Conspiracy of Swords
(See Part 1 for Disclaimers)
Shadowriter can be reached at Shadowriter@kc.rr.com
Teren found the house and parked across the street. She shut off the car and waited a few minutes, examining the street, and taking inventory of possible hiding places. She looked carefully at the front of the building, and thought about how they should enter. She discarded the possibility of going in through the back door, and there was no side door visible. It looked like the only options would be a window, or the front door.
"What are we waiting for?" David didn't know why, but he was whispering.
"We're not waiting, we're observing." Teren's voice was low, just loud enough to reach their ears. "Before entering any building I always check out what's around me, and where an ambush might come from."
"Ambush. Right." David nodded. "You know, Teren, Mather's dead, and so is Wilford. Since they were killed while committing a federal crime, we don't need any warrant, nor do we need to worry about the police if someone calls them. As federal agents we have a right to enter the home."
Teren nodded. "Fine. Go ahead, Agent Wu. March right on up there and bust your way into the house of a man who was an experienced assassin. Someone who knew how to rig bombs to explode, guns to fire, and the classic poison darts to fly across the room. Personally, I'd be a little cautious. But if you want to take your life in your hands, go right ahead."
Alex glanced into the back seat. David was visibly sweating.
"No, no. This is your call, Agent Mylos. We'll do things your way."
After another moment, Teren opened her door and climbed out. She waited for Alex and David to come around from the other side of the car. David was carrying the bag of supplies, and the camera.
"What's that for?"
"So we can photograph the scene when we get inside."
"Right. Is it loaded?" David shook his head. "Well, David, why don't you give the bag to Alex, and you can load your camera while you wait here."
"Okay, that sounds -- wait a minute, why am I waiting here?"
"Because I said so."
"No way. You two are not going in there alone."
"Yes we are. If anything happens we'll need you to call for backup."
"No, uh-uh. I'm not letting --"
Teren grabbed David by his jacket and pushed him roughly against the car. She held him there, with his feet just barely on the ground, and glared at him. Her face was close enough that he could feel her breath on his cheeks.
"Listen up, you candy ass, stupid, macho shit. In the past day or so I've come to semi-trust Alex. I don't trust you, at all. So if you think I'm going to let you be the one to cover my back, you can think again. Now, Alex and I are going to find a way into the house, and hopefully we won't get killed in the process. You are going to stay here and wait for our signal. You will not move before you see the signal. And if you come into the house before we call for you, I swear to God I'll blow your stupid macho head off. Do I make myself clear, Agent Wu?"
David nodded, and Teren dropped her hold on him. She turned away to face Alex, and David reached out to grab her shoulder.
Alex saw Teren's eyes go absolutely cold, and wondered if she'd need that new partner after all.
"I'll stay here, and I'll wait for your signal. But I'm warning you, Agent Mylos. That's my partner, and if anything happens to her, I won't care about bombs or darts or bullets. I'll be looking to make sure she's alright, and if she's not, it'll be your ass on a slab. Even if I have to die to put it there. Do we understand each other?"
Teren looked over her shoulder at him. "Perfectly."
David let go of her arm, and they gave each other a polite nod. Alex took the bag from her partner, and solemnly winked. He gave her an embarrassed shrug, then concentrated on his camera.
Teren motioned to Alex with her head. "Let's go." She started across the street, Alex at her heels.
The front door of the house couldn't actually be seen from the street. It was hidden behind an iron gate set into a brick wall that ran around the front patio. Teren was glad for the privacy the wall provided, but was worried about it for the same reason. It meant that she and Alex would be out of David's sight for at least the time it took to get the door open. She thought again about using a window, but decided against it.
They approached the front door, Teren in front, with Alex a step or two behind.
"Alex, stay put by the gate. I want you to be able to see David."
"Do you really think there are traps in here?"
"I don't know. I kind of doubt it, but George was a sick son-of-a-bitch. I wouldn't put it past him to have rigged a shotgun to the door."
"How would you disable something like that?"
"Depends on how it's rigged." Teren dropped to her knees by the front door, examining the lock. She pulled out a small black case from her inner jacket pocket and opened it. "Most of the time it's easier to just get out of the way."
Alex watched as Teren placed a small flashlight in her mouth, training the beam on the door lock. She concentrated on the lock, while Alex divided her attention between the door, and her partner back beside the car.
"So, that's your partner, huh?"
"Yeah. A little rough, but a good guy."
"I think I intimidate him."
Alex smiled. "You could be right."
Teren looked up at Alex. "But he's got balls, I'll give him that." She grinned, then looked back at the door.
There was a soft click, and Teren pocketed her set of lock picks. She took the flashlight and shone it around the door frame, looking especially close at the hinges. She nodded once, and muttered something.
"Alex, step outside the wall, okay? I think there's something rigged, but I can't tell what or where it's directed."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to wait until you're on the other side of the wall, and then I'm going to open the door."
Alex started to protest, but was stopped by a look from the taller woman.
"Right, outside the wall, gotcha." She ducked outside.
Teren took another look at the frame and then flattened her back to the wall beside the door. She drew a .45 from her waistband, and gripped the door handle, turning it ever so slowly. When it had gone as far as it would, she shoved the door inward, making sure to pull her arm back and stay well away from the opening.
For a second she thought she was wrong, but then she heard two tell-tale clicks and a high-pitched whine, followed by a soft thump-thump from the wall across from her. She waited a moment longer, and stepped away from the wall, peering into the darkness of the room. She could see the shine of her flashlight off the metal of the two suppressed handguns that had each been taped to a tripod. She entered the room cautiously, looking for evidence of further traps.
"Teren?" Alex's voice came from the gate behind Teren.
"Stay put for a minute, Alex."
Alex waited, as patiently as she could. Her hand drifted into her jacket, resting on the butt of her gun in its holster.
Finally, there was a flood of light from the inside of the house, and Teren called softly that Alex could join her. Alex moved quietly to the doorway, and stared at the guns, which were aimed directly at her.
"Teren, did they --"
"Fire? Yeah. If it was light we could probably find the slugs in the walls. I'll leave it for your forensic guys."
Alex nodded. "Is it safe to call David in?"
"Sure, give him a wave. Just remind him to be careful."
"Right." Alex ducked back outside, slipping through the gate and waving to David. He saw her, and crossed the street and lawn at a trot.
"Everything go okay? I saw you standing outside the wall here."
"Yeah, everything went fine. Teren picked the lock, then opened the door, and got out of the way of the bullets."
David stopped in his tracks. "Bullets?"
"Yeah. Come on. And don't touch anything 'til Teren says you can."
"Right. No touching. Why do I feel like a kid in a china shop?"
It may not have been a china shop, but it wasn't exactly safe either. It didn't take long for David to provide them all with a graphic demonstration of this fact.
He reached for the doorknob of what presumably was a bedroom.
"I wouldn't do that, David."
"Why not? It's just a door." David turned the handle and pushed the door open. He turned away from Teren in time to see the blade of an axe swinging down from the ceiling, directly at his head.
It was stopped less than three inches from his nose. When David could breathe again, he turned and looked at Teren, who was holding the axe just above the blade.
"Thanks. I think I'll just find a corner and sit still until you're ready."
It took another half hour before Teren decided it was safe. By that time she had discovered and dismantled half a dozen traps, not including the ones on the front door, and the bedroom door.
"Okay. I think we're clear. But, please, be careful if you want to open something. I'm telling you, George was insane, and he'd rig a trap just for the hell of it. If you even think there's something wrong, don't touch it, don't move, just call me."
The house was aone level ranch style, with the living room to the left of the front door. The dining room was connected to the living room, there being no walls between the two. The kitchen was to the left of the dining room, with an open doorway allowing access between the rooms. To the right of the main area, a short corridor led to a linen closet. Down that hall were two bedrooms, and a bathroom. It had been Mather's bedroom door that David had nearly lost his head in.
David began photographing each room, from several angles. Teren disappeared into what had been Mather's bedroom. Alex, trying not to disturb things, began going through a stack of papers on the dining room table.
"It appears our crispy critters were leasing this place. There are receipts here for their rent, which they paid in cash."
"These guys did everything with cash. I guess that's the best way to not leave a trail."
"Yeah, but only if you destroy the receipts. These guys kept them. There are receipts here for everything from gas and food, to the guns that Darryl bought. There's even something from a pawnshop ."
"Wonder what they were trying to pawn."
"And I'm wondering why they were trying to pawn anything. It's not like they needed the money."
"Is it a pawn ticket, or a receipt from a sale?"
Alex looked at the sheet carefully. "Neither. It's actually an offer, in writing, to buy a silver chalice."
"A chalice, you mean like a cup?"
"Who would want to buy that?"
"I don't know, but the offer sheet is made out Perry Watson, listing him as the owner. And the offer is over five thousand dollars for this cup."
David stopped and turned to Alex. "Five grand?"
"And its made out to Watson?"
"What's made out to Watson?" Teren returned carrying a grey case.
"This offer sheet. It has Watson listed as the owner of a silver chalice worth five grand. It's dated about six weeks ago."
Teren put the small suitcase down, and took the paper from Alex. "Damn. That son-of-a-bitch was using Perry's name for everything."
"Looks like it." Alex glanced at the case by Teren's feet. "What's with the briefcase?"
"Oh. I thought you might want this." She picked up the case and set it on the table, opening it. Inside was a rifle and scope, broken down into its parts.
"Alex, may I present a Romanian Dremov. If I'm right, this is the gun that killed Steven Fletcher."
David came over to look. "Teren, where did you find this?"
"In Mather's room. There's a cache of weapons in the closet. I counted six rifles and eight handguns, not including those two by the door."
"Teren, how did he get a Dremov, do you know?"
"Alex, it's really not that hard.He could have received it as a reward from someone, or taken it as a trophy from a hit."
"Doesn't the Agency have a rule about things like that?"
"Yeah. Do your job, don't talk about it, and you can keep whatever loot that comes your way. They use it as a twisted incentive program."
"Twisted is right."
David was photographing the rifle in its case. "You really shouldn't have moved this, Teren."
"Don't worry, David, I put your tape to good use. It clearly outlines the spot where the case stood."
"Good. I guess I better go photograph that room, huh?"
"Go ahead. I made sure you wouldn't get scalped this time."
"Gee, thanks." David took her light teasing with a half-smile, then left the dining room.
Teren closed the rifle case while Alex went back to the papers.
"Find anything else interesting?"
"Yeah. The bank statements for Watson's account are here. Plus there are plane tickets, to Atlanta, New York, to Philadelphia. And they're all in different names. Looks like that's the only time he didn't use Watson's name."
"Yeah, that makes sense. He must have known I'd be looking for him, or the Agency would. If he used Perry's name on something that public, we'd find him."
"But you didn't look for anything like a bank account?"
"Why would I? I closed the accounts, and had no idea he'd use Perry's name to reopen them."
Alex nodded. "That makes sense." She picked up a sheet and read it again. "Hey, Teren, do you remember George ever having an interest in antiques?"
"Oh, hell no. Not unless he could sell them for something."
"Well, did he know anything about them? I mean, if he saw something at a garage sale, would he know whether it was a bargain or a steal?"
"First off, George Mather never went to garage sales. Second, he wouldn't have known solid gold from gold plate."
"Then what would he be doing with a silver chalice that someone would pay five grand for?"
"Maybe someone gave it to him or something. Do you really think it's important?"
"I don't know."
Teren was about to say something, when they heard a crash and a yelp from the other room. Alex's head shot up, and she stared at Teren. Teren's eyes went wide, and she ran for the bedroom.
They found David sitting on the bed, his legs crossed, with his hands wrapped around his foot.
"Oh, Teren made sure the really clever traps were out of the way, so I had to find a simple one. I leaned against a hook in the closet, and this space above opened. Something dropped down and landed on my foot."
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah, fine. Embarrassed, but fine."
Teren was examining the hook and the hiding place it opened. "Shit, Dave, sorry. I never thought George would use something so simple. Did you see what hit you?"
"Yeah, it was that metal box on the floor there."
Alex, hands still covered in gloves, gingerly picked up the box, holding it out for Teren's cursory examination.
"It's dented a little, but the lock is still solid. Alex, take it out to the table. I'll help David into the other room."
"No, that's okay," David said as he stood up. "I'm fine. It's just a sore toe. I want a few more pictures."
"Are you sure, David?"
"Yes, Alex. You go with Teren, see if you can get that opened without getting hit by the poison darts or whatever the hell's in there."
Teren turned to the limping agent. "David, please, don't give your partner any more heart attacks, okay?"
"Why not, she does it to me all the time."
Teren chuckled and followed Alex back out to the dining room.
Alex moved a couple of stacks of paper into the middle of the table, leaving the box on the edge. Teren took a seat in front of it, using her small flashlight to examine it carefully.
"Alex, can you hand me that dishtowel on the fridge? I can use it to cover the box as I open it."
"Can you jimmy the lock like you did the front door?"
"I think so. Hang on."
Once again Teren slipped a lockpick from her black case, and placed it carefully in the mechanism. It took only a moment for there to be a click, and then Teren put the tool away.
"Okay, hand me that towel. Now, put your hands on the sides of the box top." She draped the dishcloth over the box, making sure to tuck it under the bottom. Then she placed the edge of it in the middle of the box top, securing it there with her hand.
"Alright, now, carefully, lift the front part of the box open. Don't let go, and don't move too fast. Make sure your fingers are well back from the sides. And if you hear any kind of hissing, stop breathing."
"Teren, please tell me you're just being extra cautious."
"I'm just being extra cautious."
"Just like I did with the front door. You remember what happened at the the front door, don't you, Alex?." She looked up at Alex, and saw the agent swallow hard.
"Okay, ready?" Alex nodded. "Lift."
Alex slowly rotated her wrists, lifting the front of the box. As she did, Teren kept the cloth draped over the widening opening, not allowing anything in the box to escape. When the lid was completely upright, she let go of the cloth, and moved it so she could see inside.
Alex was holding her breath, worried about what might happen. She saw a grin on Teren's face and relaxed.
"Well, would you look at that."
Teren spun the box towards Alex, and watched the younger woman's jaw drop.
The box was filled with bundles of cash.
"Does David often get bonked on the foot with boxes of cash?"
"No. I'd like to see it happen more often."
Teren insisted that they inventory the box immediately. Alex didn't mind doing it, but David was adamant.
"No. There's no need to look in there. You've seen what it contains, you don't need to count it right now."
"David, I'm not looking for cash. But I wouldn't be surprised if he hid it in here."
"Hid what? What exactly are you looking for?"
Teren stared icily at David, saying nothing.
"How do we know you're really looking for anything other than the cash?"
"If I wanted the cash, why would I have even invited the two of you along?"
"Maybe you wanted us to find it for you. Seems like that's what happened anyway."
"Right, and how would I get it out of here, huh?"
"It's not like you've never killed anyone before, isn't that --"
David was suddenly staring at the barrel of a .45 caliber pistol. He tried to look at Teren's face, but his eyes wouldn't move from the black hole that stared back at him, inches from his eyes. When he heard the click of the hammer being pulled back, he went absolutely still.
"Okay, both of you, calm down. Remember, we're on the same side."
Teren's voice became a snarl. "At the moment, I find that hard to believe, Agent Reis."
"Teren, I don't think you had any intention of taking the money, or murdering either one of us. David's always been a stickler for procedure, and a by the book kind of guy. It makes him annoying, but that's not a good reason to kill him."
"But I'm a killer anyway, isn't that right, David?"
David didn't move. He didn't blink, and he almost wasn't breathing. He wasn't about to try shaking his head.
"That's not what he meant. Now, that's my partner you're holding a gun on, Teren, and I'd appreciate it if you'd just let him walk out of here, which he will proceed to do as soon as you take the gun out of his face."
Teren didn't move, but her eyes flicked to Alex."Why should I believe you?"
"Because I haven't done anything that says you shouldn't."
"No, you just brought this jerk --"
"This jerk is my partner. Yes, he's an idiot sometimes, but he's my idiot, and I'm asking you to let him leave with the same number of holes in his head that he came in with."
Teren had to crack a tiny smile at Alex's dry humor. It wasn't something she had expected, or ever run across. She wasn't sure she knew how to deal with it.
"How do I know he won't go outside and call your friend Jackson?"
"Because I'll take his cell phone." Alex was edging closer to Teren, but she made sure her hands were well away from her sides. She didn't want Teren to think she was trying to attack. "Do we have a deal?"
Teren stared at David a moment later, then slowly eased the hammer forward. Her arm dropped, and David drew in a deep breath for the first time in several minutes.
"David, apologize to Teren."
David swallowed, and said, "I'm sorry." His voice was barely above a whisper.
"Good." Alex moved in front of him, standing directly between her partner, and facing the icy gaze of the dark haired woman. "Now, go outside."
David tried one last time. "Look, Alex --"
Alex whirled and glared at him. "Get the fuck out of here."
They locked eyes for a moment. David finally nodded his head. He handed her his cell phone, took one last look at Teren, and turned around. He walked out the front door, glancing back once before leaving the house.
Alex drew a deep breath in through her nose, then let it out threw her mouth. It was another of those calming techniques Sarah wanted her to learn. She reflected that it didn't help anymore than any of the others.
She turned back to Teren, to see her sliding her weapon back into the holster at the small of her back. Alex's eyes met Teren's and held them.
"Thank you for not killing him."
"Contrary to his opinion, I'm not naturally a violent person."
"I never thought you were."
"Really. What did you think, Agent Reis?"
Alex cocked her head and considered. "I always thought you were extremely dangerous, Teren Mylos," Alex said truthfully. "But I never thought you were purely violent."
Teren raised an eyebrow. "Thank you, Alex."
"You're welcome." She pointed at the box on the table. "Shall we?"
Teren unloaded the box one item at a time. She would call out the denomination, and the amount of money in each bundle, and Alex would mark it on an inventory sheet, keeping a running total of the cash. The metal case contained over eighty thousand dollars, most of it in one-hundred dollar bills.
They'd finished repacking the money, when Alex noticed a small brown leather pouch that lay outside of the box. Wondering what it was, and why she hadn't noticed it earlier, she reached for it just as Teren closed the lid on the case. As Alex's fingers closed around the leather object, Teren's hand slammed on top of hers.
"What do you think you're you doing?"
"I was going to look at this leather bag. I'm guessing it came from inside the box. Is that right?"
"Yes. But it doesn't belong to you."
"Teren, it's from the personal artifacts of a suspect in a federal crime. I need to see what it is."
"It's from a dead suspect, and no you don't."
"This is not negotiable, Alex."
Alex waited a moment, but Teren's hand didn't budge. "Alright. Just promise me that I'm not letting go of something that will help me in this case."
"You aren't. I swear it."
"Can't you tell me what it is?"
A moment more, and then Alex nodded. "Fine. Wanna let go of my hand?"
"Let go of the bag first."
"I would if you'd ease up just a bit."
Teren realized she was squeezing Alex's hand too hard for her to do anything. She gently released the agent's fingers. "Sorry."
Alex smiled, and let the object drop back to the table. "No problem."
Teren picked the bag up and tucked it inside her jacket. She fidgeted for a moment, then eyed David's phone, which Alex had placed on the table. She picked it up and handed it to Alex.
"Here. Call your friends."
Alex took the phone cautiously. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. They can tear everything apart now."
Realizing Teren had found what she was looking for, Alex dialed and waited for Cliff to pick up.
"It's Reis. Got a pen?"
She gave him the address, and he told her he'd send the team right away. She hung up and looked at Teren.
"That's done. Why don't we go outside so David doesn't go crazy thinking bad thoughts?"
Teren nodded, then grabbed at Alex as the smaller woman stumbled.
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah. I didn't eat much at lunch, and we didn't exactly stop for dinner. I think I've still got some crackers or something in my briefcase."
"Do you always get unsteady when you don't eat?"
"Only if I mix not eating, with not enough sleep, and a whole lot of stress."
Teren nodded again. "And that's exactly what you've been doing."
"Well, yeah. Don't worry, I'm fine."
They went through the front door, easing around the still upright tripods with their guns still attached.
David was leaning against the wall outside the metal gate. He heard the two women come out of the house, and he tensed slightly, hoping Teren had calmed down.
"Cliff's on the way, David."
"Any idea how long?"
"They're taking the 'copter to the field outside Towson. From there it's probably less than fifteen minutes. I'd say forty-five for the trip."
"Good." David took a deep breath. "Uh, Teren, look--"
"Yeah, I know, you're a by the book kind of guy, always follows procedure. Don't push it, David, I'm really not in the mood to kill you tonight."
"Well, that's good to know. But I wanted to apologize."
"Because even though I'm a procedures person, and I still think it was wrong, I had no right to say what I said. That was stupid, and insensitive, and I'm sorry."
Teren glanced at Alex, but the agent looked away quickly.
"So, you're apologizing."
"Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I'm not apologizing for arguing, but . . ." he threw his hands up. "I shouldn't have said what I said. I am sorry." He waited a moment longer. "And I don't think you're really a killer."
Teren raised both eyebrows, and was silent so long that David began to sweat. Finally, she nodded.
"Of course I am." They locked eyes in silence for a moment. "But thanks."
David nodded once, and turned away. Teren took a breath, and looked over at Alex, who was staring at the ground with a slight smile on her lips. She could see that the blond woman was a little paler than normal.
"Alright, tell you what. David, you wait here for your friends. Alex and I are going to get some dinner. I'll drive her home afterwards."
"Don't start arguing with me again, Agent Wu."
David closed his mouth with a snap.
"Thanks, Teren, but that's not necessary."
"I didn't say it was. Come on, Alex, I'm hungry." She started across the street towards her car.
"Like she said, don't argue with her, Alex." David grinned. "Go on. I know that monster in your stomach is probably giving you a hard time. Besides, I think Cliff will understand. I'll just tell him you were trying to keep a working relationship with our CIA contact."
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Mind? I have a choice between that house, with it's traps disabled, or hanging around with a spook who wouldn't mind blowing my head off. I thinkt I have more chance of surviving if I stay here."
"She wouldn't shoot you, David."
David's face was very serious. "You didn't see her eyes, Alex. I thought I was dead." They looked at each other.
"Alex, come on." Teren's voice cut through the tension between the partners.
"Go on. I'll take care of things here."
"I have my cell phone. If you need me for anything . . ."
"Yeah, yeah, get out of here before she thinks I'm trying to keep you here or something."
Alex squeezed David's shoulder, then crossed the street to where Teren stood.
"You don't have to do this, Teren."
"I know. But you need to get some food, and I'd like the company on the ride back to DC." Teren was surprised to find she was telling the truth. "Besides, it'll give us a chance to talk further about the case."
"Alright. Do you like McDonald's, or are you a SubStore type person?"
"Fast food? Please. Tell me you don't put that poison in your body."
"Hey, I like McDonald's."
Continues in Chapter Twelve