Conspiracy of Swords
Disclaimers for Conspiracy of Swords: Please see Chapter One.
Appleby appeared to be considering his options. First, his food dish was still half-full, and he could go eat. Second, his catnip mouse was sitting right next to his water dish, where he'd left it when he finished attacking it in the middle of the night. But it was beginning to lose its catnip smell, and he didn't fell like batting it around right now. Besides, there was other game afoot.
His human had left a pair of pants and a shirt hanging off the edge of her bed. That in itself was interesting, but what really captivated the cat's eyes was the belt. It hung off the end of the bed, teasing him. Finally he couldn't resist, and he attacked, grabbing the belt in his paws and pulling. He was gratified to feel his prey begin dropping towards him.
But what he didn't know was that the belt was already looped around the waist of the pants on the bed, and as he kept pulling, Appleby looked up to suddenly see an avalanche of material heading towards him. For a split second he hesitated. It was long enough for the pair of pants to land on his head. He was so startled, he took off across the floor, dragging the cloth with him, until finally he escaped its clutches near the bedroom door. He stopped, looking back at the offending item, and slapped a paw at it. It didn't move.
Feeling proud of himself for vanquishing his foe, and now bored with his former prey, he sauntered off to the kitchen, deciding food sounded good after all.
Alex came out of the bathroom with wet hair, and only her underwear on. She found her pants on the floor. "Appleby! You're a brat, cat!" Sighing, she picked up her clothes, noting that the belt had now been pulled tight through the loops, the buckle forcing the material to bunch together. She was pulling everything back into shape when the phone rang.
"Hey, sweety, it's Sarah."
"I knew it was you. Only you would have the nerve to call this early in the morning when I'm not even fully awake."
"Yeah, good morning to you, too. Where were you last night? I've been trying to get ahold of you for days, and you call in the middle of the day when you know very well neither one of us is home."
"Yeah, well, sorry, Mom, but I was with Dad most of the time."
"Alex, just tell me you're okay."
"Yeah. Remember what we learned about the word 'fine'?"
"'Fine' means you're 'fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.' "
"Yeah, that about covers me this past week."
"And what about now?"
"Now? Are you kidding? I'm great. I got to play with Arlea last night."
"So you were at David's."
"Yeah. And the night before I slept through your call. I'm sorry, Sarah, I should have called you Monday night, but I got home late and just didn't feel like talking to anybody."
"Well, you're forgiven."
"But only on one condition."
"Don't forget you're coming to dinner tonight."
"Oh, please, Sarah, no. I really don't have the energy to spare for this."
"Tough. Besides, Maggie wants to see you. She's planning on that chicken and pasta dish you love so much, you know, with the chives and tomatoes?"
"Yeah?" For a moment she was tempted. Then she remembered the other reason they wanted her there. "No. Not if this is a dinner for four."
"Oh, come on. You haven't been over here in ages. I'm beginning to forget what you look like."
"I'll come over, but only if it's just going to be the three of us."
"Well, it will. For a few minutes, anyway."
"And then this other friend of ours is coming over. She's great, you'll love her. She teaches a class at the women's center, and that's how Maggie and I met her. She's really very charming."
"So was Sylvia." That was one name guaranteed to get a rise out of Sarah since that evening had been an unmitigated disaster.
"Alex, how was I supposed to know Sylvia had a split personality?"
"And wasn't Leah just super as well?"
"Hey, you liked Leah. You even said so."
"Yeah, I did. Right up until the moment I had to arrest her that weekend."
"Well, I didn't know she'd embezzled that money."
"I know." Alex struggled into her pants, and gripped the phone between her ear and her shoulder as she buckled her belt. "But I gotta tell you, babe, past incidents have led me to have little faith in your matchmaking attempts."
She could tell Sarah was pouting. "Fine. Don't think of it as matchmaking, then. Think of it as just a dinner with three friends, one of whom you've never met before."
"Sarah. . ." Alex let her voice trail off. She knew she couldn't really say no.
"Please, Alex. We miss you."
That did it. "All right. What time?"
"Seven. And thanks. I think you're really going to enjoy yourself."
"Remember, you said no matchmaking."
"Right. I won't say a word."
"But she's beautiful, and you'll love her."
"Sure. Just like Carol, and Ann, and -- "
"I'm hanging up now, Alex."
"Tanya, and Beth --"
They hung up. Alex turned to see Appleby calmly washing his face in the door to her bedroom. She sighed. "You're lucky, cat. If she hadn't called right then, I might have skinned you."
He gave her the cat equivalent of a raised eyebrow, and went back to licking his paws.
"Yeah, I don't believe me either."
She pulled on her shirt, and finished getting ready for work.
For the first time in her memory, Alex was actually into the office before David. Normally he was always there, and waiting when she walked in. Today, however, due to the snow, everyone was going to be late. It was one of the reasons Alex took the Metro. She didn't have to worry about snow on the roads.
She decided to take the morning to go over the rest of the reports she'd gotten from Jenny. Although Jenny had said it was still incomplete, Alex was nonetheless intrigued by what she was finding. She was enjoying some tidbits about Teren Mylos, former CIA operative and assassin, now turned karate instructor. For one thing, her birth name had been Terentia Mylanos, but she had shortened it while in her early twenties.
Teren Mylos had no relatives living in the United States, though she did have several cousins in Greece. She had grown up the daughter of a history professor. Her mother was a homemaker who eventually set up her own small accounting company. Her brother, who was just a year younger than her, had died when he was just nine. He had been born with a malfunctioning heart valve, and he'd actually lived much longer than the doctors had expected.
Teren's father was killed in an auto accident when she was eighteen. Her mother had suffered a stroke just a year later, and by her twentieth birthday, Teren was the only one of her family left. She completed her college degree in political science and American studies at George Washington University in 1989, at the age of twenty-one. The records indicated that she was recruited by several government agencies, including the FBI and the DEA. She had chosen the Central Intelligence Agency, and had virtually disappeared.
Medical records from six months before indicated that Teren Mylos had been admitted to Bethesda Medical Center as a military transfer from an air base in Germany. There was nothing to indicate how she had been injured, but the wounds had been severe, the gunshot to her abdomen leaving her with only one kidney. She'd been released from the hospital after three weeks. It was not known if she would return to active status or not.
"What the heck is this?"
Alex looked up at the sound of Cliff's voice. "Morning, Cliff."
"Morning. What are you doing in so early?"
"Early? I got here on time; everybody else is late."
"Yeah, well, you would be, too, if you had to drive in this crap."
"I thought the storm was supposed to end soon."
"Oh, it has. Ended about an hour ago. But it'll take 'til this afternoon to get everything cleared up."
"See, that's why I don't drive. Metro doesn't have anything to clean up."
"Uh-huh. Sure." He sat in the chair next to her desk. "Whatcha reading?"
"The rest of Jenny's report. This part is on our friend Mylos."
"Not really. General background. I didn't think we'd get anything important."
"Anything there to suggest she's in on this stuff, or does her story check out?"
"All I know is she got shot, and lost a kidney because of it. Doesn't say how."
"So, what do you think? Is she on the level?"
Alex thought about that. "I think she is. I can't say I trust her; I mean how do you trust someone who you know is a killer?"
"But, I don't think she's involved in whatever Mather and Wilford were up to. I believed her when she said she wanted to be the one to kill Mather."
"I would, too. But the other morning you said you thought she knew something she wasn't telling. Still get that feeling?"
"Well, I haven't talked to her since then, so I don't know. What I do know is that she thinks the same men are behind both these killings, and her partner's death. Now, she was pretty cryptic about it, but she said there was something that made her think they were connected. She couldn't talk about it because it happened during the operation."
"Hm." Cliff put his elbow up on the desk, and rested his chin on his fist. "So, do you think, if we offer to share resources with her, she'd share her knowledge with us?"
Alex blinked. "Well, I suppose so. She said she had a line on the place Mather was staying, and if she got the info, she'd call me."
"That would be nice. Wilford's place was a bust."
"Yeah. He lived there months ago, but moved out. Somebody else rented it, and Wilford was paying them to collect his mail. He'd drop by every other week and pick it up. We picked it up for him last night. Nothing interesting."
"Yeah." Cliff was quiet. "You know, Mylos worked Mark over pretty good."
"You mean in that class?"
"I told him not to mess around in there."
"I know. He said he didn't, that she must have just not liked him. She first paired him with another student who was having trouble, and the next thing he knew he was being used as a punching bag in a demonstration. His eye is gonna look really colorful today."
"He must have done something. I mean, she didn't seem like the kind of person to beat up on someone for no reason."
"Well, he says he didn't. But he did say she's one hell of an instructor. Said he learned more about hand-to-hand last night than he did in his training at the academy."
"From what I saw yesterday morning I wouldn't be surprised."
The two of them were silent for a few moments, then Cliff stood. "Well, I just wanted to check in. See how you were feeling."
He nodded. "Good. You know, that was a brilliant piece of deduction yesterday. On the photo, I mean."
"Aw, hell, Cliff, I studied those pictures so often, I sometimes see them in my sleep."
"Not often, though. But seriously, I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to make the connection."
"Don't worry about it. I'm still not sure how you did it, anyway."
"I guess the question now is, what are we going to do about it? I mean, Cliff, we know Mather and Wilford were at a rifle tournament sponsored by Whites for America. We know that Derek White was there. It's a connection, but it's still pretty tenuous."
"Sure, but it's a start. Remember, Alex, we've been working on this for a long time, and suddenly all the breaks are coming. It may take us a while longer, but we'll get it."
"Yeah, but who else is going to die before we do?"
"To tell you the truth, I don't think anyone will. These two guys were their assassins, and they killed them when they were finished with them. I think that's about it."
Alex shook her head. "I hope you're right, Cliff, but I have a bad feeling about it."
Cliff scratched his head. "You know, for the first time ever, I hope you're wrong." He winked at her and she grinned. "Okay, so what's the plan for today?"
"Well, first I'm gonna finish reading this stuff, then check in with Ken and Rick in Philadelphia. Hopefully the hotel room gave them something. I'm also gonna call Steve and Louis, see if they found anything on the bomb."
"Okay. Anything else?"
"Well, Jenny's still waiting on some information, so I am too. Also, I thought it would be a good idea to go over the recent surveillance stuff on White. Maybe they caught him with one of our boys, but nobody recognized it."
Alex frowned. "One more thing, Cliff, and I think I might ask David to do this for me. I keep thinking back to when David and I interviewed Mr. Clymes, at Whitley's? He said he inherited a special deal with the Kittredge company. Wilford set it up. Something about that deal bothers me, and I was thinking we should at least check on it."
"Do you really think it's important? I mean, I know the coat gave us our first lead, but what good would it do to check the company?"
"It makes me suspicious that Wilford set up the deal. I want to know who he dealt with, and why they felt it was best to do it this way. I mean, to me it makes more sense to either have the store sell their clothes, or be strictly mail order. But they pay the store to let customers pick up their purchases. Purchases that have already been paid for in some other way."
Cliff nodded. "I understand what you mean, it does sound fishy. Yeah, have Dave check into it. If nothing else we may get a little more on Wilford." He pointed at the half-eaten donut on Alex's desk. "That's not breakfast is it?"
"Well, kind of. I had two others, but they're gone already."
"Alex, that's not healthy."
"I'll make sure I have a proper lunch."
"You better." He glared at her, and left.
"Yeesh," Alex told herself, "What is this? First my friends, now my boss. Do I look sick or something?"
The rest of Jenny's report consisted mainly of details on back accounts for Darryl Wilford, and Teren Mylos. Teren's, while only four months old, had very little activity. Her government paycheck was deposited every month, and there were electronic withdrawals to a condo association, credit cards, and utilities. There were a few cash transactions, but they were all withdrawals of small amounts. There was no evidence that Teren Mylos was making the kind of money an assassin would.
Wilford, on the other hand, had consistent deposits of five thousand dollars, in cash. What was even more interesting to Alex was that there were no withdrawals. Wilford made several large purchases, buying a motorcycle and several guns, and he paid cash for them. Since he didn't ever withdraw the cash, Alex wondered just how much money the man had -- and where it had come from.
There were a few items on George Mather, including his marriage date, his wife's death, and his graduation from Penn State University. Jenny had underlined this part, and written, 'See Brogan report' next to it. When she checked it, Alex realized it was another small connection. Mather and Brogan had gone to the same school. It didn't mean the two had known each other, but it was a little more they could throw at Kyle Brogan. Maybe, if they threw enough stones at him, he'd crack.
David finally got there a little after ten o'clock.
"You know, Alex, I was so tempted to ride the Metro in today. I could have parked at the station, and hopped the train. It would have taken far less time."
"So, why didn't you?"
"Miri told me she'd make me sleep on the couch."
Alex laughed for a moment, then sobered. "She's really afraid of it, isn't she, Dave?"
"Yeah. The second attack in New York was pretty bad. She was nearly raped."
His partner stared at him. "You never told me that."
He nodded. "She doesn't like to talk about it. Hell, she didn't even tell me that part until a month after it happened." David shrugged. "But you can understand why she gets scared."
"Yeah." She was quiet as she watched David hang up his coat, and turn on the computer on his desk. "I spoke to Sarah this morning. She talked me into dinner tonight."
"Oh, really?" David couldn't help grinning. "Will it be three, or four?"
"Four. And you probably already knew that."
"No. Well, not for certain. She said she'd asked someone, but she didn't know if they'd show. She was going to remind them last night."
"Uh-huh. You know this person?"
"Nope. But Sarah says she's hot. If she wasn't with Maggie, she'd be tempted to ask her out."
"Great. Sarah and I do not have the same taste in women."
David stopped and looked at her. "Are you saying you don't like Maggie?"
"No! I love Maggie. I just wouldn't choose to go out with her, that's all. She's not my type."
"I don't get it. You say you and Sarah don't have the same taste, yet she went out with you."
"Yep, and that proves my point. I would never date someone like me."
David grinned at her. "Neither would I."
Alex glared at him.
David volunteered to get more hot chocolate for Alex while he got himself some fresh coffee. While he was gone, Alex called Philadelphia.
"Okay, Alex, do you want the really bad news or the semi-good news?"
"Are those my only two choices?"
She sighed. "Okay, the really bad news. Always begin with the worst, my dad said."
"The room was clean."
"Nothing? What about their stuff?"
"Gone. Not only that, but the room had been stripped. Towels, blankets, sheets, everything. And the whole place was wiped clean, including the remote control, the bathroom faucet, and all the knobs. Somebody didn't want anything left behind."
"Damn. I don't like that, Ken."
"Me neither. It was kind of eerie when we walked into the place. It was absolutely sterile."
Alex tossed her pencil onto her desk in frustration. "Okay, the semi-good news. Hopefully it will cheer me up."
"Steve and Louis can confirm that it's the same type of bomb used in Atlanta."
"How can that be? One was a remote, and the other was hooked to the ignition. Plus, you said yourself the two were different in strength, and even in placement."
"Yeah, I said all that. But I'm a forensics expert. They're the bomb specialists. They crawled through that wreck, and found a bunch of tiny little metal fragments inside the engine of the car. It's the same thing they found in the car in Atlanta.
"Pieces of metal? I don't get it. With all the metal in the vehicle, and especially in the engine, how can they tell what belongs there and what doesn't?"
"This metal has a different chemical composition. It's totally foreign to the engine of a car."
"Okay. This is good news because?"
"Well, I said semi-good. It doesn't bring us any closer to who planted it, but at least we know it was the same guys that gave them the bomb in Atlanta."
"Right. At least we know that."
"Now, I think you and David should think about coming up here next week."
"I believe you should be the next set of agents to talk to Mr. Kyle Brogan."
"Any reason why?"
"Because you are the expert on his cousin Derek White, and you can probably shock him with what you found yesterday."
"What we found -- oh, you mean the picture of White, in the background of the one of Mather and Wilford."
"I don't know if we want to go to him with that yet, Ken. After all, it ties his cousin in with the killers, not him. If he didn't break, we'd have to release him, and he'd probably warn White, and Gerlach as well. If those two are part of this, I don't want them to have any idea that we're on to them."
There was a pause on the other end. "Okay, I agree with that line of reasoning. If we move too soon we might spook them, and they'll hide. But, Alex, what did you mean we don't have any connection between Brogan and the killers?"
"Well, okay, we have a small one. Brogan and Mather both went to Penn State, and their years there overlap. But it's a huge campus, Ken, and there's no way to know if they actually met there."
Ken waited a moment longer, thinking. Then he realized why she wasn't getting it. "I forgot, you've never seen Brogan."
"No, I never have. So?"
"Alex, I found a copy of that picture you were talking about. The one of White shaking hands with a guy."
"Are you sitting down?"
She was, but she the question made her sit up straighter. "Yes."
"The man holding the silver cup in his hand is Kyle Brogan."
For a moment, Alex just sat there. When she found her voice again all she could say was, "Holy fucking shit."
"I don't believe it."
Cliff was standing by the window in his office staring into the sky beyond it.
"We're busy trying to find ways to show a connection, and it's all there in two photographs."
"I don't fucking believe it."
He turned around and stared at the two agents in front of him. "All right, Ken wants the two of you up there. Think you should go?"
Alex bit her lip and thought about it. "Well, yes, but maybe not as soon as Ken thinks. Brogan is shaken, he thinks, and maybe we should shake him a little more before we confront him again."
"Put him under surveillance. Maybe a phone tap?"
"How will that spook him?"
"Make the surveillance a little obvious. Let him know we're going to watch him. Then, if he calls his cousin in a panic, we 'll know."
Her boss nodded. "Any thoughts, Dave?"
"I agree with Alex."
"You usually do."
"That's because she knows her stuff."
Cliff snorted. "Good thing for us, eh?"
He dropped into his chair, and sighed. "All right, I'll call Philly and ask for some help with surveillance. I'll also ask for authorization for a wire tap. You check out what Derek White has been doing for the last few months. We've got tons of photos, and reports. Go through them, and find something."
"I've already sent a request for all phone records, for Gerlach, White, and Brogan. Plus, I sent photos of Mather and Wilford to the guys who normally do surveillance on White. They're gonna pass it among their team."
"Good. Damn, I'd love to slam the door on a cell with Derek White in it."
"You and me both."
With that, Cliff looked up and waved a hand at them in dismissal. "Get out and get to work, you two."
"Right. I'll make sure you get a progress report before we leave tonight."
Cliff's eyes were already intent on the paperwork in front of him as David and Alex left his office.
Searching through a report is easy, Alex thought, when you have a name that you're looking for. But in these surveillance records on Derek White, Alex wasn't just looking for a name. She was searching for names, dates, places, anything that would tell her Derek White was involved in the assassinations.
There were plenty of places, and even more names and dates, which was what frustrated Alex. She had no way of knowing which, if any, were significant. Along with going to Idaho to see his brother, Derek White had taken several long trips. On these he was sometimes seen doing the normal tourist traps. Other times he'd visit a person. Very seldom was he seen actually attending a meeting of any organizations outside his own. The few times he did, the meeting was private, and heavily guarded.
Finally, out of frustration, Alex began putting together lists of the cities her subject had visited. She was disappointed to find that, though he had often visited Atlanta, Philadelphia, and New York, he was not in any of those cities when the killings occurred.
But he had been to Boca Raton, Florida, and Williams Beach, Virginia. He'd also visited Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Houston, Texas. But he'd been observed playing tourist in both Florida and Colorado, and actually went to several church services in both Houston and Virginia. There was nothing out of the ordinary in any of it.
Alex felt like screaming. She'd been reading for hours, without a break, and she knew she'd have to stop soon and get lunch. It was already past one o'clock.
She'd just stepped out of her office when the phone rang. With a sigh, she went back to answer it.
"Alex, it's Jenny. Just finished faxing the last part of the report. Stuff on Perry Watson, mainly."
"Really? What did you find on him?"
"Bank records. And some fascinating financial transactions. I'd tell you all about it, but I have a meeting in three minutes. Remember you're buying lunch tomorrow."
"I remember. Hurry up, and tell everyone I said hello."
"Will do. Bye, Alex."
Alex hung up and left, determined to get food.
She swung by the fax machine, and stepped into David's office. He was on the phone, and could only nod at her. She mimed eating, and he nodded again. Finally, with a hand covering the mouthpiece he whispered, "I'll meet you down there." Alex nodded.
She got on the elevator, Jenny's fax in her hand. She started flipping through the pages, reading bits and pieces. Her eyebrows went a little higher with each passing minute.
It seemed Perry Watson was a rich man. His back account held in excess of $70,000. Regular deposits of between ten and twenty thousand dollars occurred, the money being transferred from an overseas account. But what caught Alex's eyes and held them was the date. The account had been opened only five months ago.
By then, Perry Watson was supposed to be dead.
With a start, Alex realized she'd missed her floor, and the elevator was on its way back up. She pushed the button for third floor again, and waited.
The doors opened at the floor she'd originally left, and David entered.
"Hey, that was fast. Did you just grab something, or did you forget your wallet?"
"Neither, I got distracted. Have a look at this. This is a record of a bank account in the name of Perry Watson."
"Wow, looks like the man had some dough. Look at the amount of cash he'd withdraw -- nearly ten grand a week."
"Yeah, but look at this. The last withdrawal was Wednesday, February second. The last deposit went through the Friday before Dabir was killed."
David looked up, puzzled. "I thought Perry Watson is supposed to be dead."
"How could a dead man show up at a bank and withdraw money?"
"Great. I feel like Alice in Wonderland."
"Things just keep getting curiouser and curiouser."
It was, David decided, rather frustrating.
He was trying to reach someone at the Kittredge Clothes Company who could explain their arrangements with Whitley's Fine Clothes for Men, but no one could tell him. He'd been switched from Sales to Marketing, back to Sales, then to the Promotions department, and back to Marketing. He was getting the feeling that either the company was so disorganized that it couldn't make any money, or someone was giving him the runaround.
Rick hadn't seemed to have any problems getting information.
After being 'accidentally' hung up on for the second time, David decided there were other ways to go about this. His first call was to Rick Price.
"Rick, who did you talk to at Kittredge?"
"I talked to someone named Anne, in their Sales department. Why?"
"Because I'm getting switched from department to department, and nobody knows who I'm supposed to talk to."
"What are you trying to find out?"
"They have a unique agreement with a store here in Baltimore, and I wanted to know more about it."
"Oh. Well, you could use the trick I did."
"What was that?"
"I told her I was a manager at a a men's clothing store, and I was interested in possibly having Kittredge Clothes be represented in my store, but I wanted to first check with a few other stores to see how their products sold. She was very helpful."
"Great. I'll give a call back, and see if I can find Anne."
"Let me know if I can do anything."
David dialed the number for Kittredge again, this time determined to get an answer. When the line was picked up, he asked for Anne, in the Sales department.
"This is Anne White, can I help you?"
"Hi, Anne, a friend of mine here in Baltimore told me I should get in touch with you. His name is Charles Clymes, and he manages a store called Whitley's Fine Clothes for Men. Do you know who I'm talking about?"
"Oh, yes. I remember Mr. Clymes. And you are?"
"Um, my name is David, uh, Jackson, and I wanted to talk to you about the agreement you have with Whitley's. It's rather unique, isn't it?"
"Well, yes, I suppose it is. But it works out for both us and the store. We don't have to worry about extra inventory, and he doesn't have to spend any money on products that might not sell."
"I see. I understand you have several stores that carry your products?"
"Um, yes, we do. But only Whitley's in Baltimore."
"What about Philadelphia?"
"Yes, we have an agreement with a store in Philadelphia, as well."
"I see. Can you tell me how many stores carry your products?"
"Uh, well, um, I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson, I don't seem to have that in front of me."
"Well, can you tell me just what stores carry your line of Klaser coats?"
There was silence for a moment. When Anne spoke again, her voice sounded much friendlier.
"Mr. Jackson, you should have told me from the first that you wanted a Klaser coat. I would have transferred you right away."
"Well, I'm not sure I do, Ms. White. At this point I just wanted to know how many places carry them."
"Carry them? Mr. Jackson, the only way you can get a Klaser coat is to order one."
"So, you don't sell them in any stores, anywhere."
"No, of course not." Ms. White paused. "Mr. Jackson, where did you say you were calling from?"
"I'm calling from Baltimore, ma'am."
"I see, and your inquiring about our product line, why exactly?"
"Well, as I said, Mr. Clymes is a friend of mine, and he told me about this deal. I work at another store, across town, and I'm trying to reach the manager's position. So, I'm doing some research. Charles told me that while he didn't get to examine your products closely, they did seem to be of good quality." David could feel his nose getting longer with each word.
"He also said that the deal was really beneficial to the store. I was wondering if you sold all your products this way, or if it was just the coats."
"Well, just the coats are sold this way, and we only have that agreement with four stores. Our other products, including shirts and blazers, are available through our on-line site, and a few local stores in Alabama and North Carolina."
David looked at his notes and frowned.
"Um, Ms. White, someone told me that your line of shirts was available in hundreds of stores along the east coast."
"Oh, no, our line is much too exclusive for that."
"I see. Well, thank you for your time, Ms. White. Have a nice day."
"You too, Mr. Jackson."
David hung up the phone, and tapped his pencil against his notes on his desk.
"Something smells very fishy."
Alex looked up to find David in her doorway grinning crazily.
"David? Are you all right?"
"Oh, fine. Just fine."
"Good. Care to tell me why you look like a madman?"
"I'm enjoying the thrill of discovery. Like Columbus."
"Yeah. Or, wait, maybe that's Colombo."
Alex stood up. "Okay, Dave, what did you find?"
If it was possible, David's smile got even bigger.
"Remember Kittredge Clothes Company?"
"Well, it seems they didn't exactly tell Rick the truth."
"They don't have hundreds of places that sell their clothes. They're too exclusive for that."
"I see. And that's important?"
"Well, it told me something was up. They have the same agreement with all of their outlets, and the only place I can confirm you can order their clothing is on their website."
"Okay. So, they exagerated their size when Rick talked to them?"
"Just wait, Alex, it gets better."
"I can't wait." She sat back down, and motioned him to do the same. "Tell me, before you bust something trying to hold back."
David settled into the chair, holding a yellow legal pad on his lap.
"Okay. The company name is Kittredge Clothes Company. Right?"
"And their line of coats is called Klaser, with a 'K.' Right?"
"They have another line of clothes, a blazer, which is called Kabel, with a 'K.' Now, their website address is Kittredge-dot-com. On that website, they have their list of exclusive labels, and they have it in this fashion." He put the tablet on the desk in front of Alex and wrote the three label names one on top of the other. Then he circled the first letter of each name.
Alex's eyes grew wide. David saw it and grinned.
"Yeah. My thoughts exactly. So, I decided to do some checking. Guess what?"
"Kittredge Clothes is a subsidiary of Atlantic Properties, which is a subsidiary of the Talcott Companies. Talcott Companies is also the corporate owner of East Penn Telecom, which is the company that employs one Kyle Brogan."
Alex opened her mouth, but nothing came out.
"Oh, I know that's not much, but it gets better. Kittredge is located in a little town just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. When they decided to build their factory, the town gave them some serious tax breaks. They basically gave them the land the factory sits on."
"Why would they do that?"
"Well, guess who the Mayor of that small town is?"
"I don't think I really want to know."
"Sure you do. It's a man name John White. His daughter Anne is the one I spoke to in the sales department."
"Yeah. You want the final kicker?"
"We always thought that Derek changed his name because he wanted to. We were wrong. He actually broke tradition, and took his wife's last name. I guess he thought it made a stronger statement."
"His wife's name is Lisa."
"Yep. And her sister's name is Anne."
"That means John White is . . ."
"You guessed it. The mayor is Derek's father-in-law."
Alex just stared at the tablet on her desk, with the circled K's.
"Oh, one final little fact."
"Dave, I don't think I can take anymore."
"The major shareholder in the Kittredge Clothes Company is Mayor John White. Second largest shareholder is his son-in-law."
Alex glared at her partner.
"David, I really hate it when you gloat."
David agreed to drop Alex off at Sarah's, since they were late leaving work. Looking at her watch, Alex knew she'd never make it by 7:00, and her friends wouldn't be happy.
"Tell Sarah it was my fault, Alex."
"Sure. After all, it was your fault."
"Hey, I was joking."
"I'm not. If you hadn't insisted on going through every record on Kittredge, we would gotten out of there on time."
"Maybe, but you were the one that insisted on calling the IRS. I never would have thought of asking about audits on the company. It was you that made us late, trying to sweet talk that revenue guy into sending us those records tomorrow instead of Monday."
"Yeah. But you're not going inside, so Sarah won't yell at you. I have to spend the evening there, and I'd rather she blame you than me for my being late."
They pulled into the driveway.
"You enjoy yourself tonight. And don't forget, great sex is safe sex."
"In the interest of our partnership I'm going to forget you said that." Alex opened the door, and climbed out. David waved as he left. Alex took a deep breath, and walked towards the front door.
It opened before she got there, and she smiled as Sarah held open the screen.
"You're late, Alex."
"Yeah, well, blame David."
"Right. It was probably your fault, but he agreed to take the blame."
"Would I do that to my partner?"
"Yes. Now get in here and give me a hug." They stopped just inside the doorway, and Alex felt her friend's arms wrap around her. She sighed. Sarah had always given the best hugs.
"God, Alex, you're thin." Sarah pulled back and looked down into Alex's eyes. "You haven't been taking care of yourself."
"I'm fine. I just haven't had much sleep."
"It's the Dabir murder, isn't it? I've tried to stay away because I know you hate anything breaking your concentration on a case. But, Alex you really need to take a break once in a while."
"I am. I'm over here, aren't I?"
Sarah smiled, and stroked Alex's hair. "Yeah, you are. And I'm glad." She hugged Alex again, then led her towards the kitchen. "Maggie'll be happy to see you, too. It'll give her another pair of hands in the kitchen."
"You mean dinner's not ready? Darn. I thought if I was late, I wouldn't have to help."
"Un-huh. Just for that you get to build the fire."
"Aw, Sarah, you know I'm terrible at that kind of thing."
"Then, maybe you can ask Teren to teach you."
Alex stopped for a moment. "Teren?"
"Yes. You remember, our fourth dinner partner?"
"Her name's Teren?" She resumed following Sarah, and they turned the corner into the kitchen.
"Yes. She's our karate instructor. She teaches a class at the women's center on Monday and Wednesday nights."
Maggie looked up from the pot she was stirring on the stove. "Hi, Alex. Ready for dinner?"
"I told her since she's late she has to build the fire."
"Good. Teren is in the dining room setting the table. I'm sure if you ask her, she'll help you with the fire."
"Right. I'll just go ask."
There was a tingling on Alex's neck, and her stomach muscles were clenched. She took the several steps through the kitchen, and out into the dining room.
Teren Mylos was calmly setting silverware on the table.
She looked up and smiled. "Hi. You must be Alex. I'm Teren; it's nice to meet you." She winked
Alex just blinked.
To Be Continued
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