Conspiracy of Swords
(See Part 1 for Disclaimers)
Shadowriter can be reached at Shadowriter@kc.rr.com
Alex looked grumpy but semi-coherent as she got into David's car. Without comment, David handed her a donut and a cup of hot chocolate. As he drove, Alex ate. Other than the engine and the radio, silence ruled the car as David pulled on the interstate to take them into Baltimore.
She finished the donut and crumbled the paper, still slowly sipping at the cup in her hand. With a glance at David, Alex sat up a little straighter, and rubbed her eyes.
"I thought you were just going home after we talked last night. You look like you were up all night. What happened?"
"Couldn't sleep much. Think Cliff'll kill me if I slip home for a nap this afternoon?"
"Can't tell you. But you do look beat. Any reason you were up?"
"Don't laugh. I was having bad dreams."
David smiled, but managed not to even chuckle at his partner.
"You, bad dreams? You're the one who stayed up watching horror movies all night on Halloween -- when there was a thunderstorm raging, I might add."
She was quiet longer than he liked. "Want to talk about it?"
Alex sighed. "I can't prove it, but I think someone was following me last night."
"Are you sure about this?"
"No. It could have been my imagination. After all, when you've spent part of the evening talking to a CIA assassin, you kind of get the heebie-jeebies anyway. But I could swear there was somebody there."
"Wait, hold on. What assassin?"
"Teren Mylos. I told you about her, remember?"
"The frostbite bitch?"
"I didn't call her that."
"No, but if you couldn't charm her, she deserves the name. She's an assassin?"
"Yeah. That's the bad news. The good news is, she's on our side."
"What does that mean?"
"It means she's searching for the same guys we are. She thinks they may have had something to do with her partner's death."
"Hm." David waited while Alex finished her cocoa. "Think she could be the one following you?"
Alex sighed. "I don't know, Dave. Why would she? It's not like I'm a threat to her."
"Maybe she's not what she says she is. You know spooks switch sides all the time."
"I know. Fun and games, man, fun and games." They grinned at each other. "But I don't think so, Dave. She's serious, deadly serious. Her partner died, and she took two bullets because this guy blew their cover. She thinks he was paid for it, and by the same guys that paid to have Dabir killed."
"Well, she did I.D. the shooter as George Mather, former CIA agent, the same man whoscrewed them in eastern Europe."
"At least we have his name. Did she say who paid him then?"
"No. I don't think she knows that. But she does know something, I'd bet on it."
"What about the driver?"
"Mather's brother-in-law. An agency wannabe. Name's Darryl Wilford. And by the way, Teren 'says' that no prejudice was involved on their part."
"Bullshit. You and I both know there was."
"I don't know, Dave, she made a really convincing case. After all, she knew this guy, and was convinced he killed for money, not ideology. I'm inclined to believe her on that."
"So now you don't think these killings were racist?"
"I didn't say that. I said, I agree that Mather may not have killed out of prejudice. Doesn't mean that whoever paid him wasn't a racist son of a bitch."
David tapped his hand against the steering wheel in frustration. "How does that help us, Alex? I mean, doesn't that put us back at square one? I mean we know about Brogan's family ties, and I'm telling you he gave them the car. But how do we tie him to this Mather guy?"
"I don't know. But I was asking Teren about how he would be paid, and she said it would either be cash or electronic transfer. That reminds me," Alex reached down to her belt and unclipped her cell-phone. She dialed rapidly, then waited.
"Who're you calling?"
"Jenny, that friend of mine in Research. She's a whiz with -- Hey, Jen, this is Alex, howya doin'?"
"I'm good, Alex, but busy. And I have a feeling you're going to make me even busier, right?"
"Hey, didn't we do enough for you with that report for Ken? He said it was also for you. Didn't we do a good enough job?"
"Oh, you guys were great. That was really helpful, and when David and I go back to Philly we'll be able to really put the screws to Mr. Brogan."
"If he's involved in this shit, Alex, I hope you get him, but good."
"Thanks, Jen. But, you were right, you know. I am going to ask you for something else."
"Damn. Knew you wouldn't just call to say thanks."
"If you can help me out with this, I'll send you roses and a thank-you card."
"Oh, don't do that, my boyfriend will get jealous."
Alex laughed along with her friend, then became serious again. "Okay, Jen, got a pen and paper?"
"All right, I need any and all financial records you can find on these two names. First one is Mather, m-a-t-h-e-r, first name George. You might have some trouble getting things on him because he's confirmed CIA, but try anyway."
"Okay, and number two?"
"Wilford, w-i-l-f-o-r-d. First name Darryl, d-a-r-r-y-l. Unfortunately, that's all I know about him, just his name."
"So, you want background as well as financial?"
"At this point, anything, but especially finances." Alex bit her lip, and then gave a half-sigh. "Hell, let me give you these other two names as well. I don't know if you'll find anything, since they're CIA as well, but we can try."
"Great. Don't suppose you want to tell me why I'm chasing spooks for you?"
"Didn't think so. What are the other names?"
"Watson, Perry. Spell it just like it sounds." She waited a moment. "Mylos, m-y-l-o-s. First name Teren, t-e-r-e-n."
"Got it. Mather, Wilford, Watson, and Mylos. Good guys, or bad guys?"
"At this point, I'm not so sure I can tell them apart. I'm hoping you can help."
"I'll do my best, pal. You still with that cute partner of yours?"
"You mean David?"
"Yeah. Is he still married?"
"Damn. Well, gotta go. Somebody, who shall remain nameless, just dumped a shitload of work on me."
"Sorry, pal. Get me something on these guys, and I'll send over lunch for you and the old gang, all right?"
"Hey, that'll work! Talk to you later, Alex."
Alex folded the phone and reclipped it to her belt.
"What was that about me?" David asked.
"Oh, Jen thinks you're cute."
"She always had good taste."
"You wouldn't say that if you saw her new boyfriend."
"I hear he has piercings where no one should have piercings."
"Ouch." He waited. "Okay, you want to tell me why you just ordered financial records on someone who's supposed to be dead?"
"You mean Watson? I don't know. I mean, I know the guy's dead, but --" She threw up her hands. "I don't know, call it a hunch."
"And this Mylos?"
Alex frowned. "Again, I can't tell you why. Something in me says I can trust her, but something else says I should be prepared in case she's not all she seems."
"And what does she seem to be, Alex?"
She hesitated before answering him. "Cold. Emotionless. Deadly serious." She stopped and thought about it a little more. "And yet . . . she also seemed angry, and hurt, and -- I don't know."
Alex didn't say anything else, and David didn't ask anymore questions. It was a quiet ride the rest of the way into Baltimore.
The store they were looking for was called Whitley's Fine Clothes For Men. It was located on a busy corner in downtown Baltimore, right next to an office supply store. The mannequins in the window at Whitley's wore handsome dress shirts with dark jackets, and blank expressions.
Before exiting the car, Alex agreed to let David lead the questioning. She followed him into the store, knowing she was too tired to effectively lead any interrogation. If the answers were a little slow in coming, she would probably lose her temper, and they'd never get the answers they wanted. So, she stayed behind David, hanging back as he approached the salesman that had them in his sights.
"Good morning. What can I do for you today?"
It was way too early for such cheer, and Alex wanted to tell the younger man to shove his head up his own tailpipe. Instead she held her tongue, and listened as David asked to speak to the manager.
The manager, Mr. Clymes, was even shorter than Alex, and thin. He greeted them politely, and offered his services.
"Mr. Clymes," David said as he showed his badge, "could we talk in your office? It's important."
"Oh, well," the small man smiled nervously, and glanced at Alex, who was also holding up her badge. "I suppose that would be best. This way."
He led them behind a curtain, and through what was obviously a store room, stopping at his office door. "I'm afraid I only have two chairs in the office, Agent -- Wu, was it?"
"Yes, and two chairs will be fine." David motioned at the door, and Mr. Clymes opened it. It was small, but neat, and the smaller man took the chair in front of his computer, while David sat in the smaller seat next to the desk. Alex stood in the doorway, watching the scene in the office, and keeping a covert eye on the other employees present.
"Now, what can I help you with?"
"Mr. Clymes, I believe you carry a line of clothes by a company called Kittredge."
"Kittredge. Hm." Clymes leaned back in his executive chair and tapped his chin with his left index finger. "I don't know the name offhand, Agent Wu. Is that the manufacturer, or the line of clothes?"
"Well, the manufacturer is Kittredge, and they have a signature line out under that name. However, they also use the brand name Klaser. Does that ring a bell?"
"Klaser. You know, I think that's familiar, but . . ." he leaned forward suddenly, turning on his computer monitor, and waiting for it to show him the screen clearly. "Yes, there it is, Klaser. And you're right the manufacturer is Kittredge." Clymes looked at the FBI agent in his office. "What do you need to know, Agent Wu?"
"Well, for one thing, I'd like a list of anyone who purchased a Kittredge product in the last six months."
"I'm sorry, I can't do that."
"Mr. Clymes, this is a federal investigation. I'd rather not bother the Justice Department for a warrant this morning, but I will."
"No, it's not that I don't want to, it's that I can't."
Alex just couldn't take it. "Would you explain that please, Mr. Clymes?" She had meant to keep her voice calm, but realized she failed when David gave her a glare.
"It's simple, Agent -- uh, Agent --"
"Reis," David supplied.
"Agent Reis. We have a specific and unique agreement with Kittredge, for their Klaser clothes line. They send us certain items, that have been prepaid. We charge them a small fee for using us as an outlet, and the item is picked up by someone after they show the proper receipt. There are never any names attached."
Alex and David looked at each other.
"Do you have this kind of arrangement with many of your suppliers, Mr. Clymes?" Alex almost winced at the irritation obvious in her voice.
"No, Agent Reis, we don't. Kittredge is unique, and it's something I don't exactly approve of. But I inherited the account from the previous manager, and since it's not a problem for us, I haven't found a reason to stop or change the arrangement."
"So, there's no record of items you've received from Kittredge, or who picked each item up?"
"Well, there's the log book that records each item delivered to the shop, and we also record the day it left. But, no, we've never kept the names of the buyers. I'm sure Kittredge would have that information, don't you think?"
David nodded. "Of course. It looks like we'll have to go right to the source. Just to make sure, Kittredge Manufacturing is in Alabama, right?"
"Yes, just outside Birmingham. I have the address if you need it."
"No, I think we have it back at the office. Could you possibly give us a printout of the items from Kittredge?"
"That shouldn't be hard to do, just a moment."
Clymes began clicking away at the computer, and David watched him, while Alex gazed around the storage room. There was something she wanted to ask, but she couldn't think what. Trying to jog her memory, she tried to review the conversation in her mind.
"How long have you worked here, Mr. Clymes?" she finally asked.
Clymes didn't look up from his computer as he answered, "Three years."
"Have you been the manager that whole time?"
"Oh, no, I started out a salesman, just like everyone else. I've only been the manager for about six months."
"Really. What happened to the old manager?"
The printer was busy kicking out papers, and Clymes leaned over to stop them from falling to the floor. "Damn, I forgot that paper tray is broken. Here you are, Agent Wu." He handed the papers to David. "Now, what was that again, Agent Reis?"
"I asked, what happened to the old manager?"
"He quit. Left the owner in a real bind, too. He just called in one day, and told the owner he'd be handing in his keys the next day, and could he please have his check ready. Oh, Mr. Whitley was furious."
David was glancing through the papers, and noted that several overcoats had been sent out in the last six months. He reached into his inner coat pocket and pulled out a picture.
"Mr. Clymes, I just have one other question. I was wondering if you'd ever seen this man in your shop?"
The manager of the store took the picture and held it, looking it over slowly. "Yes. I think that's him, anyway."
"You know him?"
"Yes. As a matter of fact, I remember he came in for a Kittredge coat, oh, back before I was manager. I remember because because I waited on him, and he left me a very large tip. Yes, I'm sure it's him."
"Can you tell us anything about him? His name, or an address for him?"
"No. All I can tell you is that he was always a sharp dresser. And he tipped well." Clymes frowned. "You know, he hasn't been around at all since Darryl left."
Alex's ears perked up at the name, and she felt an eyebrow rise of its own accord. "Excuse me, Darryl?"
"Yes. Darryl was our old manager. He and this gentleman were very good friends. In fact," he pointed at the picture, "this man used to pick Darryl up all the time. One of the younger men even had the nerve to ask Darryl if that was his boyfriend."
"Oh, he was fired. And when he came in to pick up his paycheck, he had a broken arm and a black eye. Said it was from a car accident, but we had a feeling. . . " His voice trailed off.
"What was Darryl's last name, Mr. Clymes?" Alex steeled herself for the answer. She didn't know if she wanted to hear the answer. If it was just a coincidence she'd be disappointed, but if it wasn't, she didn't know what she'd do.
"It was Wilford, Darryl Wilford. I still have his employee file if you'd like to see it."
It really was anticlimactic.
Alex's mind was still reeling as she and her partner got into David's car. David started the engine, but left it in park. Then he leaned back, his eyes on the ceiling.
"Well, at least it's a partial verification of your assassin's story."
"Well, she identified the shooter. Said he hung out with Wilford. Now we come across the manager of this store, and he says Darryl Wilford hung around with this guy," he motioned to the picture in his pocket, "who we now know as George Mather."
"Yeah. But it's not as solid as I'd like." She shrugged. "It feels like I'm still forgetting something."
"If I knew, Dave, I'd tell you. Good job pulling out the picture, by the way. I'm so wiped this morning I probably would have forgotten."
"Doubt it. You'd have remembered, and gone back if you needed to."
"Maybe." She rested her elbow on the door, her hand reaching up to idly play with a few stray strings in the ceiling.
David watched her for a moment longer, and then opened the file Mr. Clymes had given them. Inside was an employment application filled out in an even hand, with a picture attached. He flipped past it for a moment, reading the application. Then he turned to the next page. He was looking for something, but he didn't know what it was until he saw it.
"Here." He showed her the file, pointing to what had caught his eye. "His emergency contact was George Mather. And there's an address."
Alex nodded, taking the folder from him. "Yeah, but it's New York. Last night Teren said he'd been gone from there for eight months."
"How do you know it's the same one?"
"I don't. So, of course, I'd like you to check it out when we get back to the office."
"Me? What will you be doing?"
Alex was staring at the picture of Darryl Wilford. "I have to see a man about a rifle."
David snorted. "Funny, Alex." He put the car in gear and began to pull out of his parking spot. "Really funny."
She looked at him. "I'm not kidding. Teren said something last night about a gun Mather owned, and I want to check it out."
"What kind of gun?"
"A Romanian rifle. One that uses a seven-point-sixty-two millimeter bullet, and has a sniper's scope on it."
"And you think it might have been the weapon in New York?"
"I think it might be possible. But I thought the Dremov was on the list of banned weapons. I want to check with Mikey, in ballistics."
David frowned as someone cut sharply in front of him. "How would Mather get a banned weapon?"
"Come on, Dave. He's CIA remember?"
"Oh, right. Thanks for clearing that up for me, partner."
It was just past one o'clock when they got back the office. As the two of them stepped off the elevator, Mark Garnett came around the corner.
"Hey, you're back. Anything?"
"Yeah, we'll tell you later. Would you spread the word that we need to see everyone in the control room at about three thirty?"
"Sure, Alex, I can do that." Mark started to walk away, then snapped his fingers and turned back. "Damn, I almost forgot. Two things for you, Alex. First, Cliff wants to see you pronto. Something about a meeting last night?"
"I figured he'd want me to stop in. What else?"
"I contacted Price in Philly. He said he'd get samples of the two coats from the police, and send them up with a courier. Matter of fact, they should be arriving at the lab this afternoon. I don't know if you were right, but . . ."
David grinned at him. "For some reason, Mark, I think she was dead on."
"Later." Alex glared at her partner. "Just tell everyone that they really want to be at the meeting. I'm heading to Cliff's office, and then down to ballistics. I'll meet you all at the control center."
"Right. I'm gonna give a call to some of the jobs listed on Wilford's application."
"Wait, who's Wilford?"
Alex patted Mark on the back. "Don't worry, Mark. All will be revealed."
She headed down the hall to see Cliff Jackson.
Alex found Cliff in his office, eating a late lunch. He asked her what Teren had said, and ate his french fries as he listened. The more she told him, the slower he ate. When she told him about Clymes' confirmation, he stopped eating altogether.
"Let me get this straight, Reis. First, Mather screws his comrades over in Europe, getting Watson killed in the process. After that, he comes back to the states, somehow getting in without alerting the agency. He gets the assignment to kill Dabir, and gets his brother-in-law to drive the car. They then get blown to hell because they like making money more than they like the cause. Is this correct?"
"Well, I'm not sure about the timeline, exactly, but I think it's a possibility. Only one thing you missed."
"Teren hinted that Mather might have killed Fletcher in New York."
"Shit. How does she know?"
"She didn't say. But she said he was in New York at the time, and he owns this rifle that uses the right kind of ammo. I'm heading down to ballistics to talk to Mikey and ask him what he thinks."
"Any other leads you're following?"
"Yeah, I've asked Research for financial records on all our players. Maybe we'll shake something loose from the money tree. After all, assassins have to get paid."
"Right. What's David up to?"
"He's following up on Wilford, trying to find out about his past. I'm hoping that if we can fill in a little more of the history, then we can find out who they had contact with. It's going to be tougher with Mather, obviously, but I'm thinking we should try."
"Okay." Cliff was nodding. "I think you've done a good job. But I gotta tell you, you look like shit."
Alex felt her cheeks get hot. "Thanks, Cliff."
"No problem. You haven't been getting much sleep, huh?"
"No. I was thinking of sneaking away after the meeting this afternoon. Would you kill me if I did?"
"Only if you did anything other than get sleep. You keep driving yourself, Alex, and you're gonna end up with ulcers."
"I fully intend to spend the evening sleeping, sir."
"Good. Now, why did you want to call this meeting?"
"Well, number one, I think everyone ought to hear about Mather and Wilford. Two, I think we need to find out where these two were during each of the other killings. Once we do that, we can re-work the timeline, and trace their movements. My gut tells me we'll find one or both in each location at the right time."
"You think the two of them were responsible for all the deaths?"
"Yes, I do."
"Well, since they're dead, does that mean the killings are over?"
Alex clenched her jaw. "I have a feeling they aren't, Cliff. I mean, we don't know who hired these guys, or who blew up their car. Until we answer those questions, I got a feeling the killings won't stop."
Cliff stared at his desk, a faraway look in his eyes as he nodded at her. Then he raised his head and looked at her. "By the way, I got a message from Deputy Director Bishop."
"Yes. He said that he and the director had every confidence in our team, and since they were also short on manpower, there would be no additions to our staff. The task force will continue as is for at least another two months."
Alex shook her head. "That sucks, Cliff."
Cliff had to grin at her. "Hey, chin up. You already found the guys that killed Dabir. You even have their names."
"Yeah, because Teren gave them to me."
"Ah, but remember, you and David planned the trip to the store before you met Teren. So, even without her, you would have gotten one name, and had the other in the folder. All she did was verify what you would have found out."
"I suppose that's true. Clymes would have still identified that photo, and told us he hung out with Wilford. You're right."
"Of course I am. That's why I'm the head of this task force. Now, go talk to Mikey, and let me finish my lunch."
"Right. Sure you wouldn't like a few fries with that side of ketchup, Cliff?"
It wasn't hard to find Mikey Clarin. All you had to do was follow the smell of gunpowder that wafted down the hall from the ballistics lab. As soon as you entered the lab itself, Mikey's office was immediately to the left, behind a row of file cabinets. Everyone knew that if Mikey wasn't in his office he was probably in the testing well.
Alex found the man she was looking for as they each approached his office from different directions.
"Mike, you got a minute or two to spare?"
"For you, Alex, I got three, but not much more than that. I got people crying for test results." Mike Clarin, called Mikey because of his babyish good looks, slid neatly behind his desk and put his feet up on the stack of papers on the corner. Alex grinned at the sight of his tennis shoes.
"Those aren't regulation, Mikey."
"So report me. The only thing they'll do is send out a memo telling me to follow the regs. I'll tell them no, and they'll ignore me 'til someone else reports me, and then the whole thing will start all over again." The two agents smiled at each other. "So, what's on your mind, Alex?"
"What can you tell me about the Romanian Dremov rifle?"
Mike stretched his arms out, then clasped his hands on top of his head. "Good rifle. The Dremov is just one of a series of rifles the Romanians came out with. When it was legal to import them to the U.S., they'd go for as much as twelve hundred dollars apiece. And that was before you added a scope."
"So, it would make a good sniper's rifle?"
"Absolutely. The predecessor of the Dremov was developed by the Soviet Army for use as a sniper's gun." He grinned at her. "But of course it's illegal to bring them into the country. They were still fairly new when the ban went into effect, so the number of collectors that have them legally is pretty small. I'd say there are less than a hundred and fifty legal Dremovs in the states."
"What about illegal Dremovs?"
He snorted. "Who knows."
"Okay. I need you to think about this, Mikey. You remember the Fletcher killing?"
"The New York hit, from the roof top?"
"Right. Is there a possibility that a Dremov was the rifle used?"
The grin pulled into a tight frown. "Well, the caliber is right. Dremov's can be made to take either a thirty-nine or a fifty-four millimeter. The bullets recovered, and the shells found, indicate manufacture outside the states." He shrugged. "It could very well be the weapon used."
"Dremovs can be broken down, right?"
"Absolutely. They can be put together in under a minute, and the break down is even faster."
Alex was tapping her hand against her knee. "Mikey, I know with some handguns, they leave on the bullet a pattern unique to the type of gun, not just the individual barrel. Is that true of rifles?"
"Well, yes, to a smaller degree. But it's not a marking on the bullet itself, it's a pattern on the shell, from both the hammer, and the ejector if it's an auto or semi-automatic weapon."
"Did you check the shells found in New York?"
"Yes, against the markings of over thirty different rifle types. There was no match." He watched Alex's frown grow. "But."
"But not against a Dremov. Didn't have a clue that it was a possibility. They can't be imported. I don't even know if we have the pattern for a Dremov on file."
"Can you check?"
"Sure. Probably take me till tomorrow -- I'm behind as it is."
"No rush. It's not like we have the gun."
"I'll do my best to check it by tomorrow afternoon. Good enough?"
"Definitely. Thanks, Mikey. And consider yourself on report for those shoes, Mister."
"Yeah, yeah. Tell you what. The regulation, as old as it is, says that all agents must wear a protective cup when in the field. It was actually written before women were accepted into the Bureau, but I don't think anyone's ever changed it. The day you start wearing one, I'll stop wearing my sneakers."
"Sounds like a deal to me."
"Yeah. Cause you wouldn't be the same without the shoes, and there's no way in hell you could get me into one of those jockstrap things."
Mikey's laughter followed her as she left the lab.
Alex dropped onto her couch, bringing her feet up and stretching out. She'd left work after the 3:30 meeting, glad to find the Metro much less crowded than it usually was. There'd been a little touch of fear, when she thought about her ride home the night before. But the tickling itch in her back did not develop, and the ride had been quiet. Alex had been so tired, she almost missed her stop.
Now, she was home, and resting. She had stopped at Christo's as she walked home from the Metro stop, and bought her usual chicken parmagian with garlic bread. Stretched out on her sofa, she placed the foam container on her stomach, and lifted the lid. The steam wafted up, bringing the scent of tomatoes and cheese.
Appleby jumped onto her legs and watched her.
"No, big guy, you don't get any. You don't like tomatoes, and cheese makes you sick."
His nose twitched in an effort to remind her that he did like chicken.
"Appleby, you've got plenty of food in your dish. This is mine. Go away."
He didn't move. She took a bite, pointedly staring at him. Alex reached for her cup of tea, still meeting the cat's eyes. She swallowed, then sighed.
"Fine. Here." She pulled a piece of chicken off her plate and handed it to him. He settled contentedly by her feet, chewing.
"Jeez, I'm supposed to be a big tough FBI agent, and I can't even say no to my cat."
Alex snuggled down further into the couch. She used the remote to turn on the stereo, letting the violins and guitar of ELO flow over her. "Only the Electric Light Orchestra can blend the sound of symphony with rock and roll -- and do it so very well."
That had been another sticking point between her and Sarah. She swore by the classic rock she'd grown up with. Sarah loved only jazz and classical music.
As she ate, Alex tried to get her mind onto something other than work. The music, the food, Appleby's begging. Anything but Mather, and Dabir, and, especially, Teren Mylos.
It didn't work, and she was soon going back over what had happened in the afternoon meeting.
She and Cliff had explained the basics of what they'd learned from the CIA, and then David told them about Clymes and his revelation. He'd also passed around the folder on Wilford, including the picture. It was the photo of the dead man that brought Ben Cleves to his feet. He'd reached over to a stack of papers on the table, searching through them until he found what he was looking for. Then, with a breath and a grin, he handed his partner the photo, and the sheet he'd pulled from the pile.
"It's him," was all he said.
Mark Garnett had nodded. "Yep. I think it is."
Cliff leaned over towards them. "Wanna tell the rest of us?"
Ben looked up. "Sure." He turned the piece of paper he'd taken back from his partner, showing it to everyone. Then he held Wilford's picture up next to it. "They're the same guy."
David frowned. "Well, yeah. That's the sketch from Philly, of the driver of the car, isn't it?"
Alex answered him, her eyes wide. "No. That's the sketch of the suspect from Baltimore. Right, Ben?"
Suddenly the things she'd been forgetting were clear to Alex. "Fuck." She slapped her hands on the table top in front of her. "Fucking shit! I can't believe I didn't think of it."
"Think of what, Alex?"
"The description, Cliff. The way Sargeant Leonard described the killers in Philly. He said the driver was of medium build with sandy blond hair. And how was the Baltimore suspect described? Same fucking way."
"Calm down, Alex, we got that part." David tried to calm his irate partner.
"Yeah, but did you get the rest? No, because I've been a stupid--"
Cliff placed a hand on her shoulder. "Alex, shut up." Alex did. "Now, take a deep breath." She did so. "Let it out."
Alex exhaled through her clenched teeth.
"Now, Alex, calmly tell us what you're talking about."
Alex turned to Louis Baker, who was sitting next to his partner, Steve Hentgen. They had been assigned the bombing death of Doug Wilson.
"Lou, would you please repeat the description of the man seen near Wilson's car?"
Lou frowned. "Brown hair, about five-eight, maybe five-nine. Wasn't very detailed, and it doesn't fit Wilford."
Alex shook her head. "No. But it does fit George Mather."
There was silence in the room.
"Something has been bugging me ever since Dave and I got back from Philly, but I couldn't put my finger on it. When Ben connected his shooter's description to the photo, it hit me. Leonard described the two men he saw exactly the same way our witnesses described what they saw. They're the same men. The same two men."
Cliff cleared his throat, but found himself curiously unable to say anything. He coughed, instead.
It was finally Tom Jorgen who broke the silence. "Well, with the descriptions, we can place these guys, one or the other, in Baltimore, Philly, and Atlanta. What about New York and LA?"
Alex sighed. "I don't know. We were told that Mather was in New York, and owns the proper type of weapon, but there is no solid proof. Not that eye-witness statements are altogether solid, but we don't even have that."
Cliff finally found his voice. "It's a good point. I may be able to believe that all four east coast victims were killed by our two crispy critters, but I don't think they did the job on Arturo."
Everyone had to grin at Cliff's description of Mather and Wilford.
"Has anyone heard from Bill and Victor?"
"Yeah. They interviewed the driver, and he fingered a guy named Brillo. They're gonna stay a few days to see if the police can find the suspect."
"Cliff, I think David and I should interview Brogan."
Jackson scratched his neck. "I don't know, Alex. I think I want Ken to do it."
"Sir, I hate to tell you this, but Brogan certainly isn't going to let anything slip to a black man."
"No, he probably won't. That's why I told him to take Price with him. They're gonna play a version of good-cop, bad-cop."
"He's on sick-leave. Those headaches are really draining him."
All the agents were silent, an unconscious moment of honor for one of their own who'd been wounded.
"So, you're pairing Rick Price and Ken Thomas?"
"For a little while. The head of the Philly office thinks Price has a lot of potential, and Ken agreed with him. He doesn't mind taking the kid under his wing."
"You know, he wants to come to Washington."
"And he might just get here. I'm trying to wrangle it so he can join our team."
"I thought Bishop said . . ."
"Yeah, he turned down our request for extra agents from the Washington or Virginia office. However, I never requested anybody from Philly, and if they're willing to loan him out, I'm not gonna turn them down."
Most of the agents grinned at that, and several gave an outright laugh.
"Okay, so what's next? Who's got an idea where to go from here?"
David raised his head. "I really think we should check out Wilford's background. I checked out his address in Baltimore, and found out he had a post-office box as his forwarding address. I thought I'd check out what he might have there. Plus, before his three years at Whitley's, he had a number of other jobs. We might get a better picture of who he was if we talk to his old bosses."
"Good idea, Dave. Why don't you split the list with Mark and Ben."
Tom Jorgen spoke up. "Cliff, me and Rudy would like to head up to New York. Maybe, just maybe, the NYPD has something on these guys. And we'd like to check out Mather's old place, just in case he left an address with someone."
"Teren Mylos said she didn't find anything, Tom."
"I know, Alex, but you said yourself she's kind of scary. Do you really think someone would be totally honest with her?"
Cliff turned to his bomb experts. "And what do you two have in mind?"
"Well, we thought we'd go to Philadelphia -- check out the bomb under the car. Ken says it's different from the one in Atlanta, but I think we want to see it, just the same."
"Good. You two, and Tom and Rudy, see Jodi for my authorization, then go to Trans for tickets. I want your itineraries on my desk by the time you leave the office tonight."
The four named agents gathered their belongings and left. Mark and Ben joined David, looking over the list of employers for Darryl Wilford.
Ben looked up for a moment. "Hey, Alex, are you joining us?"
Alex opened her mouth to answer, but Cliff broke in first.
"No, Alex is doing something for me this afternoon, and then she'll hopefully have some reports from Research to deal with. Besides, I think I want her in the office for a day or two, to look over everything as it comes in. She's the best organizer we have."
Ben nodded, as did Mark. David threw Alex a worried glance, but didn't say anything else as he left with the two men.
Alex sat stiffly in her chair, as Cliff pulled out the seat next to her. He dropped into it with a sigh.
She didn't answer him.
"Alex, it's not a disciplinary thing."
She looked at him. "No? Not even for that outburst a few minutes ago?"
He shook his head. "No, not even for that. I think you punished yourself enough."
"Then why? Why are you keeping me in the office?"
"Because I think you need a break. Look, Alex, you were low on reserves before I sent you to Philadelphia. I knew it, and so did most of the others. You're still tired from the tension down there, and emotionally you've got nothing left. It's okay. It happens."
Alex couldn't meet his eyes.
"Alex, I'm not planning on pulling you off this case, if that's what you're worried about. You're one of the best this team has, and I'd be stupid if I kept you from doing what you do best."
Finally, he could see her head come up. "But you're keeping me grounded?"
"Yes." Her eyes dipped again. "But only for tomorrow. Tonight, I want you to get some rest. Go home, play with that stupid cat of yours, and watch some stupid tv show. Let it go for tonight."
"Tomorrow I want you to go to the gym in the morning. I'll bet anything you didn't work out the entire time you were in Philly. After the gym, you can come in and go over every sheet of paper we have on this case. Who knows, with a clear head, maybe you can solve this thing all by yourself."
That got a half-smile from Alex.
"And if you haven't solved it by Thursday, you and David can go back to chasing these guys outside the office."
Alex nodded. "Got it. I'm on a leash 'til Thursday."
"Yes." He'd studied her for a moment."Any problems with that?"
She shook her head. "No. I was needing sleep, and the trip to the gym sounds good. You're right, I didn't go the entire time we were in PA."
Alex looked at Cliff a little sheepishly. "I gotta tell you, Cliff, I feel kind of like I'm getting a lecture from the headmaster or something. Have I been acting that much like a child?"
Cliff grinned at her. "No. Not like a child." He waited. "A little like a teenager."
They both laughed.
And then Alex had left the office. It was the earliest she'd gotten out of there since before the New Year.
Now, she was safely curled up on her couch, with a full belly, and a contented cat. The strings of ELO had given way to the raspy voice of Stevie Nicks, and Alex could feel herself relaxing. She knew she should get up. She had laundry to do, and she should check her phone messages. But Stevie was singing about taking her love down, and Alex let herself go down as well, falling asleep between thoughts.