Disclaimers: See Chapter One of Storm Surge for all the legal yada, yada.
As Conner drove north on I-95, she couldn't stop thinking about the men she had seen on the rooftop of the Colorado Container building. Why would a container manufacturer have armed guards on the rooftop? Unless? Conner pulled her cell phone from her backpack and dialed Buet at the precinct.
"Hey Buet, it's Conner. Listen, I need a huge favor and fast."
"Sure kid, what's up?"
"I need you to make a few discreet calls and see what you can find out about the Colorado Container Corp. I need to know if they have had any changes in management, ownership, anything, for the last year. No, make that the last two years."
"Does this have something to do with the Hernandez thing?" Buet had been keeping close tabs on the Hernandez case. When he was younger, he could have sunk his teeth into a case like this. Now though, he could only watch from the sidelines and hope that Conner didn't get in too far over her head.
"Yeah Buet, that's why I need it kept quiet. Do it yourself, alright? I don't want anyone else to know where I'm going with this right now."
"You got it. I'll see what I can come up with."
"I'll be back around one o'clock. I'll check in with you when I get there." Conner pulled the phone away from her ear and was about to push the end button, before she stopped herself, lifting the phone back to her face.
"Hey Buet? In case I haven't said it lately. Umm, thanks."
"Gee Conner, you're getting me all misty eyed. Just go do what you gotta do and I'll see you later." Buet hung up the phone before Conner could respond. He always had a soft spot for the woman. Somehow, she did not seem to tarnish like most other cops after putting in a few years. Back when they were partners for a while, he had done his own background search on Conner and found out to his amazement that she was a multi-millionaire several times over. To this day, he couldn't understand why she continued to crawl around in the gutters scraping trash off the streets, when she could be on some beach tanning her cute little hide. All he could figure was that she must damn sure love the job.
Conner arrived at her condominium around eleven. She was gathering up all of Magnum's toys when the phone rang.
"Hello!" Conner only heard silence in the background.
"Hello! Anyone there?" There was a long pause before she heard the deep whispered voice speaking to her.
"Keep your distance, or you'll regret it."
"Who is this?"
"Just think of me as your guardian angel."
"OK, Angel. We'll play it your way. Just what is it you think I'm doing?"
"You're out of your league, Harris. I'll only tell you once, stay away."
A chill ran up Conner's spine as she realized that someone had spotted her by the warehouse. What made it even more eerie was that she had an unlisted phone number. The caller had to be someone that knew, not only her number, but also where she lived, and that she was at home this very minute.
The connection went dead in Conner's hand and she stood there staring at the receiver for a moment before replacing it in the cradle. She shook off the sense of dread as she finished gathering Magnum's things, went to pack an overnight bag for herself and headed back to the city. Driving along the interstate, she was aware of other drivers around her. She could not spot a tail on her, but knew someone was out there lurking.
When Conner arrived at the precinct, she pulled Magnum and his luggage from the car and walked inside. Giving Buet a pleading smile, she asked him to watch the cat until Seth could come by and pick him up later. Buet was not thrilled about cat sitting, but given his fondness to Conner, gave in fairly easy.
"Thanks Buet, I owe you one." Conner yelled over her shoulder. She stopped as she remembered the information she had asked Buet to check on earlier. Walking back to the desk, she leaned in close. "Did you find out anything about Colorado Container Company?"
Buet looked back over his shoulder and caught the eye of another desk junkie, calling him over to watch the desk while he took a break. Motioning to Conner, he led her outside to the parking lot.
"Hmm, must be juicy to get me all the way out here?"
"I think you'll be surprised to see this. It took a little digging to get through the dummy corporations until I found names, but here it is in black and white." Buet pulled out several folded pages from his back pocket and handed them to Conner. She read over them quickly and looked up at Buet with shocked eyes.
"How can he afford this?"
Buet just shrugged his shoulders, offering no comments. Conner ran her fingers through her hair as she re-read the information.
"I think the group will think this is very interesting. Although I don't know exactly what Agent Montgomery will say."
Conner reached up and planted a sloppy kiss on Buet's cheek. He turned a deep red at the open affection he had just received from Conner.
Conner just laughed at his embarrassment and turned to walk back inside.
"I'll always love ya, Buet."
Conner went to her cubbyhole and sat there thinking about the morning's events. She had left Alex's, went downtown to have her chat with Reggie, then to the warehouse and then home. Someone had to have been tailing her. What she did not know was when they had picked her up and wondered if they knew she spent the night with Alex.
Conner thumbed back through the papers Buet had given her and glanced around the office. She studied her notes and before she knew it she looked up to see that it was almost one o'clock. She gathered her files and headed down the hall to the conference room.
"I sure like this reception better than the last." Conner's voice was light and cheerful. She wanted to make sure Alex knew she was playing, so as she walked by on her way to grab a cup of coffee, she reached out her hand and gently stroked the woman's neck.
Clearing her throat and sitting up straighter in the chair, Alex fought to control the warm feeling Conner had elicited in her lower body, with the gentle caress.
"How was your morning?" Alex asked in a throaty voice, still not having her emotions under complete control.
"Interesting, very interesting." Conner continued to stir her coffee as she thought about what she was going to say next.
"Umm, Alex can I ask a favor of you?" Conner came around the table and sat directly across from the other woman.
"Sure Conner. Is everything OK?" Alex set down the files she had been reading and looked up at Conner expectantly. She could see the fine lines of worry etched around the woman's eyes.
"I...well...if I act a little evasive in here today, don't push me to expand OK? A lot has happened this morning and I have found that at least one member of our precinct has turned rogue. Well, maybe, anyway. I don't want to give up any more information than I have to until I find out if there are others."
Alex arched an eyebrow at the other woman. "Are you going to fill me in or do I have to play the guessing game too?" Her question came out a little harsher than she had planned, but she did not intend to let Conner keep information that was crucial to the investigation from her.
"Of course I'll tell you. Just not here, and not now." Conner's eyes blazed back and Alex instantly knew that her last question had hurt the other woman.
Alex opened her mouth to respond, but her words were cut short as Captain Peterson walked through the door.
"Good afternoon Alex. Conner. I'm sorry we had to postpone the meeting until now, but with the events of last night and the Investigators from Orlando arriving this morning, well, it couldn't be helped.
Peterson dropped the files he held onto the table and sat down as he focused his attention onto Alex.
"Is there any word from Fairfax?"
"The last I heard Donald was waking up, but with all of the drugs combined with the trauma he sustained, his recovery could take a while." Alex pulled her gaze from Peterson, looked at Conner, and asked her own question.
"Do we have anything else in from the lab?"
"Nothing yet. From the prints that were lifted, they all either matched an FBI Agent assigned to the office or one of the police officers on the scene." What Conner did not tell him was that one of the prints belonged to the same police officer that was now a major part of her investigation.
"Well, keep on it and lets give them as much help as we can. I know the feeb's don't like our help...uh, present company excluded, so they certainly won't ask for it."
Peterson sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair. "Does anyone know where Johnson is?"
Both women shook their heads as Peterson rose and walked out to track him down. The two women's eyes locked and Alex leaned in to speak to Conner in a whispered voice. "Meet me at Huey's at three o'clock, OK?"
"Sure" Conner said as Peterson walked back in and sat down once again. "I'm having Buet page him to get his ass in here. We're not waiting though, so who wants to go first?"
Alex decided to go first. Peterson and Conner listened intently as Alex filled then in on what she had found out about Gonzolas and his personal covert operations.
"You know, something that struck me as odd last night at your office Alex, is that not once, while Gonzolas was talking to us did he ask about SAC Fairfax's condition." Conner tilted her head and shrugged her shoulders. "I wondered about it then, but forgot to mention it to you after he left. Have you considered him a suspect in the assault?"
Alex leaned her head back and stretched the muscles in her neck. "Actually, he was the first person that came to mind. However, without some evidence pointing in his direction, I don't think I have enough to even question him about it." Alex let out a slow sigh." Donald and I have had several conversations about Jose's actions since I returned, but as far as I know I'm the only one he has spoken to about his concerns."
"Umm Alex. I hope I'm not going to step on anyone's toes here, but has there been a complete background check completed on Gonzolas?" Peterson looked a little hesitant, knowing how the FBI felt about the local police force.
"I'm sure one was completed when he signed on with the Agency. Other than that random checks are usually down monthly, so I can't say when the last one was completed on him"
"Well, if you think it's appropriate, I can run a check from here. I know it wouldn't be as detailed as the FBI's, but it may give us something."
"That's a good idea Jack," Alex sighed, "I know I can't run one in-house without drawing some attention to it, and if Gonzolas is involved he will be watching every move I make." Alex bit her bottom lip as she mulled over the thought. "Do it and if you get a hit on anything, then I'll follow up on it." Alex knew that this could bring her trouble from, not only Gonzolas, but also everyone in the FBI. Agents did not like to have their loyalty questioned, especially by a fellow agent. However, Alex could not take a chance on this one. She had to know where Gonzolas' loyalties lay.
Alex looked at Conner, then at Jack. She hesitated before she spoke, knowing what she was about to ask could be crossing the line. "Jack, I need you to run one more person through the system too."
Conner knew what Alex was about to request and knew she was struggling with the idea that Donald may not be what he appeared. She and Donald had had a long, trusting relationship. When Alex glanced her way, Conner returned the unspoken question with an almost indiscernible nod.
"I need you to run Donald through the system."
Jack's face registered shock as Alex made the request. Releasing a heavy sigh, he studied the woman for a few seconds before responding.
"Alex, that's a big request. Do you want to tell me why you want a background check on your boss"?
Once again, Alex nervously glanced at Conner silently asking for her support, "Last night I was trying to find Donald's emergency contact information. He hadn't updated his personnel file since Catherine began Law School in Gainesville so I didn't know how to contact her. The only other place I knew to look was in his desk, but it was locked. I had Conner witness my breaking the lock to search for an address book. Anything that would give me Catherine's number."
Jack watched Alex, noticing the stress lines that had formed across her brow.
Taking a deep breath, Alex continued. "Anyway, while I was searching the desk, I found a folder with my name on it." Raising her hand to ward off any admonitions from Jack, she continued. "I looked through the file and saw that Donald has had me tailed from before the warehouse incident."
Alex's eyes swept between Conner and Jack. Her hands were in fists on top of the table and Jack not only heard, but could also see the turmoil Alex was experiencing. In an apprehensive voice Jack asked, "Why do you think he had a file on you Alex?"
"I'm not sure Jack. Conner seems to think it may only be a protective tail, but...I think. Damn it. I don't know what to think. Donald and I have always been open and honest with each other. If it has been for my protection, I think he would have told me." Alex ran her hand through her hair. "All I know is I have to know where everyone stands and who I can trust," Alex gave Conner a torn look, "This thing is about to come to a head and I don't want anyone to be caught in the crossfire again."
Conner tensed as she took in the emotional look from Alex and knew the comment had been made more for her benefit than for Jack's. Her heart lurched as Alex voiced her fears. She knew that the information she had yet to share with Alex would only reinforce her conviction that someone inside was deeply involved in the operation. She looked at Jack, saw the uncertainty on his face, and knew she had to do something to tip the scale in Alex's' favor.
"Captain, I ran down one of my informants this morning and I have information that is pointing not only to someone at the Agency, but also someone from our own house being involved in this." Conner saw her Captain's look of shock and headed off his next comment with a raised hand, "I can't go into it until I've followed it up more this afternoon, but I think Alex is right, we need to know who we can trust."
Jack leaned both elbows on the table and faced Conner. "Harris if you have any information concerning one of my officer's, I want it, and I want it now." His eyes bored into Conner, as the tension in the air got noticeably thicker.
Taking a deep breath, Conner spoke the only words she could at the moment. "Sorry Captain, I can't do that."
Jack balked at the statement from his best detective. "Harris, I'm ord."
Conner cut off his demand. "Captain, I can't. You know yourself what happens when an officer's loyalty comes under scrutiny. Even if it is later proven unfounded, there is always a mark. Always a hint of doubt. I will not let that happen. If this guy is innocent, then I'll drop it, if not, then you'll be the first to know."
Jack sat back and ran a hand over his face as he sat and stared hard at Conner. Blowing out an exasperated growl, finally conceding to his ace detective, he pointed a finger directly at her face, "OK, Conner. I'll give you some leeway on this one. However, it only goes so far."
Turning to face Alex, he shook his head in resignation. "Gonzolas - well, you can have everything I find on him. As for Donald, I'll run the check, but the information stays with me. If I feel there is anything relevant to the case, then I'll give it to you on a need-to-know basis. That's all I can give you on this one Alex."
Alex released a pent up breath. She knew what she was asking was tough for Jack, but she had to know. As for Donald, if he was innocent in all of this, she hoped he would never find out about her reservations. However, if he did, then all she could do was hope for the best, and ask his forgiveness.
Jack growled as he straightened the files on the table in front of him. "We'll meet back here tomorrow morning at ten o'clock, otherwise you can page me if anything comes up." Jack turned towards Conner, "Oh, and tell Johnson I want him in my office the minute he shows."
Jack stood and walked to the door, then turned and looked back at the two women. "I don't know of two other officers I trust more that the two of you. Don't disappoint me on this one." Jack turned and walked out the door, shutting it a little harder than he had intended to, but damn it, he was now in the hot seat. If this thing blew up in their faces, his pension would be down the toilet and all three of them would not only be in the unemployment line, but in the sights of every cop and agent in the city.
Alex and Conner sat at the table in silence for a few moments, both mentally exhausted from the meeting. Finally, Alex spoke in a tired voice. "Well, we just opened the can, now let's see if any worms come crawling out."
Conner gave her a nervous smile and stood as she crammed her files into the satchel. "Let's get out of here and go somewhere we can talk."
The two women gathered their files, headed out the door and down the hallway to the front desk. Conner asked Buet to locate Johnson and tell him the Captain wanted to see him ASAP, then turned and walked out the front door of the precinct beside Alex.
Conner could tell Alex was still upset from the meeting and remained quiet as they made their way to the restaurant. She could see the darkness seeping out from behind the blue eyes, and knew 'The Shadow' was once again in her presence. It was not that Conner feared 'The Shadow' per se, but rather the drastic transformation the soft, gentle, woman she had shared the past weekend with made.
Alex pulled into the parking garage across from The Landing, shut off the engine and turned to Conner. "You've been quiet since we left the office, what's on your mind?"
Conner stretched her neck trying to work out the kinks and tried to put her thoughts into words. "I don't know. I just see how this is all getting to you. And I want to do something to help you through it...but I don't know what to do."
Alex saw the pain in Conner's eyes and reached out to take her hand. She looked out the window of the Jeep for a moment before turning back to her. "I don't need you to help me through this. I need you to help me finish it. Conner, I...I know the other night when I shut you out. Well, I was wrong." Her voice shuttered as she remembered the fear that overcame her when she realized Conner was deeply immersed in the case. "I...ahh...didn't respond very well, and well...I want to say I'm sorry."
Conner gripped the other woman's hand tighter, as she gently stroked the soft skin beneath her thumb. "Alex, it's OK. I know."
"No it isn't OK, Conner. I know you're good at what you do and I did not, and do not, have the right to tell you that you can't do it. It's just that...I've already lost someone I love to this madman, and it scares the hell out of me to think I might lose you too." Tears welled up in Alex's eyes as she looked at Conner. "I...I'm well...I'm finding out every day that you're becoming more important to me. I don't want to lose you before I."
"Stop it. You can't think that way. Don't you think I'm scared too, Alex? We have to work together on this...all of it, the case, the relationship, everything. I know there isn't a defined separation point for either, but I think we're both professional enough that we will do whatever we have to do to bring this to an end."
"Will you answer one question for me?" Alex knew she was putting Conner on the spot, but something inside told her she had to know the answer.
"Sure, if I can."
"Tell me who you made your promise to?"
Conner held Alex's eyes with her own for several seconds before she turned and stared out the window. They sat there for several silent moments before Conner turned back, "Alex, why is it so important to you?"
"I don't know. Something just tells me it should be."
"Can we talk about this later?" Conner began to pull away but Alex pulled her hand back, forcing the other woman to face her.
"No, we can't."
Realizing she had no choice but to answer the question, she faced Alex as a single tear formed and ran down her cheek. "Feryle. I promised Feryle.
Alex's heart pounded in her chest as the words slammed into her brain and she suddenly felt an overwhelming need to escape the confines of the car. She gripped the handle, shoved the door open, and practically fell out of the Jeep. She hesitated, not knowing where to go or how to escape the nightmare she now found herself living.
Seeing the look of panic on the other woman's face, Conner got out and ran to the other side of the vehicle. She reached and touched Alex's shoulder, but found her hand shrugged away.
Alex struggled for words, but found herself utterly speechless. She turned and walked to the railing of the garage, four levels above the street, and leaned on her elbows as tears formed in her eyes blurring her vision. She tried to get her emotions under control and tensed as Conner walked over and leaned next to her.
Conner didn't say anything as she allowed Alex time to gather herself. The wind whipped through their hair. She almost didn't hear Alex when she finally spoke a few moments later.
"Did...did you know her?"
"No, I never met her."
"Then how?" Alex toyed with her keys as she looked through her tears, down at the street below.
Conner took a deep breath and knew the time had come to explain it all. She knew one day it would all come out, but as she stood here in the garage next to Alex, she wished they had a little more privacy. "Can we go somewhere a little more private?"
"No! You tell me now! Here! If this involves Feryle, then I have a right to know," Alex glared at Conner through red eyes.
She could see Alex's hands trembling as she played with the keys. Conner took a deep breath and turned to lean over the railing. "Well, you know Sam and I used to be together. Right?" Conner did not wait for a reply. "Anyway, it took a while, but after we broke up we managed to salvage our friendship. When she and Kelly got together, we had not worked our friendship out yet and it was during this time, they ran into you and Feryle at Antonio's and your friendship began."
Alex remembered the night Conner was speaking about. She and Feryle had gone to Antonio's for dinner, to get a break from working on the house. The restaurant had been more crowded than usual and as they waited on a table, Sam and Kelly had walked in. After introducing Kelly and talking for a while, Maria came up and announced that their table was ready. Knowing Sam and Kelly were in for a long wait, Alex invited them to join them for dinner. The four women had enjoyed the evening and made plans to get together again that weekend. Soon, the four women had formed a solid friendship and met often for dinner, or weekend barbecues.
"Why didn't we ever meet?" Alex voice was a whisper as she pulled herself from the memory.
"I don't know. It took a while after Sam and I called a truce for Kelly to warm up to the idea that we wanted to keep the friendship. Sam and I would usually get together for drinks after work, and we kept in touch that way. Kelly did not exactly like it, but after a while she realized that I was no threat to their relationship, and began to drop by as well. The three of us managed to develop a friendship, but it was usually just the three of us when we did get together. I don't know, but I think Kelly thought it was strange that we were all friends and thought everyone else would as well, so I never pushed the issue. I love Kelly like a sister and I know she makes Sam happy. A lot happier than I could have ever done."
Conner took a deep breath to clear her head and continued her story. "I...ahh...was going through a rough time...ummm...basically taking all my frustrations out a bottle and releasing my stress with whoever was willing. I got pretty wild there for a while and I don't think I would have really fit in with the barbecue crowd that gathered at Sam's on the weekends, even if Kelly had been comfortable with the idea."
Conner heard Alex smirk and decided that her honesty, at least for the moment was working to ease the tension. "Anyway, last year after the...umm...accident, Sam was pretty torn up about it all. The four of you had become great friends and...well she was in a lot of pain. She didn't feel like she could talk to Kelly about it and so she talked to me. I have never before, or since, seen Sam in so much pain."
Alex lifted her head to look out at the river beyond the building and Conner could see the tears streaming down her cheeks. She reached over and gently took the crying woman's hand in hers. Alex didn't pull away and Conner intertwined her fingers with Alex's as she gently caressed the soft skin with her thumb. "Sam's pain was so raw and during our conversations about the two of you I felt like I got to know you both as well. It wasn't but a few weeks after Feryle's death that you were almost killed. That sent Sam over the edge and neither Kelly nor I thought we would get her back after that happened."
"I never knew," Alex whispered. She had been quiet throughout the entire story. Listening to Conner speak of Sam's pain and grief. She had been so caught up in her own torment and anger during the time that she had not realized that other people had also been devastated by Feryle's death.
"Sam is like that. Always the happy friend, ready to lend a helping hand, but never letting anyone else know when she's in pain or needs someone else. It was only because she was so overwhelmed that she reached out to me."
"I'm sorry, finish your story." Alex wiped the tears from her face and glanced at Conner. She saw the stress etched on the other woman's face and knew this was agonizing for her. Unconsciously, Alex tightened her grip on Conner's hand, offering an encouraging gesture.
"After you were taken away, Sam almost went crazy. All anyone would tell her was that you were alive...nothing more. I sat up with her all night one time when Kelly was out of town on business and the look I saw on her face that night scared me, Alex." Conner ran a hand over her face as she remembered her friend's pain, "She was so...so lost. She didn't think they would let you come back until the murderer was found and kept asking me about the progress in the investigation."
"We had both been drinking that night. She finally passed out and I got her to bed sometime early that morning. I had been up for almost two days working a case and desperately needed a shower and a change of clothes. I left to go home for a while and as I was driving, I rode by Pinecrest Cemetery. I remembered Sam saying that was where you had buried Feryle. I don't know what made me stop, but I did, and spent over an hour searching before I found her grave. Before I left the cemetery that morning, I promised Feryle I would put an end to this."
Conner reached out and turned Alex's face towards hers. With a gentle thumb, she wiped a tear off her face and took a ragged breath as she fought to keep her emotions under control. "I knew Kelly and I needed Sam back...and we both knew Sam needed you."
Conner ran a trembling hand through her hair and released a frustrated sigh. "The case I was currently working on involved some bad drugs. Junkies were dying left and right. It wasn't happening in one isolated area, it was all over central Florida. I knew it had to be a well-organized ring and I finally followed the trail back to one of Hernandez's groups. I went to the Captain, told him about the link and asked to be let in on the case. Since then, that's been my main priority."
The women stood quietly for a while, looking out over the street below, and gathering their thoughts. Conner could tell there were still question in Alex's mind, but felt better now that the truth was out in the open.
"So you knew who I was that morning when we first met at the precinct." Alex shot Conner a piercing glare.
"No, I didn't. I didn't realize it until later that night when you told me about Feryle's death. In fact, when Sam introduced you, I didn't even know. Sam always called you feebee." Conner gave a sad snicker. "I always thought she was calling her friend Phoebe, you know, P-h-o-e-b-e."
"Anyway, even after I made the connection, I still couldn't say anything. I knew you were going back to work, but I had no idea they would let you back on the case. Information was being passed out on a need to know basis and everyone was under a gag order. We didn't even talk about it amongst ourselves, unless we had a team meeting...everyone reported directly to the Captain. I couldn't say anything about it to you, Alex...I just couldn't."
Conner took Alex's shoulders and turned her so they were facing. "I would have told you if I could. I know I shouldn't have let things progress as far as they did last weekend, but we were having such a good time. I was and am attracted to you Alex...and I could feel the same thing from you."
Conner looked Alex in the eyes, silently challenging her to deny that one truth. "I know in the end, it was a selfish thing to do, but I've never met anyone like you Alex...never had the feelings that I find myself having for you. I know you don't understand."
Alex cut off Conner's words. "I won't pretend to understand everything that's happened during the last week and I'll be honest with you and say that I'm still...hurt, and confused that you could make love to me knowing all of this, and not tell me.
Alex turned again to face the river, taking a ragged breath, remembering all the times she wanted and needed to talk to Feryle about her cases and couldn't. "However, I also understand the job, and know it's not easy to maintain the security we are required to keep while preserving the honesty we need to have with the people we care about."
Alex bit her bottom lip, shook her head, and looked at Conner as she continued. "I also can't deny the attraction I feel for you, Conner. I can't, and won't, make any promises to you. It's going to take some time before I truly trust you on a personal level."
A hard look passed from Alex into Conner's eyes, and she could feel her heart constrict as she listened. "Even if you couldn't tell me about the case, you could have, at the least, told me you knew who I was."
Conner looked down at her feet knowing she had probably made the worst mistake of her life in keeping this information from Alex. She felt a warm hand touch her chin and lift her face until she was once again looking into dark blue eyes. "Honesty is one of the most important factors in a relationship. We don't stand a chance without it." Alex felt a pang of guilt as she spoke the words, knowing she herself had not been completely honest with Conner over the past week. Her own guilt eased some of the anger and hurt she felt while helping her form the next question. "I want that chance," Alex smiled. "Are you willing to be totally honest with me about everything in the future, Conner?"
It was one word but Alex felt the emotion and commitment behind the simple statement. "Thank you for telling me. I know it wasn't easy and I do appreciate it."
Conner's mouth curled up in a slight smile when she realized that Alex was going to forgive her, giving her another chance. "I'll do whatever it takes to make it up to you, Alex. I don't want to lose this chance with you."
Alex could see the regret in Conner's eyes, as they stood quietly in the garage. In an attempt to break the awkward silence that had fallen between them, and to release some of her pent up frustrations, Alex slugged Conner hard in the shoulder. She turned and yelled back over her shoulder as she walked towards the stairwell shaking her throbbing hand, "Come on then...your first penance is buying me lunch."
Alex missed the gleaming grin that broke out over Conner's face, as she rubbed her stinging shoulder and trotted to catch up.
The silence was broken as the waiter arrived at the table to introduce himself and give them menus. Thankful for something to occupy their thoughts for a moment, they gazed over the selections. After a few minutes of hiding behind the menus, Alex closed hers, placed it on the table, and waited for Conner to do the same.
"Need some help?"
Conner peered over the top of the menu and smiled. "No, just looking at everything they have here...can't decide what I want."
Biting her bottom lip in frustration, Alex shook her head, reached across the table, and snatched the menu from Conner's hands. Surprised, Conner looked up, "Hey, what did you do that for?"
Rolling her eyes, Alex let out a frustrated sigh. "Conner, it doesn't take that long to read the FBI Handbook. You're avoiding me...why?"
Conner chewed on her fingernail and looked out over the river. "I don't know Alex. I just feel awful for upsetting you the way I have the last few days. It seems like everything I've said and done has been wrong." Pulling her hand through her hair, Conner growled, "I'm tired of screwing up."
Alex chuckled and raised a single brow to Conner.
"What? Why are you looking at me like that?" Conner threw her hands up, as she voiced her question rather loudly.
Alex noticed several nearby patrons had looked their way. Leaning towards Conner so she would not be overheard, Alex grinned, "I seem to remember several things you've done very well the last few days, Officer Harris." Alex winked and let out a soft moan, which caused Conner's face to turn crimson red.
Taking a ragged breath, Conner reached for her water glass and brought it to her lips with a shaky hand. After taking a huge gulp, she sat the glass down and looked across the table. Alex was sitting there with a smug look on her face, very proud of herself. "You'll pay dearly for that, Agent Montgomery."
Alex only wiggled her brows at Conner and then turned to get the waiter's attention. They placed their orders and conversed comfortably about Sam and Kelly. They had both been invited to a barbecue the following Sunday, and Conner and Alex were laughing at their friends attempt at matchmaking, paying no attention to the man who sat at the table next to them.
"Actually, I was hoping we could go sailing Sunday afternoon. Hopefully this mess will be over by then, and we can get a chance to relax for a while."
"Ummm, sounds nice." Alex purred. "Hey! I thought the boat was broken."
Conner laughed at Alex's terminology and shook her head. "Its not broken Alex, just, well...a little sick. Anyway, I asked Bennie to get her seaworthy by this weekend. I was hoping we could cruise with the group this weekend. I know that's not going to be possible, but maybe a day cruise would be do-able."
"I hope so, I loved Cumberland Island."
"Cumberland is one of my favorites too. I also want you to see Blackbeard Island. It's a barrier island off the coast of Shellman's Bluff, Georgia. It's much like Cumberland, although there are many more people milling around." Conner raised a brow at Alex and smiled.
The waiter brought their lunch as Conner continued to tell Alex about the surrounding islands and other places she wanted to share with her. After finishing their meal, the women ordered coffee and decided to share a slice of cheesecake.
"God, I'm going to weigh a ton if you keep feeding me like this," Alex growled.
"You need some meat on those bones. I'll not have you falling overboard. I intend to set the sails the next time we're out and you're going to need your muscles for that...gotta keep you healthy."
They finished their dessert. When the waiter placed the check on the table, Alex passed it to Conner with a stunning grin on her face. Conner paid the check and as they were standing to leave, Conner felt a hand on her arm.
Conner heard the baritone voice behind her and turned to look at the man sitting at the next table. "Yes, can I help you?"
Looking slightly embarrassed, the man stood and offered his hand to Conner. "My name is Richard Jones, and...well, I couldn't help but overhear your conversation about the sailing in the area."
The man shook Conner's hand then extended it to Alex. "I really didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I'm new to the area...just moved here from New Orleans, and I am an avid sailor too."
Conner eyed Alex, and then turned back to the man. "Well, what can I help you with Mr. Stone, was it?"
"Jones. Richard Jones. Well, I'm having my boat brought around in a couple of weeks and I was wondering if you could give me the names of some Marinas in the area."
"Sure, Mr. Jones. What area of Jacksonville do you live in?" Conner was always happy to help fellow sailors. Several of the sailing club members took her under their wings when she bought 'Shady Lady', and she liked to help others out in return.
"I'm currently staying with some friends here in Jacksonville until I get settled. Frankly, I've had my fill of the city and would like to get a place somewhere in the surrounding area. I've been looking at a few places north of here, since I travel to Georgia often on business." The man looked between Conner and Alex as he spoke.
"Hmmm, well there are quite a few marinas in the area. On the intercoastal, there's Clapboard Creek and Dunn's Creek Marina's, or if you're looking to get farther away there's always Saint Mary's or Amelia Island." Conner was trying to think of other marinas in the area, while Alex silently listened in on the conversation.
"I've heard of Amelia Island. Isn't that north of here?" The man furrowed his brow trying to remember the exact location.
"Yes, actually that's where I have my boat, at the Amelia Yacht Basin. It's the smallest of the three marinas on the island, but the slips are well protected and the channel is well kept."
"Do you have the Dock Master's number by chance? I think I would like to give him a call and maybe pay them a visit."
"Umm, sure. I think I have it here somewhere." Conner pulled her wallet out of her backpack and searched through her address book for the number."
She wrote Benny's name on a slip of paper along with the number and handed it to the man. "Here you go, just ask for Benny and tell him Conner sent you."
"Well thanks for the information ladies. I'm sorry to have kept you. You have a good day." The man shook Conner and Alex's hands, and then watched them walk away. `That was just too easy. Maybe 'The Shadow will not be as much of a challenge as I thought.' Smiling to himself, the man dropped two twenty's on the table and strolled away from the restaurant.
Shaking her head, she bit the inside of her lip. "I don't know. There was something strange about that man in the restaurant. He seemed so familiar to me, but I couldn't place where I've seen him before."
"Come on Alex. Aren't you getting a little paranoid? He just moved here from New Orleans. Hell, he even had that low country drawl." Conner eyed Alex and saw her concern. "He just wanted information about marinas. What's so spooky about that?"
Taking a deep breath, Alex tried to shake off the foreboding feeling she was having. "Yeah, you're right. Maybe I am getting a little too paranoid for my own good."
The women walked to Alex's Jeep, and headed back to Conner's office. "Why don't you come on over when you get off work? I'll make some dinner for us, then we can pour over all the information we have so far. And you can tell me all about this new information you got this morning."
"OK, It's three o'clock now. I need to check in with the office and make a few calls. How does five'ish sound?"
"Sounds like a plan. I'm going to swing by the hospital and the office, and then I'll be home. Umm, there is a key to the back door in the motor housing of the Jacuzzi. If I'm not home when you get there, go on in and make yourself comfortable."
Conner gave Alex a shocked look and smiled as she realized Alex was extending her a new chance for trust. "OK, thanks. I'll pick up some beer. What do you need for dinner?"
"Nothing, I have everything I need at the house, but you can pick up a bottle of wine." Alex sighed and smiled to herself as she thought about how domestic the conversation sounded.
Alex dropped Conner off at the precinct and headed for the hospital. She was so lost in her thoughts over the pleasant lunch they had shared, after the uncomfortable confrontation n the garage, that she did not see the truck tailing her a few cars behind.
Continue to Part Eighteen of Storm Surge
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