Conspiracy of Swords
(See Part 1 for Disclaimers)
Shadowriter can be reached at Shadowriter@kc.rr.com
As the plane taxied to the gate at Dulles International, Alex felt the knot in her stomach grow. When the plane finally halted, she found it to be so big she could barely swallow. Her fingers clutched convulsively at the armrests, and when a hand touched her, she jumped.
Teren gave her a soft smile. "It's going to be fine, Alex."
Her blonde companion nodded. "I know." Then she released her seatbelt and stood, grabbing her briefcase from under the seat in front of her. "You ready?"
"How's your head?"
"Not great, but not bad, considering."
They moved out into the aisle, heading towards the front of the plane, then through the door and into the long walkway.
Teren knew something was wrong when she saw airport security at the gate. Alex saw them too, and slowed her steps.
"I don't know, Alex."
The uniformed guards moved forward.
"Alexia Reis? You're under arrest. Turn around and put your hands over your head."
Teren could feel her friend tense, as if to fight, and she quickly shook her head. They had a better chance of getting out of this if they followed along for the moment.
"No, Alex," she said just loud enough for her friend to hear. "Play along. I'll get you out of this, I swear I will." She slipped her hand alongside Alex's, gently removing her briefcase from her clutching grip. "I promise, Alex."
With a defeated look, Alex turned, her hands on top of her head. A second later she felt the cold snap of a cuff circling her wrist.
Teren watched them cuff her friend, and begin moving her towards an office area. They had completely ignored her, and while she didn't know why, it made her feel a little better that they had.
She started to follow, when Graves appeared out of the crowd, and held up a hand.
"No, Teren. It's taken care of. Come on, we have a car waiting, and your bags will be picked up." He motioned towards the mobile launch that would take them to the main terminal. "This way, please."
The dark agent glared at him, and stepped up very close. "Anything happens to her, Mister Graves, and I will leave a grease spot in your place." She bared her teeth and growled for affect.
Graves straightened his glasses, and adjusted his tie. "Aherm. Yes. Well, I suppose we should go then, don't you?" He moved away on shaky legs, feeling a trickle of sweat snake its way down his back.
Alex was led through several doors, and then down a flight of stairs. Another door, and they were outside, obviously heading towards a dark blue sedan with government plates. At first she relaxed when she saw Cliff Jackson standing beside it, but a memory of her earlier conversation with Teren made her tense up all over again.
Cliff was wearing a gray suit, with a pair of sunglasses that blocked his eyes from Alex's view. He didn't speak to her, but nodded and opened the door as the men approached.
"Well done, gentlemen. We'll take over from here."
"No problem, Agent Jackson. We were glad to help out."
They pushed Alex next to the car, pressing her head down. She resisted for a second, pinning Cliff with a glare. Then she allowed them to press her into the car. Cliff slid in after her, and closed the door.
Teren stayed silent until her boss had gotten into the car. Then she casually leaned over and pulled his gun, pressing it against his temple.
"Tell me what's going on, Ronald."
He swallowed hard, but reached forward and started the car anyway.
"We made a mistake putting the tickets in your real name. Airport security got wind of it, and we learned they were going to meet you at the gate and arrest Agent Reis. I'm sorry I couldn't warn you ahead of time, Teren."
"Another mistake?" She shook her head. "Not good, Ron. You're making far too many. Give me a good reason why I shouldn't just eliminate you and all your fucking mistakes."
"Because you wouldn't know which safe house your friend is being taken to."
Teren stopped for a moment. "I thought she'd been arrested?"
"Well, we arranged for airport security to hand her over to a couple of FBI agents, who will then take her to the safe house."
"Who are the agents?"
"Ken Thomas and Cliff Jackson."
"Shit." Teren holstered his gun and leaned back. "You idiot, Ron. Get moving."
He backed out. "What's wrong?"
"I think Jackson's part of this."
Graves snorted. "Not likely. I've known the guy too long, Teren."
"Yeah, and you're judgment on people up to this point has been just great, Ron."
He didn't say anything for a moment, and they left the short term parking.
"I thought I was doing pretty good, Teren. I chose you and Perry, after all." There was true regret in his voice."I've been doing this for a long time, Teren, and the one agent I ever misjudged was Mather."
"And I lost my partner because of it. If you're wrong this time, and I lose Alex. . . ." she broke off, unable to speak around the choking lump that rose in her throat.
Graves nodded, and the car sped up.
Alex glanced towards the driver, and was surprised to see Ken Thomas grinning at her.
He started the car and pulled away from the building. Cliff looked back at the way they'd come, then reached behind Alex and undid the cuffs.
"Jeezus, Alex, it's damn good to see you." He said, and pulled them from her wrists.
"Same here, Cliff. I think." She frowned, rubbing her hands to get some feeling back. "Wanna tell me what's going on?"
"Sure. Sorry about the arrest thing. We blew it, and airport security saw your name. Until you're cleared with the Director, we can't take you off rogue status. So, they had every right to arrest you."
"So, I'm being taken to a federal lock-up?" she asked quietly.
"Not hardly," Ken winked at her in the rearview mirror. "Nah, we'd been working with a CIA man named Graves to get you back here. So, when we found out that security would be waiting, we just decided to let them do their job -- course then, Cliff and I would be available to take you off their hands, and take you to meet the Director."
"Per written instructions from Director Collins himself," Cliff added. "Everything above board, no mishaps, everyone happy."
"Right." Alex eyed Cliff. He seemed a little older, as if the last week had aged him without touching those around him. She wanted to think of him as the friend she'd always considered him, but Teren's words echoed in her mind.
"How's David?" she asked to change the subject.
"He's fine, Alex." Cliff put a hand on her shoulder. "Soon as we get this visit with Collins out of the way, Ken's volunteered to drive you to the hospital to see him."
"Any word on when they might release him?"
Ken spoke up from the front. "Tomorrow. Miri's all excited about it."
"That's great." Alex relaxed a tiny bit at knowing her partner was going to be just fine. "I can't wait to see him."
Patting her again, Cliff leaned back, and relaxed, blowing out a sigh of relief. "Damn glad you're home, kid."
Alex nodded. "Nice to be back, Cliff." I think.
Teren recognized the house as soon as it came into view. She had spent part of her convalescence in the large white building, and had enjoyed the peace and quiet that still reigned in this area outside DC. It had been a safe haven then, and she could only hope that it would be now as well.
"How long until Alex is supposed to arrive?"
"They should be right behind us. I'm afraid you won't get to see her for a little while, though. She's supposed to be in a meeting as soon as she gets back. I'll help you get settled in, and you can get a shower and some dinner while you wait."
"A meeting with who?"
Graves glanced at her. "The FBI Director, Andrew Collins. I told you that, remember?"
She nodded. "Right. They're meeting at the house?"
"Yeah, soon as Cliff brings her in. You and I will go through the back, and check in." He turned the car into the driveway, and drove past the house, turning into a small circular area behind the building.
Teren stared at the house, lost in her memories. This was where she had finally broken down and accepted Perry's death. Where she'd heard of the lack of success in finding Mather -- and where she had sworn to Perry's spirit that she'd find Mather, and destroy him, along with whoever he was working for.
This was the place where she'd woken to the realization that she'd killed her partner. Even though it was at his insistence, it had still eaten away at her.
Alex's image popped up in her mind, and the guilt eased somewhat. Alex had never even raised an eyebrow at the revelation that Teren had fired the bullet that ultimately killed Perry Watson. She'd taken it in stride, accepting it as part of Teren's engimatic past. For that, Teren had been, and always would be grateful.
Graves's voice cut into her thoughts, and she moved away from the car, carrying both her's and Alex's briefcases.
Alex was beginning to get nervous as they left the District and headed into Virginia.
"So, where's this meeting supposed to be, Cliff?"
The older man lifted his head and blinked. "Some CIA house. Ken has the directions." He put his head back against the seat.
"I see. And what about Teren?"
Ken glanced at her. "Teren's supposed to meet you at the safe house. Don't worry, Alex. Everything's been taken care of."
"Right." That's what I'm afraid of.
They turned off the highway, taking the frontage road for a short distance before turning once more, and heading due west. They were no longer in the city, which had given way to sprawling open fields, mixed with forest. Every mile or so they'd pass what appeared to be a small farm, but other than those brief glimpses, there were no other buildings.
Eventually, Ken turned the sedan into a driveway and slowed at the gate. He flashed his badge at the guard, who grunted and waved him through.
Alex could see several security cameras by the gate, and a few more in the bushes as they followed the gravel drive towards the house.
The place reminded her of the sprawling antebellum mansions of the Old South, complete with a wrap around white veranda, and an ivy trellis. There were three floors, without counting the basement, and she estimated her entire apartment would probably not take up a quarter of the main floor.
Cliff whistled. "Wow. What a place. Looks like you'll be comfy here, Alex."
She smiled weakly at him. "Maybe."
Ken pulled to a stop in front of the porch, where two men had come out of the house and were waiting. The three FBI agents stepped out of the car.
"Agent Reis? The Director's been expecting you. If you'd come with us, please?"
Alex nodded, following one of the men up the stairs.
Teren stared out the second floor window as the car pulled up. A sigh of relief escaped as she saw her blonde friend get out, and walk towards the house.
"Is that them?" Graves asked from behind her.
"Yeah. They're here. So, I have to wait until after this stupid meeting?"
She turned to him. "I hate this, Graves. You know I hate this control bullshit."
"I know. If it was up to me, I'd let you be down there, Teren, but sometimes we have to play by their rules. Since you're back on the active agent roles, there's a lot of concern over the CIA and FBI being on the same case --"
"Wait a minute! When the hell did I become an active agent again?" she yelled. "Last I heard, they weren't even going to test me for field readiness for another three months."
Graves looked uncomfortable, and he twitched his shoulders. "Well, it was decided to put you back on, after we learned you had left the country with an FBI agent who'd supposedly gone rogue." He glared at her. "You should have let me know what was going on, Teren."
"Why? Until I'm a field agent, you're not my handler."
"Because we could have helped you."
She threw her hands up. "Yeah, right. Help. I call you and two days later my partner is arrested because of your fuck up. That's helping, alright."
His face was red. "We were trying to get you both home safely. Without our protection, your friend --" he stopped. "Did you call her your partner just now?"
Teren glared at him, and he winced as her eyes eyes drilled into him like diamond points.
"Yes. I called her my partner." She took a step towards the shorter man. "Is there a problem with that?"
Graves coughed. "Um, no. No problem. Tell you what, why don't I let you get unpacked, and I'll wait down in the, um, kitchen. Okay?" He backed out the door, and offered her a sickly smile before quickly escaping down the stairs.
Teren sighed, and glanced around the small suite she'd been given. It was the same one she had stayed in after Perry's death. Alex, she'd been told, was to be in the one next door.
She sat in one of the chairs by the coffee table, and waited. Unpack? No fucking way. No way would she sleep in this room ever again. As soon as Alex was in the clear, they were out of there.
Even if she had to shoot her way out.
Alex finished her story to Director Collins and waited for a response. She fidgeted in her seat, frustrated at not being able to read the older man's impassive face, as he listened and smoked his pipe.
After a moment longer, he nodded, and leaned forward, knocking the bowl of the pipe against an ashtray.
"It's quite a tale, Agent Reis." She nodded, but didn't say anything. "Now, you want to tell me the part you've been holding back on?"
Her eyebrow rose. "Excuse me, sir?"
"There's something you're not telling me. Though for the life of me I can't figure out what it is. That's irritating, especially when you have to know that this is the one chance you have at getting off of rogue status. It would be in your best interest to tell me the whole story, and yet you hold something back." He shook his head. "If I didn't know better, I would think you didn't trust me."
Alex swallowed hard, and took a deep breath. "Okay." She thought for a moment longer, making her decision. "We have reason to believe that one of the men involved in this conspiracy is a high ranking FBI official."
She waited for a reaction, a touch frightened when it didn't come. Then the director blinked, and raised his own eyebrow.
"Why do you think this?"
"They had information they shouldn't have had. Brogan mentioned they also had some kind of protection from law enforcement, or he thought they did. Plus, there's the question of a phone call from the FBI to the Philadelphia police -- "
Collins held up his hand. "I heard about that from Cliff. He said the call came from his office, but he doesn't know who made it. They've never been able to track it down." He tilted his head. "You think it's Cliff, don't you?"
For a moment, she didn't answer. Then she gave a tiny nod, and said, "We think it's a possibility."
The director leaned back in his chair. His eyes narrowed in though, and Alex had to force herself not to fidget again. They stayed that way for several minutes, until Collins gave a sigh.
"Well, Alex, you've given me a number of things to consider, including the possiblity that we have a turncoat in our midst."
"I'm sorry, sir. I wish I could give you better news."
He nodded. "Right. Well, tell you what. Why don't you step out of here for a minute, and let me think things over. Send Mr. Graves in if you see him, I just need to check a few details with him. I'll call you when I've made my decision."
"Yes, sir." Alex stood. "Thank you for hearing me out, sir."
Collins nodded, and dismissed her with a wave.
She left the room, finding Ken and Cliff still seated in the large living room. Ron Graves was with them.
Alex cleared her throat as she entered, and they all stood.
"Mr. Graves? Director Collins would like to speak to you."
"Thank you, Agent Reis. Is he still in the study?"
"Yes." She watched Graves leave the room.
Ken took step and motioned with his hand. "So? What's the verdict? What did he say?"
"He's thinking about it. He said I should wait for a few minutes, and he'll give me a decision."
Cliff nodded. "It'll be nice to have you back, Alex."
"We don't know that I'll be back, Cliff. This whole thing could fall apart."
"No way." Ken shook his head emphatically. "There's no way in hell he won't throw out the charges. He might give you a little disciplinary duty or something, maybe even suspend you without pay for another week, but no way is he just going to toss you in a cell. You didn't do anything wrong."
"I fled the country instead of answering charges, Ken."
"They were bogus charges, Alex, I know. I was there."
Cliff nodded. "Yeah, they were bogus. He might discipline you for leaving, Alex, but the charges will be thrown out.You'll be back on my task force by tomorrow."
Well, we'll see, Cliff. I hope you're right." Alex took a seat on the couch. "Speaking of the task force, what's been happening since I left? We got some reports from Ken, but not many." Ken winked at her as he took a spot on the other end of the couch.
Cliff sat back down in his chair, and turned a little towards Alex. "Well, I've had all the teams working on something. Tom and Rudy have been going after Derek White, but they missed him in Alabama, so now they're trying to track him down here in DC. Bill and Vic found a link between Arturo's killer, and Mather, and they're in California chasing down a couple leads. Steve and Louis are investigating the fire at Kittredge. They said it's arson. Maybe a bomb, maybe something else, but definitely arson."
Alex sat straight up and stared at her boss. "Whoa, wait a minute. Kittredge? What fire?"
"Happened the night before Radcliffe was killed, " Ken said. "The whole place burned to the ground."
"Yeah, a couple bodies. One, a woman, is unidentified, and the other -- get this -- the other, is White's father-in-law."
Alex whistled. "Did they die in the fire, or before?"
"Before. The guy was shot, and somebody caved in the woman's head -- M.E. said it could have been the butt of rifle, but he's not sure."
"Which makes me think they were killed, then dumped, and the place torched by White, " Cliff said.
Ken shook his head. "No, I don't think it was White."
"Why not, Ken?"
"Alex, why would he kill his father-in-law?"
"Bah," Cliff waved at Ken, "you might as well ask why he shot Radcliffe. Point is, we don't know."
"How do we know he shot Radcliffe?"
"We found a rifle at the scene with his fingerprints."
Alex kept her mouth closed. She didn't know which information she could trust to whom, and she decided it was best to just not say anything.
Instead, she decided to change the subject. "So, tell me what Mark and Ben have been doing."
Cliff shook his head. "Not a clue."
Ken laughed at the shocked look on Alex's face. "For some reason, they decided it was important to follow some corporate links, rather than the right-wing groups. So, they've been over at the IRS offices a lot, looking at tax records. You'll have to talk to them yourself. When they found out you were coming back, they said they had some great stuff for you."
"But you don't know what they're doing, Cliff?"
"Oh, I know where they are, and I know they're tracking corporate leads, I just don't have any specifics for you. In the week or so that you've been gone, I've kind of left them to their own stuff," Cliff said. "They requested to miss the daily meetings so they could spend their time at the IRS-- they were on to something, and they weren't letting it go."
"Well, good for them."
The door to the study opened, and Alex turned to see Ron Graves leave the room and head for the stairs. A moment, later, Andrew Collins called her.
Alex stood and shared a grim look with Ken and Cliff, before going back into the study and closing the door behind her.
Collins seated himself and motioned her to sit down. She did so and he nodded. "You're off rogue status, Reis."
Alex let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. "Thank you, s--"
Collins held up a hand. "Don't thank me, " he said. "You're not a fugitive, but I'm afraid I will have to ask for your badge."
Continues in Chapter Thirty-seven
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