Conspiracy of Swords
(See Part 1 for Disclaimers)
Shadowriter can be reached at Shadowriter@kc.rr.com
Gerd knocked gently on the door to Alex's suite of rooms in the safe house. He wasn't expecting her to answer very quickly, but to his surprise, the door opened after only a moment or two.
"Hi, Gerd, come on in."
"Alex. I'm surprised to see you up and about already. I spoke to Teren and she said you were a heavy sleeper and hard to wake up." He sat down on the couch in the small living room. "How long have you been awake?"
"Uh, not long," she lied. The truth was she'd only slept for a few hours. Those dreams that never made an appearance when Teren was there, had plagued Alex as she tried to sleep. She finally gave up, and decided to concentrate on something else instead.
There were papers spread out on the coffee table, some with little notes attached to them. Gerd couldn't read them all, but he did notice that several were in German.
"What are these?"
"Papers. Jurgen grabbed them from Eisenbein's briefcase, and hid them. He gave them to Teren and me before we left."
Alex nodded. "Some. There are some letters from someone in Washington to Eisenbein. Most of them are in German, but they're signed by the mysterious C.J."
"Ah ha." Scooting closer, he eyed the different piles. "What else do we have?"
"Bank deposit slips, I think." She handed Gerd a short stack of small pieces of paper.
"Yes. Deposits, and a few cash withdrawals. But they're all on German banks."
"I realized that. Then I found this," she said as she handed him another sheet of paper. "I can't read it, but it's from the bank in Zurich, and mentions some groups of interest to this case. Care to tell me what it says?"
Gerd glanced at it. "It's a report concerning withdrawals made by Stephen Radcliffe. It looks like an official reply to a query of some kind."
"Really. Does it say what type of withdrawals? Were they for cash, or by check?"
"Check. Made out to different organizations, all American charities. It appears that the same amount was going to every organizaton every two months."
"And the organizations were?"
"It says here, Christians Unite, Religious Families Association, and the Christian Men's Front." He put the letter down and stared at her. "Those are the groups whose leaders are somehow connected to your murders."
"Right. So, I now have one small piece of evidence connecting them to the money. Radcliffe knew the money was illegally obtained, and he spread it out among these groups, funneling it into right wing organizations. Funny, in all the records I've seen on these groups, there was nothing noting such large donations from one individual."
"What else is there?"
"Most of the rest of this stuff, I can't read at all. Would you care to play translator?"
"Certainly. But I promised Teren that I would make you get some food."
Right on cue, there was a loud gurgle from Alex's stomach, and she blushed slightly as she rubbed it. "Yeah, that may be a good idea." She turned serious. "How's Teren?"
"Much more alert. Her head is still aching, but that's to be expected. But all her responses have been normal, and she's staying awake for longer periods of time."
"Good." Alex felt again the little shiver that had passed through her at Teren's whispered, "love you." She had to wonder if it was due solely to the circumstances.
"So, shall I order a late lunch for us? We could eat it while we go through these papers. Oh," he snapped his fingers, "the BKA has taken possession of all files found in the offices of St. Luther's. You are welcome to join them at their offices tomorrow morning and go through them. They also requested that you bring these with you."
She nodded. "I can do that, but I'm hoping that they'll let me take some back to the States. Do you think they will?"
"I don't see why not. At the very least, they will give you copies, and a statement affirming that the originals are in their possession."
"Great. I don't know if we'll ever bring these guys to trial, but I want enough evidence that if we do it will be a slamdunk." She stood and stretched, yawning as she did so.
"Are you sure you got enough sleep, Alex? You still have circles under your eyes."
"I'm okay, Gerd. Just worried about this mess." And Teren. "Think we could go eat lunch with Teren?"
"Sure. She might have gone back to sleep, but we could at least be there. Shall we take the papers?"
"Some of them. Why don't you grab a stack that looks interesting to you, since I can't read them. I'll take the letters that contain English, and go over them again. Then we can eat, and read, and keep Teren entertained if we have to."
Gerd laughed. "Keep Teren entertained. That's a good idea. She already tried once to get out of bed without help, and the doctors threatened to strap her down and put a catheter in if she tried it again."
Alex shook her head. "I can imagine her doing that. What did she say to the threat?"
"She didn't say anything. Just growled."
"Yes. You know that face she makes?" He demonstrated, with his jaw clenched and his lips pulled back over his teeth. He tried to imitate Teren's intimidating stare, while forcing a gravelly noise from the back of his throat.
Alex collapsed on the couch laughing. Gerd chuckled as well, relaxing his features.
"She's much better at it, isn't she?"
Still laughing, Alex nodded. Finally she started to calm down, her laughs turning to soft chuckles. "Oh, boy. I needed that. Thanks, Gerd."
"But you can't imitate her. No one can."
He nodded. "I know." Gerd glanced at Alex's face, which had softened for just a moment. He had seen that same look recently on a person with darker features. Smiling inwardly, he sent a mental congratulations to Teren.
"Well, let's go." Alex scooped up the letters, sliding them into a folder. "I'm hungry."
Gerd picked up a stack of papers as well. "So I heard." The German smiled at Alex, and led the way to the door.
Teren was frustrated. Unable to get out of bed, and not allowed to read or watch television, she was finding herself increasingly bored. Her choices, it appeared, were to sleep, or to count the small squares on the ceiling, of which 247 were visible to her. She had estimated that another fifty or so were hidden from her line of sight.
Add to that a hill-sized headache, and it equaled a mountain of frustration.
She was seriously contemplating trying to at least sit all the way up when Alex and Gerd entered her room. Gerd was carrying a tray of food, while Alex held a stack of papers.
"How's your head, Teren?"
"It hurts, Gerd, what did you expect?"
Alex smiled at the sound of Teren's voice. The irritation was evident, but the tone was strong and clear, and Alex had missed that smooth sound.
She put the papers down on the small nightstand beside the bed, then leaned over to give her friend an awkward hug.
"Glad you're feeling better," Alex whispered. She felt one of Teren's arms wrap around her shoulders, and pull her as close as the woman could. Gently, she dropped a kiss on the forehead, and eased herself out of the embrace. Teren's hand slid down her shoulder to grab Alex's fingers, holding them tight.
Teren was surprised at her own reaction to the hug. It was a comforting feeling, knowing that Alex had been concerned, but the jolt of emotion that spread through her during the gentle embrace was something she hadn't expected. As Alex sat up, she held on to her hand, not wanting to break that slim connection.
As she looked at her friend, she could see the exhaustion that hid under the green eyes and wide smile.
"You didn't sleep, did you," she said. Alex shook her head once. "Nightmares?" A nod. Teren frowned, resolving to be out of the hospital bed by that evening, even if she had to do it at gunpoint. She wanted to be there for Alex.
Gerd had placed the tray on the rolling table that had been moved into the corner. He rolled it back over towards Teren's bed, and lowered it.
"Teren, let the woman go, so she can eat some lunch, eh?"
"You haven't eaten?"
"Wasn't hungry 'til now." Her stomach growled, and Teren laughed.
She immediately put a hand to her head. "Owww. Don't make me laugh, it makes my head hurt."
"I'm sorry, Ter." Alex leaned forward and kissed her forehead again, then moved off the bed to the chair she'd claimed the night before.
She completely missed the look of awe that crossed Teren's face.
After they finished eating, Gerd took the dishes back down to the small cafeteria, leaving Teren and Alex alone.
Alex crawled up on the bed next to Teren, and gently stroked her cheek.
"You know, you really scared me."
"I'm sorry." Teren's blue eyes met the sea-green ones that stared back at her in concern. Taking Alex's hand in hers, she smiled, and gently squeezed the fingers. "I'm sorry I scared you, and I'm sorry I got us in so much trouble."
"What do you mean?" Alex asked.
"I mean, it was my fault." Teren shifted her gaze away from Alex. "I should have been paying better attention. If I had, we could have snuck around them, hidden or something, until --"
"No. Don't you start that."
"No. What happened was not your fault. It wasn't anyone's fault, it just happened. I'm okay, and you're going to be fine. The two of us got out of there safely, mostly thanks to you hearing those guys before they got within shooting range. You are not going to blame yourself for this."
Teren was quiet, her eyes drifting around the room. She knew Alex was wrong, and that if she had been just a little more cautious, the gun battle wouldn't have taken place. But she couldn't bring herself to tell the FBI agent that she should have been able to hear the men as soon as the two women left the tomb. She was still angry at herself for letting her skills slip so very much.
Alex finally decided enough was enough, and she took Teren's chin in her fingers, bringing the blue gaze back to hers. "It wasn't your fault, Teren. And if you want someone to blame, then blame me. I'm the one who convinced you to get involved in this case. You would probably have been better off declining that dinner invitation from Sarah." Her eyes teared up a little as she said it.
Teren's mouth dropped open, and her eyes widened. "Is that what you think? You'd rather I'd have stayed out of it?"
Her head shook furiously. "No! That's not what I said. I meant that it might have been better for you. You wouldn't have had to waste your time and money dragging me across Europe just to clear my name. You wouldn't have been attacked in Zurich, and you wouldn't have been sh --"
"Stop it." Alex's arm was trapped in an iron grasp. "You stop it, right now." She struggled to one elbow, glaring at Alex the whole time. "Number one, this has not been strictly about you, or about Perry. It's about making sure the conspiracy is broken. Number two, don't you dare tell me I've been wasting all my time. Cause it's not true." It can't be. "There is nothing else I could have, or would have, done." And no one else I would have done it with. "So, don't you go telling me what's good for me or bad for me. Got it?" You're good for me. Can't you see that?
Alex nodded. Her eyes were shiny with unshed tears, and her hands were gently draped over Teren's shoulders. "I got it, Ter. I got it." She pushed the shoulders gently. "Now, would you lay back down, please? If the doctor walks in, he'll throw me out, and strap you in bed for a week."
Teren growled at the mention of the doctor, but let her weight sink back onto the bed. She was suddenly aware of the pounding in her head again, and she closed her eyes against the pain.
Alex rested her hands on Teren's arm, and just watched her for a while. She expected her wounded friend to fall back asleep, but her breathing never deepened, and eventually, eyelids lifted to reveal blue once more.
"I still say it wasn't your fault, though."
She got a weak grin from Teren, who lifted her arms in invitation.
Alex leaned into them, resting her head on Teren's chest, just above her heart. She closed her eyes for just a moment, to enjoy the warmth and peace she always found here. The drumming under her ear made her smile, even as it relaxed her.
Teren realized Alex had fallen asleep on her shoulder. She didn't care. With a soothing circular motion, she rubbed the smaller woman's back, letting her own eyes drift shut. In a few minutes, Alex would wake up and pull away from her, but for now, she was right where Teren wanted her to be.
Teren wanted to enjoy it as long as it lasted.
Gerd found them that way a few moments later, and stood watching them for a few moments. Teren looked more peaceful in that moment than he had ever seen her before. He smiled, thinking that his normally somber friend had finally found someone to care about.
Tiptoeing into the room, Gerd lifted Alex's legs, and moved them back into a more comfortable position. The woman shifted, but didn't awaken. Taking a blanket from the end of the bed, Gerd covered them both.
He closed the door as he left.
"No. Absolutely not, it's out of the question."
The doctor started to walk away from Teren's bedside, but one long thin hand reached out for his arm.
"Just listen, Doc. I'm serious. You keep me here any longer, and I'm gonna go stir crazy."
"Teren, you were shot in the head!"
"It barely hit me. Gave me a headache, that's all."
"And seventeen stitches, as well as a headache. No. You are not going anywhere."
Alex, who was leaning against the wall by the door, could see the frustration building in her friend's face. She could understand the doctor's concern, however, she also knew that staying in bed all day wasn't something Teren dealt with well. It had been almost twenty-four hours since she'd been shot, and to Teren, that was long enough.
When she heard the growl coming from Teren, Alex decided to step in.
The man turned to Alex in surprise. He'd completely forgotten she was there. "Yes, Alex?"
"I don't think she's ready to be out of bed either," she said with a grin. Teren's growl got louder for a moment, and Alex winked at her. "But is it really necessary for it to be this bed?"
"I don't --"
Alex held up a hand to stop his protests. "Look, you have her being helped from the bed to the restroom, but she does it standing up, right? Walking, with assistance?"
"Well, yes, but --"
"And it's very important for a patient to be comfortable in order to rest, right?"
Waving a hand at the woman in the bed, Alex asked, "Does she look comfortable to you?"
He turned back to the bed, and eyed Teren warily. "No."
"Then, why don't we compromise? Teren will ride to the house in a wheelchair. It's a very short distance. From there, she'll get in bed, and she will not get out without assistance, nor will she get out of bed for any reason except to go to the restroom." Alex sent a hard stare Teren's way. "And if she does she'll answer to me."
The doctor chewed his bottom lip for several minutes, his gaze going back and forth between both women. Finally, he took a deep breath and nodded.
"Alright. I'll allow it. But," he added, "the restrictions on reading and television are still in force. You need to rest your head, and that includes your eyes. Understood?"
Teren nodded, still grinning.
"And Alex, if you have to leave her alone for any length of time, you will alert me so I can have a nurse there."
Alex nodded, trying not to smile at the sudden frown on Teren's face. "I understand. It's not a problem."
"Okay, then. I'll get some people together to help with the transfer. Can you get her dressed?"
"No problem, Doc." Alex grinned at Teren as the man turned to leave. She waited until he was out of the room before she pointed a finger at her partner. "You're going to behave. Understood?"
Teren nodded, the grin back on her face. "And you're going to help me get dressed, right?" The grin turned into a leer.
Alex rolled her eyes and reached for the bag that held Teren's clothes.
Gerd had a car pull up on the lawn next to the hospital door, and they loaded Teren into that rather than a wheelchair. She grumbled the whole time, but allowed them to drive her to the safe house where she and Alex were staying. After getting out of the car, she told Gerd that she didn't need his help getting inside, but allowed Alex to put an arm around her waist.
Alex recognized the stubborn look on Teren's face, but saw pain with it as well. Without a word she slipped Teren's arm over her shoulders, and led the way to their suite. To everyone else, it looked like they were simply walking down the hall. In reality, Teren was leaning heavily on Alex. The dizziness had increased, and her head was pounding again.
Gerd had offered to unlock the door to their set of rooms, but Alex declined, thinking Teren would want as few people around as possible right then. Instead, she reached for the door with her left hand, and kept a firm hold on her taller partner with her right arm. When they got inside, and the door closed behind them, Teren leaned back against it, trying hard not to lose the meager dinner she'd had an hour earlier.
"Can you make it to the bedroom, or do you want to crash on the sofa for now?"
Teren nodded. "Bedroom. Just give me a minute."
A few minutes later, Teren was sitting on the edge of the bed, letting Alex undress her. She wondered why they had bothered to get her dressed in the first place, but decided the cold air of a German evening in February was reason enough. Her thoughts wandered, a little more than usual, until Alex finished by pulling a fresh t-shirt over her head.
"You ready for bed?"
"I thought I just got out of bed."
"Well, pal, you're going back. You're white as a sheet, and I'll bet your head's hurting worse, isn't it?"
Teren nodded. She felt miserable. But at least she wasn't in that stupid hospital bed, and that thought brought a tiny smile to her face.
Alex handed her a glass of water, and a pill. After Teren took it, Alex helped her under the covers, and then pulled them back up to her chin.
"Are you warm enough?"
"Are you comfy, or do you need another pillow?
"No, I'm fine."
Alex raised an eyebrow. Something in those blue eyes told her Teren wasn't as fine as she said. But Alex decided it could wait. It had already been a long day.
She headed for the door, but stopped at the sound of her name.
"Aren't you going to stay with me?"
If Alex didn't know better, she would have sworn the words came from a child. She swallowed the emotion down, and went back to the bedside.
"Yes, love, I'll stay with you. I want to go over some papers that Gerd translated for me, and then I'll be in, okay? You just rest now."
Teren nodded, her eyes still closed. "You could read them in here."
"No, the light would bother you. I know your head's hurting pretty bad right now, and I don't want to make it worse."
Teren frowned, but nodded again. "'Kay."
It was just like dealing with a child, Alex decided, only one that was very large and could get under skin with a word or a look. Lying in the double bed, her head bandaged across the right side, Teren looked more like a child than an agent for the CIA. Alex was once again struck by the differences between the agent and the woman.
She spent another moment brushing her fingers across the forehead, then sighed. Teren had already slipped into sleep, and it wouldn't matter now if she worked in here, or in the other room. Nodding, she decided, and headed into the living room to gather the sheets she'd been working on. Then she changed, and crawled in beside Teren.
A half hour later, the letter she'd been holding slipped from her hand as she fell asleep.
Continues in Chapter Thirty-four