanks, Cliff. You better watch it, I still have plenty of vacation I could use. How'd you like to lose me for a couple months?"
"I wouldn't. If I promise you another bottle of coke at the meeting, would you delay that vacation?"
She grinned. "Oh, I see your game now. Offer Alex a Coke, and she'll do anything."
Cliff shrugged. "It's the only bribe I have."
Alex shrugged back. "Just make sure it's cold. Vacation can wait."
She found David in his cubicle, on the phone.
"Right. Thanks, Rick. I'll be waiting for the fax. Bye." He hung up.
"What's up, Dave?"
He turned to regard his partner. "Well, for one thing, Ken's not sure about the diaper bag theory, but he's willing to take it into consideration. He's still waiting for Research, but they promised him a full report by the end of tonight. Rick called that clothes company. This is interesting. Kittredge is indeed their signature line, and it can be purchased at over a hundred stores on the east coast. However, the line of Klaser Coats, is a fairly recent release, and there are only four stores which sell that particular line."
"And those four stores are located where?"
"Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and Baltimore."
"Yep. I'm gonna give a call and find out what time they close. Feel like joining me on a short road trip?"
"I'd love to, but Cliff wants me to be at a meeting in his office at six. A contact of his might have information for us. He thought he'd give you the night to be with Miri."
"That was kind of him. Would you rather we took the trip tomorrow?"
"I don't know. Find out about their closing, and if you think it won't take you too long, go tonight. If they close early, you and I can always go tomorrow morning." She thought for a second. "On second thought, you might want to wait. Cliff seemed to think this contact might seriously have something. If he's right, I might want to brief you tonight."
David nodded. "Good idea. Should I pick you up tomorrow? Say, eight o'clock?"
"Do I hear nine?"
"Aw, don't tease, Dave, I'm still tired from the late flight. You're just lucky I was on time today."
"Okay, eight-thirty. But you're buying breakfast."
"Agreed. Now, are you ready for this bull session?"
"As prepared as I was for the previous BS session."
"Yeah, well, do me a favor. Just don't bring up the diaper bag, okay? I don't feel like being laughed out of the room today."
"I'm telling you, Alex, I'm right."
"Okay. You're right. But if you tell these guys that you have a suspect based on diapers that weren't there. . ."
"Yeah, yeah. I'll keep my mouth shut. Now, where are we going for lunch?"
"Is that all you think about?" Alex looked at David with exasperation.
"No." He waited a moment. Alex's stomach growled. "But I think that's all the monster in there thinks about. I just try to keep it satisfied."
Alex’s face reddened, and she smacked David's arm. They were both laughing as they headed for the elevator.
Alex and her fellow agents were much more alert and enthusiastic at their afternoon meeting. Instead of jackets, most everyone was in shirt sleeves; there were also a few open collars and many loosened ties. The atmosphere was also different as people seemed more relaxed, and obviously paid much closer attention.
Alex again had to marvel at the team they had become. While the task force had originally consisted of Cliff and four agents, it had now grown to nearly three times that many. There were two agents for each victim, with several more helping out with research and organization, as well as staying in contact with other potential vicims. Today, the meeting mainly consisted of those pairs of agents who were working on each individual killing. Tom Jorgen and Rudy Wilkins had been two of the original team members, assigned to the murder of Steven Fletcher. Mark Garnett and Ben Cleves had drawn duty on the death of Max Rhodes. The drive-by shooting of Mario Arturo had been assigned to Bill Tucker and his partner Victor Juarez, who was a native of southern California. The bombing of Doug Wilson had been handed over to Steve Hentgen and Louis Baker, who were both bomb experts. Until the past weekend, Alex and David, along with Ken Thomas and several others, had been extra hands for the team. Now, with Dabir dead,they had their own victim and their own case.
Alex and David were both surprised to hear that there had been new developments not mentioned in the earlier meeting. This included fibers found in the magazine tube of the rifle used to kill Max Rhodes.
"What kind of fibers, Mark?"
"First impressions from the lab said they were a synthetic wool blend. They were dyed a beige, or tan color."
"Have they made any matches with manufacturers?"
"None yet, Steve. It doesn't help that we don't know what they're from."
There was silence in the room, then Alex spoke up.
"Any reason why?"
"Well, first reason, why not? It's a starting place. Secondly, I know it's a long shot, but the overcoat we found in Philly was a synthetic wool blend, and tan in color." She shrugged. "Like I said, a place to start."
"Good thinking. Anyone I should call on this?"
"Yeah, call Rick Price at the Philly office. He found the manufacturer for us, and David and I are going to one of their outlets tomorrow."
"They have an outlet in DC?"
"No. In Baltimore. Which is another reason to start with overcoats."
Mark nodded. "I'll call the lab and make the suggestion." He leaned over to write a note on a wall sheet.
Alex decided to ask the question. "Can someone tell me why we didn't hear this in the meeting this morning?"
The agents all looked at each other. Steve shrugged. "We kind of came to the conclusion, during your presentation, that Bishop didn't give a shit. We just wanted to get the reports done, so we could get to the real stuff in here."
Alex shook her head. "I didn't think he was listening either. Kind of makes me wonder why he wanted to be there anyway."
There was a grumble in the room, and Cliff let it be for a moment. Then he stood up. "All right, enough. Who cares what Bishop wanted. I want suspects. I want leads. Bill, anything from California?"
"Actually, yes. I got a call from a detective in LA. He said he had a kid dead to rights on being the driver on two different drive-bys. The kid wanted to plead, and offered him the name of the shooter in the killing of some, quote, important spic, end quote. They're pretty sure he's talking about Arturo. Vic and I are gonna take the red-eye tonight, and see if this is for real or not."
"Finally, maybe a break." Cliff ran his hand through his hair. "Check with the JD, but I don't think they'll deny him a deal on any federal charges, as long as he gives up the shooter."
David nodded. "Let's hope the shooter's still alive. And I'd get this guy under cover as quick as possible. We already know that these people aren't afraid to take out their own killers."
Bill just stared at him for a minute. "Shit, you're right. Hey, Cliff, think we can get a couple Marshalls to sit on this guy till I get there?"
"Good idea. I'll give a call as soon as we're finished. They had the guy in solitary, didn't they?"
"Yeah. They didn't think word was out yet, but they had him stashed just in case."
"Good. All right, anything else we need to go over?"
No one said anything.
"Okay. I'll go call California. You guys can brainstorm, or follow up anything you might have. At this point, hunches are allowable.I want answers people. That's all."
Cliff took a final look at his team, then left. The silence lasted nearly a full minute, then Steve pulled his chair closer to David.
"So, Dave, what was this about a diaper bag theory?"
Alex groaned, putting her hand over her eyes. Fortunately, she was spared further embarrassment. A secretary told her she had a phone call from Philly.
"Alex, it's Ken. There should be a fax coming through for you. When you get it, you're gonna wanna sit down before you read it."
"Why, what's up, Ken?"
"It's the report on the background of Mr. Kyle Brogan. And I gotta tell you, David's idea may not be as far fetched as it sounds."
"You'll get the full report in the fax, but to cut things short, let me just tell you two things. Number one, David was right, Brogan carried the diaper bag into the bank, I saw the surveillance tape. Two, Kyle Brogan's cousin is Mallory Gerlach.."
Alex was stunned. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. Brogan keeps his distance from the guy nowadays, but there was a time when he was being groomed to take one of the top spots in the organization. However, he decided to move from Idaho to the east coast for college. But he didn't leave his family behind. His younger cousin, Derek came east with him. He changed his name, though."
Alex felt her knees give way, and she dropped into the chair beside her desk. "You mean Kyle Brogan is related to Mallory Gerlach, and Derek White?"
"You got it. Everything else is in the report. I think you should read it as soon as you can."
"Thanks, Ken. I'll see if it's in yet, and then I'll go rescue David."
"What's wrong with Dave?"
"The guys found out about his theory. They were razzing him when I left to take your call."
"Well, they might want to close their mouths. It wouldn't surprise me if Dave was right on this time."
"God, that's a scary thought, isn't it?"
She was walking slowly and reading the report when she heard the laughter coming from the task force workroom.
"Wait, wait, wait. Are you telling me that you suspect this guy because there wasn't a diaper bag in the car?" Alex wasn't yet through the door, but could see David's nod in her mind.
"Shit, Dave, I'd be more suspicious if there was a diaper bag." There was general laughter in the room.
Alex stopped in the doorway, noticing that Cliff had rejoined the men.
David wasn't happy, she could tell. "Look, I didn't say I had proof, but . . ."
"But what, Dave? I know I wouldn't carry a damn diaper bag."
"You don't have kids, Steve."
"All right, stop it." Cliff interrupted. "It's an interesting theory, Dave, and with you being the only man on the team with a young kid, it's an idea none of us would have had. Problem is, there's nothing to back up your suspicion."
Alex caught David's eye and gave him a wink. You owe me, she mouthed at him. "Cliff, that may not be completely true."
Everyone turned their attention on her. Cliff turned to meet her eyes.
"What are you talking about, Alex?"
"You know, Ken didn't like this guy either, even before Dave had his . . . idea. So, he ordered a background check, and told Research to be thorough. And they were."
Steve grinned at her. "What did they find, Alex? Was he a babysitter when he was a teenager?"
"I don't know, Steve. But I doubt his cousin was."
"Yeah, Mallory Gerlach. You know, the leader of the Aryan Resistance League?"
Nobody said anything. Then Cliff cleared his throat.
"What exactly are you talking about?"
"Research came through. I just got the report. Kyle Brogan, our friend in Philly, is the cousin of Mallory Gerlach. And not a distant cousin, either. When Gerlach's father Thomas was at the height of his career in Idaho's Nazi ranks, his second in command was his Mallory, but his third was Brogan."
There was still silence in the room, so Alex continued.
"When he was fifteen, Brogan took part in the beating of a young Jewish man outside of Boise. He pleaded no contest, and was sentenced to six months probation.That was the only time he was convicted, but not the last time he was suspected. When he was eighteen he and three others were arrested for the murder of a rabbi in Oregon. There wasn't enough evidence to take it to trial, and all four of them, including Gerlach, were released.Two months later, Brogan was on the podium when his uncle passed the reins of the group to Mallory. The next day there was a rally, which became a riot. Witnesses accused Brogan of wielding a baseball bat in the middle of the fight. No charges were brought."
She looked around the room at the stunned faces. Steve's mouth was hanging open, and his eyes were blinking rapidly. Mark's pen, which he'd been twirling, had dropped to the floor. Cliff was just sitting, very very still.
It was actually David who broke the silence. "Okay, so how did Brogan get out to Pennsylvania?"
"He left to go to college. He went to Penn State, where he majored in Communications. After graduation in 1992, he got a job with a RyeTech, a brand new telecommunications company. He went back to Idaho for his cousin's marriage in '94, but hasn't been back since."
That got Cliff out of his silence. "So, if he hasn't been in touch with his family, maybe he's no longer involved, and this was just a coincidence."
Alex frowned. "It could be a coincidence, sir, but I never said Brogan wasn't in touch with his family. He keeps in very close contact with his younger cousin, who moved to Alabama."
David rubbed his chin. "I don't remember any Gerlach involved in anything in Alabama."
"That's because there isn't. He changed his named when he left Idaho. In 1994 he officially became Derek White. And if you're wondering, yes, he was recently named Director of Whites for America, in Birmingham."
Again, it seemed no one had anything to say. Steve finally got his mouth to close, and Rudy, who had been leaning against a back wall, leaned forward to slap David on the back.
"I'll never laugh at your hunches again, Agent Wu."
It was just a couple of minutes after six when Alex approached Cliff Jackson's office. The outer office had been empty, Cliff's secretary having left at five. The inner office door was closed, and Alex hesitated for just a moment before rapping gently.
She had to admit she felt just a touch of trepidation. There wasn't much that scared Alex, but being involved with the CIA was one thing that did. Her college study of the agency had been thorough, and she had found things that she couldn't, or didn't want to, believe.There had been rumors that the CIA had paid assassins on their staff, but Alex had held the proof of that in her hands. She knew a few secrets that the general public wasn't privy to. It was just enough to make her breath come a little faster as she waited for an answer to her knock.
The door opened and Cliff looked down at his agent. "You're late."
"Sorry. I was rereading the report on Brogan. I think David and I should go interview him."
"Agreed, but we'll talk about that tomorrow." He stood aside and motioned her into the office. "Right now, I want to introduce you to Agent Ron Graves, and Teren Mylos."
Alex reached to shake hands with Graves. His hand was firm, squeezing hers a bit more than necessary, and it was slightly damp. She looked him at him squarely, and noticed that his eyes didn't rest on hers for longer than a moment. Then she turned to meet the other person in the office, and nearly bit her tongue in half.
Teren Mylos was sitting comfortably in the chair closest to the wall. While the office was well-lit, Teren seemed to have found the one corner that held any shadows. Her black jacket blended in with her obsidian hair, which fell just past her collar. Teren remained seated, almost sprawling in her chair, but Alex could still tell by the long legs that this woman was tall, probably half a foot taller than she was. She could also tell that the air of ease that Teren projected was just that: a projection. Behind the comfortable sprawl was coiled viper .
As Teren leaned over to shake Alex's hand, her bright blue eyes met Alex's green ones, and Alex had in instant of recognition. She put it aside and took the chair Cliff pointed her to.
"This is Special Agent Alexia Reis. She's a member of the task force, and was the Agent in Charge in Phladelphia. She's the one that discovered Perry Watson's I.D. and the fact that it didn't match the shooter who had used it. Agent Reis, Mr. Graves here says there's no way that Mr. Watson is involved."
"Really? And how is that, Mr. Graves?"
"Because, Agent Reis, Perry Watson is dead. Has been for six months." Graves voice had a higher pitch than she'd expected, with an irritating nasal whine.
"Are you sure?"
"Quite. But I will tell you that his body was not recovered. That means his I.D. was not recovered either. It's possible someone took his badge, and used it."
"No, they used parts of his badge." Cliff said. "It was altered to appear as FBI identification."
"But, Mr. Graves," Alex interrupted, "if you didn't recover the body, how do you know he's really dead?"
"Because I killed him."
The statement was made quietly, spoken in low tones by the woman in shadows.
Alex met her eyes. "May I ask why?"
"Because he asked me to."
There was a tense pause. Cliff coughed gently.
"Could we ask about the situation, Ms. Mylos? It might help clarify how his badge ended up in our killer's hands."
Teren fixed her eyes on the desk. "Perry was my partner. We were on an assignment to infiltrate a terrorist organization. They were dealing drugs for weapons, and the weapons were coming from somewhere in eastern Europe. We were to infiltrate, and take out the head of the organization, along with the head of the Asian cartel who was supplying the drugs. We had almost completed our objective when our cover was blown. Instead of two quick kills, it turned into a blood bath. Perry took a bullet in his spine, I got one in the shoulder and another in the abdomen. I barely made it to the extraction point. Perry, knowing he wouldn't make it out, asked me to shoot him." She raised her head to meet Alex's eyes. "I did."
Alex listened carefully as Teren spoke. She took note of the even tone, and the lack of inflection in the voice. It matched the emotionless features on Teren's face. She suddenly realized Teren was one of those fabled CIA assassins.
"I would gather, Ms. Mylos, that you are not currently working for the Agency?"
It was Graves that answered. "That is correct, Agent Jackson. Due to injuries sustained in her last assignment, Teren has been placed on inactive status. Currently she teaches Karate and self-defense to both CIA and FBI agents, making sure they keep up their certifications. I brought her along this evening because I thought she would be useful in explaining why Perry Watson was definitely not your suspect."
Cliff nodded. Alex was still examining Teren. "Is there anything else you can tell us, Ms. Mylos?"
Teren returned the look. She nodded. "I believe there is, Agent Reis."
Alex noticed Graves become tense. "Please, continue."
"I've been aware of what happened in Philadelphia. I've also seen the sketches of your shooter and his driver. While I'm not positive of the driver, I'm fairly certain I know the shooter."
"Can you give me a name?"
"His name was George Mather. I can't prove it was him, but the sketches match him almost perfectly."
"What can you tell us about Mr. Mather?"
"Well, he used to live here in Washington, but he packed up his apartment about eight months ago. I'm not sure where he moved to, but I know he was in New York for a short while, possibly when Mr. Fletcher was killed."
"You think he could have been the shooter there?"
"Anybody could have been the shooter, Agent Reis. But George was known to dislike gays, he was definitely a killer, and his skill with a rifle was well-known. He also owned a Romanian Dremov semi-automatic rifle with a sniper's scope. It takes the same kind of ammunition as your shooter used in New York."
"Sounds like you knew him pretty well."
Teren shrugged. "I thought I knew him."
Alex leaned forward. "You thought? What does that mean? Was he a fellow agent?"
Graves was visibly tense, and he reached out. Teren knocked his hand away.
"Yeah, George was an agent. He was the one that blew my and Perry's cover."
Graves interrupted. "Uh, Agent Reis, George Mather is not currently a CIA agent. He disappeared in eastern Europe shortly after the death of Mr. Watson. According to the Agency he is listed as missing while undercover. His current whereabouts are unknown."
"Well, Mr. Graves, it looks like we might have found him for you." Agent Graves frown deepened at Cliff's statement.
Alex and Teren were still staring at each other. No one spoke.
Cliff was the first one to break the silence. "Is there anyway we can prove that this man in Philadelphia was or was not George Mather?"
The CIA man scratched his head. "Well, I suppose we can give you access to his dental records. But I'm not positive about that. It'll be up to my superior, of course."
"Of course." Cliff noticed Alex and Teren hadn't blinked in their staring contest. "Any other questions you'd like to ask Ms. Mylos, Agent Reis?"
"Several. I also thought I'd show her the tape from Philadelphia. That should give us a witness I.D. Would you have time for a conversation, Ms. Mylos?"
"I teach an evening class at seven thirty, so I can't give you too long, but I'll answer what I can."
"Um, Teren, I don't --" Graves voice was pitched even higher than normal. Teren interrupted him.
"I know the rules, Ron. Anything that goes into security, or previous operations, or could possibly endanger another agent, is off limits. I believe that Agent Reis knows the rules, don't you?" She gave a hint of a smile for the first time, and suddenly Alex knew where they'd met before.
Alex nodded. "Yes, Ms. Mylos, I know the rules. Would you follow me to my office, please?"
"Lead the way."
Cliff was left to politely bid Mr. Graves a goodnight.
Alex wound her way through the maze of cubicles to the one that served as her office, with the taller woman behind her. She motioned for Teren to sit in the extra chair, while she slid behind her desk.
"So, Agent Reis, have you figured it out yet?"
Alex opened her notebook, and looked up. "Figured what out?"
"Where you know me from."
Sitting back, Alex nodded. "You were one of the agents that agreed to speak with me when I was doing my CIA paper in grad school. I suppose I should thank you for your help then. It was that paper, along with my thesis, that got me noticed by the FBI."
"Glad to help. I am surprised you decided to work for the government, though, after everything you learned from us."
"Well, I will say you definitely discouraged any desire to work for the Agency. But the Bureau seemed a challenge, and I've done well here, I think."
Teren gave her an amused smile. "Yes, you have. I must say, when Graves called me in and told me what you found, he was very upset. He's not used to having mistakes come back to haunt him."
"Yes. It was Ron's decision to send Mather with Perry and I to eastern Europe. Both of us told him we didn't trust the guy. It's taken me the last few months to be able to sit in the same room and not want to rip out Ron's throat."
The blatant admission surprised Alex, but she didn't show it. "I imagine losing your partner was hard. It must have been worse to realize you'd also been betrayed."
"It wasn't pleasant. So, what questions do you have, Agent Reis?"
"Please, call me Alex. You indicated you might have an idea who the driver of the car was. Unfortunately, he doesn't show on the video tape, but we do have a few sketches."
"I know, I've seen them. Like I said, I'm not sure. But it might be Darryl Wilford. He was George's brother-in-law. He was blond, medium build. Wanted to get into the Agency, but he flunked out. He idolized George."
"If he wasn't Agency, then I could probably get records without a problem, right?"
"Maybe. I don't see why not."
Teren watched Alex as she jotted down Darryl Wilford's name. She wondered if the FBI agent would ask her the right questions.
"Did Mather or Wilford have any tattoos?"
An eyebrow rose on the face of the darker woman. That was one Reis got right. "I know that George had two tattoos. I'm not sure about Wilford."
"Could you tell me the location, and what the tattoos were?"
"One was a spiderweb, on his leg."
"His leg? Normally, when someone gets a spiderweb tattoo it means they've killed someone, normally a black person or a Jew. The web goes on an arm, as a badge, so others can see it."
"Right, but George knew the agency wouldn't like it, so he had his put on his right thigh."
"Unfortunately, not much flesh was left on the legs of our shooter. Do you know if he -- how shall I say this -- 'earned' the spiderweb?"
"Yes, he did. Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to say more."
"I see. What about the other tattoo?"
"It was on the underside of the upper arm. Double lightning bolts. And I don't suppose I need to tell you what they mean."
"Did you find them?"
"So, may I presume, from the tattoos, and your statements, that George Mather was involved in the Nazi movement?"
"You may. But you'd be wrong."
"Mather wasn't involved in any cause. He wasn't a Nazi, he wasn't a white supremacist, and the only cause he believed in was his own. I'm not saying he wasn't prejudiced; he was. Like I said earlier, he hated gays, and I know he wasn't fond of blacks or Jews. But he killed for money. He joined groups because they paid him. He got cash for doing something he liked doing."
"So, why the tattoos, then?"
"Why not? If they wanted to think he was a part of them, he would have let them think that. No reason not to. But if someone outside had offered him money to kill someone in the group, he'd have taken it."
"Do you know how much he would have been paid for a hit?"
"Depending on the target, and the location, anywhere between forty and a hundred thousand dollars."
"Yes. Or an electronic transfer. They would have had to deposit it directly into his account."
"And the hit would be made after payment was accepted?"
Alex made a note to herself to call Research about financial records, then leaned back in her chair.
"What can tell me about Mather's family, or his friends? Where did he hang out, who --"
"I'm sorry, Agent Reis. George's wife died two years ago. They never had kids. George's parents have been dead for years, and he didn't have any brothers or sisters. He was close to his wife's family, but they haven't seen him, or Darryl, since the incident in Eastern Europe. I don't know anything about his social life; it's not like we were close."
"I take it you've been reseaching this."
"I've been looking for the son of a bitch for six months. I gotta tell you, finding out he'd been killed didn't make me happy. I'd been looking forward to making him bleed."
Both of them were quiet. Alex tapped her pen against her notebook. Teren dropped her eyes to the floor, a little embarrassed at what for her was an emotional outburst.
When Alex finally spoke, it was in a subdued voice. "Is there anything else you can tell me, Ms. Mylos?"
"Only this. I might have a line on where Mather was staying. I have a hunch it'll tell you a little more about who he was working for. When I find it, I'll call you."
"I'm not sure I understand. The man who betrayed you is dead. Why would you have any further interest in this matter?"
"Cause if anyone was going to take out George Mather it should have been me. Now I guess I'll have to settle for finding the guys who paid him to do what he did."
"You mean the people who paid him to kill Reginald Dabir?"
"No. I mean the people who paid him to rat on his fellow agents. Like I said, George liked money. He wouldn't have given us up if there wasn't something in it for him. I want to know where the money came from. But if I find something that will be helpful to you I'll let you know."
"Is there any possibility the same group paid him for both jobs?"
The question silenced Teren, and she took a full minute to think about it. Again the agent had asked the right question.
"I think that's a strong possibility. However, I can't discuss anything to do with the operation, and therefore I can't tell you why I believe it might be true."
"I understand. But remember this. If they are the same people, then we're on the same side. And I want to get these fuckers as much as you do."
Teren could tell that Alex absolutely believed in her statement. But she knew better.
She gave the smaller woman an ironic smile. "I doubt it."
They stared silently at each other for a moment more, then Alex cleared her throat.
"Would you care to see the video now?"
Alex could feel Teren's eyes on her back as they walked down the hall to the tape room.
Just as she was leaving her office for the night, the phone rang. With a groan, Alex picked it up, while dropping back into her chair.
"Alex, what the hell are you still doing there at 7: 10 in the evening? I thought you said this meeting probably wouldn't take too long?"
"Well, David, I was wrong." She waited for David to say more, but he was quiet.
"Are you okay, partner?"
"Yeah, I'm all right. I'm just tired. But I'll be on my way to your house in a few minutes. We've got a few things to talk about."
"No, I don't think that's a good idea. You sound way low on reserves. Why don't you lay it all out for me in the morning when I pick you up?"
"I'm really okay, Dave."
"Right. And I'm running for President. Get real."
She had to laugh. "All right, so I feel like crap. A long bath and a warm bed sound pretty good. Much better than dragging my ass all the way to your place."
"Sounds better to me, too. After all, when you show up looking tired, Miri pays more attention to you than me."
"She does not."
"Does too. Hey, how about a little teaser, huh? Did Mr. CIA have anything for us?"
"No. But Ms. CIA had some interesting stuff."
"Ms? Uh, oh. Were you working your charms on her, Alex? Is that why you're so tired?"
"No way. I'd probably get frostbite if I tried to charm her. Either that or a cement overcoat."
"Yeah. But the good news is, she I.D.'d the shooter, and gave us a good line on who the driver was. Seems she's been looking for the guy, herself."
"Seems he blew the lid on an undercover operation she was involved in, and someone died."
"Her partner, Perry Watson."
Alex could hear David tapping his pencil. "Is there more?"
"Yes. Do you want me to come over tonight, or can you wait 'til tomorrow?"
"I guess I can wait. You will be ready at eight-thirty, right?"
"Are you bringing breakfast?"
"Don't I always?"
"Yep, I'll be ready. Probably not awake, but ready."
Alex pulled her short coat tighter against her as she exited the building. The weather recently had been nice during the day, but this late in the evening the season was obvious. February was usually cold and snowy. So far, flakes hadn't fallen, but Alex wouldn't be surprised if there was white on the ground by morning.
She began the walk to the Metro station, her briefcase hanging from a strap on her shoulder. She wished she'd remembered to grab her hat before she left home that morning. She'd remembered gloves, though, and she gratefully stopped to pull them from her pocket. As she slid them over her cold fingers, she felt it.
There was an itching on her back, right in the middle. It was an odd feeling, one she didn't like. It felt as though someone was watching her.
Cautiously, and slowly, she turned around to look back in the direction of the door she'd come out of. There was no one there.
It wasn't as though the streets were empty. Several young men with overcoats and attache cases brushed past her, and one stopped to hail a cab. Many others were walking along, minding their own business.There didn't appear to be anyone watching her. But she could still feel that itch.
She shook her head, and resumed walking, trying to ignore the fear that was beginning to settle into her stomach. As she headed down the stairs into the station, she quickly glanced up and behind her. There was no one there. The feeling began sliding away.
With a sigh, she entered the turnstile, then headed for the platform to wait for the next train to DuPont. As she went down the final flight of stairs, the feeling of being watched returned, this time very strong. Once again, surreptitious glances revealed no one, but her senses were on full alert, and she felt herself move with a quickened step.
When she got to the platform, Alex leaned against the wall near where the front of the train would pull to a stop. There, she shifted her briefcase, and unbuttoned her coat. Her hand stayed in front of her, within easy reach of the gun she carried in a shoulder holster. The feeling was still there, though not as strong. It didn't go away, and she didn't move.
The train pulled in to the station, and Alex listened to the loudspeaker confirm that it was headed to DuPont. She didn't move. She waited until most of the people were either into the cars, or headed for the stairs, then she took a good look around. Again, no one appeared to be watching her.
Just as the bell sounded that the doors were closing, Alex shot away from the wall, and onto the first car. The doors closed immediately behind her, almost on the back end of her briefcase. She turned back to the door, watching as the train began to move and the view of the station was replaced with the dark cement of the underground tunnel. She waited for a moment longer, feeling the fear dissipate as the itch in her back disappeared. She sat down opposite the doors and stared at them thoughtfully.
Could she have just been paranoid? After all, she'd had an assassin sitting in her office tonight. Anyone would be nervous after that. She could have just been scaring herself, right?
But then again, she'd had an assassin in her office. An assassin that had seemed to exude shadows even in the well lit office cubicles. And Alex's instincts were very good.
Suddenly feeling exhausted, Alex settled into her seat and leaned her head against the window. The feeling of being watched was gone, and hadn't come back since she boarded the train. Once she got to her stop, it wasn't a long walk home, and before she knew it, she'd be in that hot bath, with Appleby doing his balancing act on the rim of the tub.
But even as she waited, she kept her coat open, and her hand resting just inside it.
Just in case.
Teren Mylos watched the FBI agent as she went down the steps at the Metro station. She'd been surprised to realize that the agent was aware of being followed. She waited near the top of the stairs, counting slowly to ten, then walked down the flight. She saw her quarry pass through the turnstile, and she got into a long line of people waiting to do the same. Again, she noticed Agent Reis looking around her cautiously. She waited until Reis reached the platform before descending to it herself.
Standing well back in the shadows near the stairs, Teren had a good look at Alex. Her back was to a wall, and she'd unbuttoned her coat. Knowing her gun was within easy reach of Alex's hand, Teren almost smiled. Almost exactly what she would have done.
She had to give Reis credit, when she jumped onto the train at the last minute. By being in the first car, it was the first one to leave the station, taking the agent out of shooting range, if anyone was inclined to do that. It also prevented anyone else from boarding the train after Alex. By waiting so long, Alex had made her pursuer wonder if she was going to board the train at all. That could have left the hunter standing while her or his quarry rode safely away.
Again, Teren smiled. That would only work, she thought, if the hunter didn't know where the woman was going. If he or she did know, then they'd be waiting for Alex at DuPont Circle. That could be dangerous for the small agent.
Good thing the hunter wasn't really hunting.
As she climbed the stairs back up to the station, Teren found herself impressed that Alex had known she was there. She knew she should have been able to conceal herself from the likes of Alex Reis, but she hadn't been able to pull it off. It had appeared that Reis knew she was being followed almost from the moment she'd left the FBI building. Unusual, unexpected, but Teren was not unhappy that the younger agent had demonstrated the ability to sense her surroundings. It had been her own strong senses that had kept her alive many times. She hoped the same technique would keep Alex safe as well.
After all, Alex appeared to be a damn good FBI agent. She was quick, and smart, and not easily intimidated. Teren knew that was going to be important if Alex was to solve her current case. And Teren wanted it solved. She knew that the people behind Perry's death were probably behind many more. She wanted Alex to lead her to them.
Of course, then Teren and Alex would have a problem. Alex would want the guilty party taken to jail. Teren would want them taken to the morgue.
Teren glanced at her watch. It was almost seven-thirty. She'd be late to her class, but if she hurried, she could be there by quarter 'til. Already constructing her excuse, Teren slid behind the wheel of her Nissan, and pulled away from the curb.
To Be Continued
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