The sound of cartoons and the equally unmistakable smell of coffee wafted down the hall and into the back bedroom, where Spencer Rollins had just enjoyed her best night's sleep in a week. That the covers were thrown back on the opposite side of the bed was evidence that she hadn't spent the night alone, but she might as well have, given her near-comatose state.
But it was definitely interesting that she'd been invited to share the bed, especially in light of yesterday's revelation. Immediately, she chastised herself for any leap of logic she was tempted to make, but the warm and fuzzy feeling lingered nonetheless.
Spencer stared at the ceiling as she went over in her mind the proof that Henry had found. A second global program included a routine that inflated the number of cytokines for both the executive reports and the accountants. The full bill was paid to the supplier, who carved out the extra dollars for all of the players. Best she could tell, the players were James, Stacy Eagleton, the cytokines supplier, and the line producer in Little Rock. James was obviously expendable once the program was in place, and when he participated in Henry's murder, he became a liability. The missing link was to the feds, the guys who wanted her dead. The only connection she could think of was that this was a federal contract.
"So you're awake." Ruth appeared in the doorway, coffee mug in hand.
"Yeah." Spencer pushed herself up in the bed. She was still in last night's t-shirt, but her jeans lay in the floor.
"Did you figure things out last night?" Ruth sat on the edge of the bed and handed her the mug.
"Thanks. I think so. I still don't know why the feds are involved, though. I mean, it's a federal contract, but that doesn't explain those guys being on the take too."
"Isn't that what your friend does? Didn't you say she tried to find people with what was it ill-gotten gains?"
Spencer nodded pensively. Elena would have access to all kinds of information. She could probably figure out exactly who was involved in this.
"I need to find a way to get this stuff to her."
"Can't you just mail it?"
Spencer shook her head. "No, these guys are probably watching her and checking her mail. I know they were tapping her phone. They're waiting for me to contact her again, and they can't afford to have me tell her what I know."
"Maybe ," Ruth couldn't believe she was really going to say this, "I could take it to her."
"No way. I don't want you involved in this." Spencer was adamant. It was too big a risk.
"Hello! I'm already involved. If these guys find you, they're going to find you here. You think they're just going to let me tell everybody what you told me?"
For the first time, the programmer realized with alarm the position she'd put them all in. No one was safe here, thanks to her.
"Then I need to get out of here." Quickly, she threw back the covers and grabbed her jeans.
"No! Listen to me."
Slowly, Spencer sat back down, surprised at the forcefulness of the smaller woman's voice.
"They don't know me. Elena doesn't know me. Why can't I just make an appointment with her to talk about my taxes or something and give her your stuff?"
Spencer shook her head. "She doesn't do that kind of thing. The only people who talk to her about taxes are looking for a plea bargain."
"Well think of something else, then. But you're not leaving, not until I know you're going to walk out of here to someplace safe."
And that was that.
Special Agent Calvin Akers winced when he saw the lighted number on his cell phone. He dreaded the tirade that would start the instant he answered the call.
"This is Akers."
"It's about goddamned time you took my call!"
"I've been in meetings," he lied.
Stacy Eagleton recognized a lie when she heard it, but she had more important nuts to squeeze. "What's the status of Spencer Rollins?"
"We've got her picture out there. I just got the okay to throw in a reward, so unless she's hiding under a rock, we're a big step closer." He hoped that would placate the bitch.
"You better hope so! You and Pollard have a hell of a lot more at stake here than the rest of us."
Akers clicked off the phone when Eagleton ended the call. He didn't need her reminder of what was at stake. Two people were dead at his hand, and every day that Spencer Rollins ran free, he and Pollard were more at risk.
But he was pretty sure they could stand up to scrutiny if she started making accusations. They'd put together a pretty good case: Eagleton's commentary on her paranoia and temper; video of her fleeing the scene; they'd even managed to tamper with the gate log, showing her arriving that night before James. And speaking of James, Pollard had even thought to use one of the kitchen knives from Rollins' apartment.
Yep, she was guilty, and they could prove it if they had to.
"This is all clear to me, Spencer. Really, I understand every word well, except for the part about calling globals and macros. You might want to spell that out a little bit." Ruth read all six pages of Spencer's typed account, stopping when she got to the attached sheets of code.
Spencer had worked all afternoon at Viv's computer writing down her account of events and her theories about the players. The only link she could imagine that involved federal agents was that they had possibly done background checks for the key personnel executing the contract.
The programmer made some notes in the margin and reread the difficult section.
"That's much better," Ruth agreed. "So all you have to do is put this in Elena's hands, right?"
"Right. I guess I need to go back over to Viv's and do these edits first."
"What if you sent it to the newspaper?"
"I thought about that. Hell, I thought about calling them last weekend. I thought it might protect me if I made it all public, because they wouldn't dare do anything with all of that attention on me. But the problem with that is that they'd get to the evidence and destroy it. If I can't prove they did it, they'll find a way to make it look like I did. And Henry's killers will go free."
"So is there anyone else you can give it to that can pass it on to Elena? Any of her friends?"
"Nobody I can think of, but I'm still working on it." Spencer scooped up her papers and set them aside. "And I think there's something else we should do."
"I think we should tell Elena all about you and Jessie."
"Oh, no. I don't think so." No way was she going to confess to being a fugitive to a federal agent.
"If anyone can help you if anyone will help you it's Elena Diaz."
"Why would she help me? She doesn't know me from Hedda's house cat."
"But she knows me. And she'd help you because I asked her to."
"I think you're forgetting one very important fact here, Spencer. I'm guilty of a felony. I kidnapped my child and fled across state lines. The feds are looking for me now too. And if she finds out, she may have to turn me in, whether she wants to or not."
"No, she won't. Elena cuts deals with criminals all the time to get a bigger fish. She has the authority to do things like that. She wouldn't turn you in if I asked her not to." Spencer needed to make her see that Elena could fix this. She might be able to look into some things, lean on a few people, throw a little weight around. Ruth shouldn't have to be on the run. She'd done nothing to deserve the way the system had treated her, and that needed to be fixed.
"Fine, I'll do it under one condition."
"You let me take it to her." The brunette started to speak, but Ruth put up her hand. "That's the only way I'll agree to do it."
Spencer was over a barrel and she knew it. If she didn't give in, her hands were tied as far as helping Ruth set things right. She couldn't just go to Elena about the mother and daughter unless Ruth gave her all the information. She needed names, and circumstances, and theories about who might be able to help Ruth back in Maine. If it could be done, Elena Diaz would make it happen.
"Something stinks here, Chad." Agent Diaz slumped uninvited into the leather chair across from her boss's desk, her hands clutching a manila folder. All of their conversations about the Spencer Rollins case took place in his office because hers was bugged by the FBI.
"I sympathize, but what can I do? She's called you twice already." Chad Merke had been none too happy with the FBI's request to monitor his agent's communications, and he was downright pissed about the van outside that shadowed her every move. But his hands were tied thanks to a favor he owed the Bureau when he'd convinced them last year to trade a collar for testimony in a drug case.
"No, I mean really stinks. It's bad enough that they probably listen to me pee, but I think there's more to this than just a fugitive on the run."
In the eleven years they'd worked together, the supervisor had learned to trust this woman's instincts. She was dogged when it came to investigation, and she had a nose for sniffing out trouble. "You got something in that folder?"
"Yeah," she admitted. "I've been doing some digging on my own, and I came across something pretty interesting for one Special Agent Michael Pollard." That was the agent who had approached her boss.
"What are you doing poking around in Pollard's business? Just because he's working this case? We don't do things like that, Agent Diaz. You know better," he scolded.
Yes, she did know better, but something about this case wasn't right, and it wasn't just because Spencer was their prey. "Chad, this is not a case of me abusing my authority. It's about me having my own suspicions. Isn't that what you pay me for, to play my hunches and catch the bad guys?"
"You're stretching it, Elena." He folded his arms defiantly across his chest. "So what have you got?"
"Agent Pollard is pulling down about $115 thousand a year, but he and his wife are pretty extended. They've got four kids in private school, and a mortgage on a five-bedroom house in McLean."
"So they just bought a vacation home in Eastern Shore, about $150 thousand for cash."
"So this Pollard, he's still working this case?"
"Yes, he is. In fact, I think he's sitting out in the van. You want me to go get him so we can ask him how he got his hands on that much money?"
Merke leaned forward and rested his chin on his hands, intrigued by the information she offered, but stopping short of considering it as evidence. "So I gather that you think his new house and his interest in Spencer Rollins are related?"
Elena sighed, closing the folder and tapping it rhythmically on her knee. "I know it's a stretch, Chad, but hear me out. First of all, Spencer didn't kill Henry. They were best friends, but even if she had hated his guts, Spencer wouldn't have done something like that. I know her, and you know what I just said is the absolute truth. Second, she tried to call me twice to tell me what was going on. Both times, the calls were cut off, like whoever was pulling the strings didn't want me to hear her side of the story. That's pretty desperate if you ask me, and it happened before those assholes ever got a warrant to tap my phone. Third, if she didn't kill him, who did and why? You know as well as I do that the answer in a case like this usually comes back to one thing: greed. And I don't like it that one of the agents who wants her caught, who wants to keep her from talking, just paid cash for a vacation home."
Ruth and Spencer managed to get through the evening without talking about the code, about Elena, or about Ruth's running away with Jessie. The words were just beneath the surface, but without a resolution, there was no need to keep beating a dead horse. Spencer stridently refused to allow the young mother to make the delivery unless she came up with a foolproof plan for getting her in and out without risk of being caught.
When the dinner dishes were done, Jessie brought out her new dinosaur puzzle and spread the pieces on the floor. Since Ruth was doing the laundry tonight, Spencer sat down in the floor to help. "Helping" a four-year-old with a puzzle meant grouping pieces by color and giving lots of hints. Ultimately, Jessie would be the one to place each piece.
It was a wonderful feeling for Ruth to see her child nurtured by someone else. Neither Skip, nor his parents, nor her own had ever spent much meaningful time playing with Jessie, reading to her, or teaching her things. It suddenly washed over Ruth just how much she liked Spencer, and how much she enjoyed having her around.
When the puzzle was finished, Jessie was ushered to bed. Ruth returned to the living room to find the programmer scribbling into her tablet.
"So what's next?"
Spencer shook her head and sighed. "Would you take me to the Franconia-Springfield station tomorrow morning?"
"You're going to see Elena." It was a statement, but she hoped her friend would deny it.
Instead, she nodded. "Yeah, if she isn't expecting me, maybe they won't be either."
"You're just going to walk into her office?"
"Yeah you know, I was thinking that maybe I should do what you said and write a letter to the Washington Post and leave it with you. And if you don't hear from me again, you should drop it in the mail or something."
"I don't believe this! Do you hear how ridiculous that is? A letter to the paper isn't going to mean a goddamn thing if something happens to you. It's too dangerous for you to go. I'll take it."
"No! I'm not going to let you do that."
"But they aren't looking for me. Not these guys, anyway. I bet they couldn't care less about Karen Oliver."
Spencer shook her head in frustration. "She wouldn't even bother to see you unless you" Spencer stopped herself, her mind racing with a new idea, "unless you told her you had information on Roscone. That would get her attention."
Elena Diaz resisted the urge to make an obscene gesture, waving instead toward the gray panel truck, parked illegally on Constitution Avenue for the last five days. The boys inside had been watching her building and monitoring her phone and internet account all week. Despite her outrage at the intrusion, she was stuck with the surveillance, as the FBI was almost certain that Spencer would contact her again.
Flashing her ID to the guard at the desk, the towering woman bypassed the elevator in favor of the steps, just as she did every day. Three flights of stairs were nothing given her usual exercise routine. Each day, the 37-year-old agent pushed herself to her physical limit, and then pushed a little more, always reaching to be stronger, faster, better. She was as tough as any field agent at the IRS, and to her infinite delight, she was often taken too lightly, adding to her advantage.
"Hi, Thomas." No one was more underestimated than Special Agent Thomas Fennimore, her bespectacled assistant of the last three years. It took Elena almost a year to realize that Thomas's bumbling demeanor was but part of his incredible savvy, and she eagerly took him on when other senior agents balked at what they perceived as ineptitude.
"I found something I think you're going to like," he offered, following her into the windowed office. He waited in the doorway expectantly until she bought a clue and followed him back out.
"I could use some good news." Automatically, the two exited the office area and went back into the stairwell where they could talk without fear of being overheard.
"It's about Pollard and that other guy, Agent Akers. I ran a little query on work logs, and they were the agents assigned to do the background checks for the Kryfex contract."
"Kryfex. Margadon developed it for the Dawa virus, and the US is shipping it to Ethiopia in return for an air base. And since it's a big contract, they did background checks."
"Do you know who they talked to? Did they ever talk to Spencer?"
"I don't have that list yet. I can start pulling it today, though. I doubt Spencer would have been interviewed. They usually only do the higher-ups."
"That's good work, Thomas. Go ahead and follow up. Did you find a money trail for Akers?"
"Not yet, but I'm working on that too."
"So what was the judge's name?" Spencer was typing the story of how Ruth and Jessie had come to be on the run.
"The judge's name? You really think that's relevant?"
"I don't know what's relevant. I just want to give Elena as much information as possible. Maybe she can talk to him about the facts."
"What facts?" Ruth grumbled. "His name was Howard Malcolm Howard."
Spencer typed that into the account and reread the whole document aloud from the screen.
"Is that everything?"
"As far as I know."
"Okay, here it comes." She hit the print key. "Are you ready to go call?"
They had agreed that it would be best for Ruth to go alone and place the call from a payphone somewhere in Reston. Calling from Manassas might raise a few eyebrows, especially since they'd found Spencer's bike in the woods.
"Ready as I'll ever be."
Without a word, Thomas dropped a fresh folder on his supervisor's desk. His cocky grin told her that he'd gotten some dirt, and the tab read "Special Agent Calvin Akers."
The report documented plane tickets to Las Vegas, hotels in Atlantic City, even a trip to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. Calvin Akers had a gambling habit. That's why there was no money to be found. Cool!
The phone interrupted Elena's joy, and her eyes went at once to the digital display: a payphone in Reston. A lot of her information came from payphones because tipsters liked their anonymity, but every call she got these days made her think of her friend on the run.
With no small measure of sarcasm, she announced, "There's the phone, boys. Got your tapes in? Ready set go! Hello, this is Special Agent Elena Diaz with the Internal Revenue Service. How may I help you?"
"Uh Agent Diaz I uh ."
"Yes?" It wasn't Spencer, she realized with a mixture of relief and regret.
"I was wondering if you were still interested in information about George Roscone."
Roscone? Yes, she was interested. Hell, yes!
"Who am I speaking to?" George Roscone was the District's DA, and he'd scuttled a very big case against two drug dealing brothers a couple of years ago by leaking her investigation to the press. She was certain he'd been bought off, and set out to prove it by trying to locate the money. After eight months of finding nothing out of the ordinary, she'd reluctantly let it go when Chad not-so-subtly suggested that she redirect her budget to something that would bear fruit.
"I'd rather not say. I want to be anonymous, for now, anyway. Can I do that?"
"My office will work with you to maintain confidentiality. But before I can guarantee that, I'm going to need to know what kind of information you have, and how you acquired it."
"Okay ," Ruth needed to make all of this believable, so she'd practiced in the car on the way to Reston. She wanted to come off as nervous and uptight, and that was easy enough if she just borrowed from her recent experiences. "I used to work in a bank in the city and you subpoenaed all of Mr. Roscone's statements. Right after that, my boss asked me to keep an eye on his account and see if anything happened?"
"So did something happen?" God, she really wanted Roscone.
"Well, not exactly. See, I got laid off not long after that. But I moved out to Virginia and a couple of weeks ago, I started work at another bank."
Sometimes, it was like pulling teeth to get people to talk. "And what does this have to do with George Roscone?"
"He came into my new bank the other day. He has an account there. I know it was him because well, I always thought he was really handsome." Spencer had told her to put that in because Elena used to go on and on about what a "pretty boy" Roscone was.
This was definitely the kind of tip Diaz was interested in, but if he had another account, she really didn't need this witness. All she had to do was launch a new query and watch it come up. It took a lot of resources to track accounts and transactions, but it was easier when she knew in advance what to look for.
"But the thing is, he doesn't go by George Roscone. He goes by another name on this account."
Holy shit! Diaz nearly fell out of her chair. This was the best news she'd had in a year.
"Can you give me the name that he uses, and the name of the bank and the branch where you work?"
"I well ."
"What is it?"
"It's just that I've been laid off for awhile, and I was wondering if maybe there was a reward or something."
Elena was used to requests like this, especially from tipsters on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. A few thousand dollars meant a lot to somebody who lived from hand to mouth, and it was nothing compared to the costs of 24/7 surveillance of suspects and round-the-clock audits. Thank god her boss saw the advantage of a few dollars wisely spent.
"I might be able to swing a small reward of some sort, maybe as a whistleblower, since this has to do with your work. It's all going to depend on what kind of information you have and what we're able to prove in court."
"I have copies of his statements for the past two years. And he's just started making big deposits and withdrawals again."
Elena was practically salivating. She spun around to look at the clock. It was a quarter after five on Friday evening.
"I'd be very interested in having a look at those. If you'll give me your name and address, I'll come pick them up tonight."
"No, I think I'd prefer to meet you somewhere and show you what I have. Really, I want to do the right thing, but if there isn't a reward, I don't want to be involved." She hesitated for effect. "I could get in a lot of trouble for this at work, probably even lose my job."
"I know, and I really appreciate you coming forward with this. Can you meet me somewhere tonight?"
"Tomorrow would be better. I'm on my way home and I have things I have to do tonight."
Great! Wouldn't want to interfere with a Friday night date when justice was as stake.
"Okay." A situation like this called for kissing ass, and Elena could do that when she had to. "Can you come into the city, or would you like to meet somewhere else?"
"What about somewhere on the mall, say near the Metro stop at the Smithsonian?"
That would work very well, Elena thought. The Smithsonian was across the mall from her building.
"How's nine a.m. tomorrow morning?"
"I can be there then, I think." She didn't want to appear too eager. "If I can't make it, is there a number I can call?"
Elena quickly rattled off her cell phone. "How will I find you?"
"I'll put all my copies in a blue folder."
"Okay, then. I'll see you tomorrow morning. This is a good thing you're doing. I wish more people would take their civic duty as seriously as you." That was the standard speech Elena gave when people provided her with information. She hoped the woman would take it to heart.
"Just see if you can get me some reward money. I really need it."
"So what do you think?" Agent Pollard, who had spent the last nine hours inside the surveillance van, turned off the recorder to talk to his boss on the other phone.
"I'm not sure, Mike. Who's this Roscone guy?"
Pollard flipped through the dossier on Agent Diaz.
"He's a DA. She's been working his case to see if he's on the take."
"That sounds just like the IRS, doesn't it?" he laughed.
"So, you want me to follow up on this one?"
The agent in charge knew it would be a waste of time and resources. "Nah, I wouldn't bother. It doesn't have anything to do with Rollins. But this Roscone ?"
"Tip him off." Akers hated Elena Diaz.
"You don't have to do this, Ruth. It isn't too late to change your mind." The two women stood next to the Taurus, both anxious about what the day might bring.
"It's no big deal. I'm going to drop this off and be back here inside of three hours."
"Elena's gonna shit a brick when she finds out the Roscone stuff is bogus. I think she'd rather have him than me," Spencer joked nervously.
"I doubt that. Look, don't let Jessie watch cartoons all morning, okay? Take her over to see the puppies or something."
"You bet." Spencer locked her serious gaze onto Ruth's anxious face. "Thanks for this, Ruth."
Spencer wrapped the smaller woman in a nervous hug, which was heartily returned.
The blonde woman got in and started the car, but didn't close the door, her eyes still lingering on the angular face of her friend. "This is the beginning of the end, Spence. It'll all be over soon."
"I hope so, for both of us." Spencer closed the door and stepped back, waving goodbye as she watched the Taurus pull away. Not that they'd needed any reminders, but both of their lives were riding on the meeting with Elena.
Ruth realized it too. She'd been thinking all morning about what was at stake for both of them. Coming forward about her identity was a big step, but after their talk last night, she'd agreed to put all her faith in Elena, trusting that the agent would never let Spencer down.
Last night had been interesting. When it came time for bed, the programmer had gotten the sheet and blanket from the closet to make up the couch and it struck Ruth as silly that she would do that. They had slept together in the double bed the night before; why not again? Spencer had joked that while she had no problems sharing a bed with the likes of someone as pretty as Ruth, she should keep in mind that sleeping with a lesbian was theoretically the same as sleeping with a man. Maybe so, Ruth had said, but it was a hell of a lot more comfortable. And that's precisely what she found to be so interesting.
When she reached the Metro station at Franconia-Springfield, the end of the Blue Line, Ruth parked the station wagon in the garage. A twenty-minute ride would take her to the Smithsonian, but Spencer had suggested she get off earlier at Farragut West and walk across the mall from the opposite direction. It would make her feel more in control of this meeting if she weren't so predictable.
When she boarded the train, she flipped open the blue folder to examine its contents one more time. The first few pages were bogus bank statements, formatted on Viv's computer, and photocopied last night at a grocery store in Manassas. Underneath those statements were Spencer's report and the annotated pages of code. The last page was the typed note that Spencer had encouraged her to include, the story of Ruth Ferguson and Jessie Drummond. In her recounting of events of Madison, Ruth didn't reveal her new identity. If this didn't work out, she and Jessie would need to move on, since it meant the feds would then know that they were in the area. Her anxiety compelled her to pull it out of the folder. But as she considered one more time Spencer's infinite trust in Elena Diaz, she slipped it back inside.
When the Federal Triangle station was announced, the blonde woman stepped off and followed the signs to Constitution Avenue. She was at once awed by the stateliness of the buildings around her. As she walked toward the mall, she began to make out the tops of both the Capitol and the Washington Monument, and when she finally stood between those two landmarks, she could see the Lincoln Memorial, the National Gallery, the Smithsonian, and even the top of the White House. Standing in this majestic place was almost breathtaking. She hoped that one day soon, she could bring her daughter to explore this wonderful city.
Ruth was fifteen minutes early for her meeting; already, the mall was bustling with tourists, and thinking that she wouldn't stand out so much helped her relax a bit. In the distance, she located the Metro stop for the Smithsonian and the bench where Spencer said she should wait.
After only five minutes, she spotted a woman walking from the direction of the IRS building that she just knew was Elena Diaz. She was as Spencer had described: very tall, curly dark hair with large brown eyes. She was dressed in tailored slacks and a turtleneck, the black blazer no doubt concealing the gun tucked beneath her shoulder. Ruth held the blue folder conspicuously in front of her and waited to see if she would catch the woman's eye.
Diaz was aware of the woman on the bench, but she was almost past her when she glanced sideways and caught the blue image. Stopping short, she turned and strode purposefully toward the bench.
"Are you waiting for Elena Diaz?" she asked.
The blonde woman nodded once and dropped the folder to her lap as the agent took a seat beside her on the bench.
"Would you mind showing me some identification?" Ruth asked tensely.
Elena smiled and pulled her badge from her waistband, flipping it up to reveal her official photo ID.
"Is that for me?" She gestured toward the folder.
Again, Ruth nodded without speaking; she was much more nervous about this than she'd ever imagined she'd be. It was sure easy to see why Spencer had been attracted to Elena Diaz. The Latin woman was gorgeous, obviously strong and confident; independent, Spencer had said.
Elena took the folder and opened to the first page, scanning the information with excitement.
"Where's the name? And where's the bank's name?" she asked pointedly, working hard to conceal her agitation.
"I just wanted to show you what I had so we could talk about the reward." Ruth leaned over and slid her finger beneath the bogus spreadsheets, opening to the first page of Spencer's report. "There's more here," she said.
Elena's eyes grew wide as she realized what she was seeing, the salutation Serpiente confirming its authenticity. Spencer had sent this woman to talk to her.
Automatically, she looked up, locating in her peripheral vision the surveillance van that had dogged her all week. Those guys never seemed to take a day off, she groused to herself. The asshole was probably watching her through binoculars; but she doubted seriously that their conversation was bugged, especially since this woman had waited for her on the bench instead of at the Metro stop where they'd planned to meet. But they shouldn't take a chance.
"Look, you did the right thing bringing this to my attention, but I'm going to need to look at it and talk to some people before I'll know about the reward. Are you okay with having to wait a few days?"
"I can wait. I'm okay for now."
That was the best news Elena could have gotten. Spencer was safe and out of sight, and she'd made a friend who was willing to go out on a limb for her. "Is there any way I can get in touch with you if I have any more questions?" How could she contact Spencer?
Ruth squirmed on the bench as she contemplated her predicament. If Elena really could help Spencer, she needed a way to reach her.
"What if I call you back on Monday? Is that enough time?"
Elena pulled out a business card.
"I think so. I should be able to ask around by then. Here's my direct number and extension." Elena scribbled the information on the card and pressed it into Ruth's hand. Standing, she offered her hand and one last message of thanks. "I really appreciate your help on this. I'll do everything I can to get you some kind of reward."
Agent Pollard chuckled as he lowered his binoculars. By the time Diaz got her warrant, Roscone would have wired the money out of the country into an offshore account.
Ruth headed toward the Smithsonian station, constantly checking the crowd to see if she was being followed. Spencer had advised her to take a circuitous route back to the Blue Line, so she hopped off at Metro Center, changing to first the Red Line, then the Yellow, finally jumping back to the Blue at Pentagon City. She'd been one of only a handful getting off at Chinatown, so that gave her confidence that her mission was a success. Nonetheless, she had to calm her shaking hands before she could start the car and pull out of the garage into traffic.
"I can't believe you did all that by yourself," Ruth remarked to a very tired and sore Spencer, who had spent the morning spreading a load of gravel over the muddy driveway.
"It gave me something to do besides climb the walls while you were gone."
"Well, it wasn't too smart, considering that your ribs are still black and blue and your arm has a hole in it," she scolded, taking up a position behind the taller woman so she could massage the aching shoulders. Jessie sat at the kitchen table coloring in a new book.
"I know, but what could I say? They dumped it and left. Viv couldn't get her car out, and you couldn't have gotten yours in."
"You could have at least waited for me to help."
"I was going crazy," she reiterated. "So tell me everything. What did Elena say when she found out the Roscone shit was bogus?" A hard squeeze from Ruth reminded her that the four-year-old was present. "Sorry."
"We didn't talk. Well, we did, we just talked about Roscone. She acted like she was nervous about us being overheard, so I played along."
"But you showed her the papers?"
"Yeah, I gave her everything."
"Boy, she must be under pretty tight surveillance if she wouldn't even talk to you." Spencer winced when the small hands found a hard knot at the back of her neck.
Ruth felt the flinch and honed in on the spot, pressing it gently with her thumb until she could feel the muscle start to release.
"So did you guys figure out a plan to talk again?"
"Yeah, you were right about the reward. That gave us a good excuse, because she said she'd have to check on it and I should call her back." Ruth then remembered the card she had shoved in her pocket. "Come to of think of it, she gave me her card."
Ruth dug the card out of her jacket, admiring the gold-embossed shield. Turning it over, she found a note.
"Oh, I didn't see this. Look what she wrote." She handed the card to Spencer.
Elena had scribbled a few words of encouragement and a warning: Hang in there, Spence we're working on it. No contact is best for now.
"I knew it! She's already on it. What'd I tell you?"
"I can see why you trust her. There's something about her that gives off confidence and authority. And she sure did seem glad to hear from you." Ruth resumed her shoulder massage.
"How could you tell?"
"I don't know exactly. It was like her shoulders relaxed and her voice got softer."
Spencer chuckled. "I can't believe you picked up on that. I've seen it before too, just like you're describing. That's when I first realized that her tough girl stuff was an act."
"I don't think it has anything to do with not being tough. I think she just cares for you, and she's probably been pretty frantic herself about all of this." In her voice was a trace of admonition. It was clear that the agent's feelings for Spencer were genuine, and if Ruth had to bet, she'd say they went beyond the friendship Spencer described.
"I'm sure she has. I'm really lucky to have her on my side. And you can see now why I wanted you to put all this other stuff in her hands. If there's a way to fix things, she'll find it."
After meeting Elena for herself, Ruth found herself nursing a glimmer of hope after all. "Even if she can't, I do trust her now not to turn me in."
Unexpectedly, Spencer reached up and covered a hand that worked her shoulder. "Listen Ruth, no matter what happens, I really appreciate what you did today."
She liked the familiarity of Spencer's hand on hers. "You know, you've got to stop calling me that. You're going to confuse my daughter, and Viv's going to start asking questions."
"Sorry, but you're just not a Karen," Spencer said sheepishly. "And Jessie's not a Megan, either."
"I know, but if Elena can't help us on this, we have to be Karen and Megan Oliver from now on Dolly."
"That was low."
Ruth grinned at the tall woman's pout. With no warning at all, the most peculiar feeling came over her and she found herself fighting the urge to lean down and kiss Spencer Rollins full on the lips. Where the hell had that come from?
Ruth laid awake that night thinking about what had come over her earlier. Spencer was lying beside her, the slow, deep breaths a sure sign that she was asleep. Ruth had never been drawn to a woman before, not emotionally and certainly not sexually. All of her sexual urges up to this point had been for men. One man, actually, and that was Skip. But she'd never really been attracted at all to Skip when it came to emotions. In the four years they'd spent together, they hadn't really connected at all.
What she felt for Spencer was such a contrast to all of that. It was definitely emotional; and it wasn't like any of her other friendships. When her friends were sad or happy, she could easily share that with them; but with Spencer, she did more than share, and none of it was conscious. When this woman beside her felt something, she felt it too. It didn't matter if it was anxiety, relief, frustration, or hope. Ruth took it on, and in her mind, it drew them closer. Whether Spencer felt that way or not was anybody's guess, but she'd never given off any kind of warning for Ruth to keep her distance.
Now, the sexual thing well, that was new. If she were honest with herself, she'd have to admit that she'd gotten her very first flicker of that the moment Spencer told her she was gay. But was it really sexual? The urge to kiss someone like she'd wanted to do earlier was definitely tied to her libido, which hadn't been sparked in almost three years. That was when she first learned that Skip was getting his sexual needs met elsewhere.
Whatever it was that was jolting her now, it was kind of exciting to think about. And when she considered what the enigmatic woman had said jokingly about her willingness to share a bed, she wondered if maybe Spencer felt the same little spark.
On the other hand, maybe all of these strange feelings were just stress and anxiety, and concern for Spencer's safety. After all, the programmer had been practically at death's door just a week ago, and today's meeting with Elena had brought all of that danger to the forefront of her thoughts again.
Or maybe she was just analyzing everything to death and she should just go to sleep.
Spencer awoke to the strangest feeling pain. In the night, Ruth had migrated across the center of the bed to rest her hand and cheek on her injured shoulder. The wound was over a week old and had been feeling better for the most part, but the pressure was definitely unpleasant.
Carefully, she pulled away, hoping not to wake her companion. Ruth would probably be mortified to find herself sleeping like this, she thought with a chuckle. But Spencer had to admit, it was kind of nice to get a cuddle from her pretty friend, even if it was unintentional.
As soon as she extricated her arm, Ruth rolled over, pressing her backside against Spencer. That was impossible to resist, and with little thought at all, the taller woman turned on her side, wrapped her arm around the small body and fell right back to sleep.
Just like the Sunday before, the occupants of the trailer were awakened by a robust pounding on the front door.
"Pancakes and bacon in ten minutes!" Viv shouted.
Jessie rushed into the back bedroom to find her mother and Spencer untangling awkwardly. "Viv is making pancakes again!"
"So we heard," Ruth answered sleepily. "You better go pick out something to wear, don't you think?"
The child happily raced back to her room to get dressed as the grownups pulled themselves from the bed.
"Gee, what shall I wear today?" Spencer teased, picking up her last clean t-shirt and yesterday's jeans.
Ruth grabbed her own clothes and disappeared into the bathroom, embarrassed by just the thought of dressing in the same room with Spencer. Why that bothered her so much, she didn't know, but all of a sudden it was like they were girlfriends or something. She had awakened just before dawn to find the older woman wrapped completely around her, a long leg draped between her own. She'd had no inclination at all to pull away. Lying with Spencer like that just seemed perfectly normal.
Right on time, the threesome walked through the back door at Viv's, Jessie making a beeline to see the puppies. Willy was getting quite a belly, and hadn't yet shown any interest in playing. Viv had said that Labs were like that for the first few weeks, but that they spent the rest of their lives making up for it.
"It's supposed to be pretty today, probably one of the last nice days before it turns cold for good." Viv had laid out a huge breakfast, and everyone was digging in. "I was thinking a picnic might be a good idea."
"A picnic!" Jessie exclaimed. She and her mommy had gone on picnics a lot when they only saw each other on the weekends.
"Yes, a picnic," Viv went on. "It's kind of chilly, so there won't be a big crowd out there."
Spencer shook her head. "I don't think I should go, but you guys ought to. It would be fun."
"Why can't you go?" Jessie demanded.
"Because I don't want people to see me," Spencer answered simply, not realizing the questions that would raise.
Ruth nervously kicked the brunette under the table. It wouldn't be good to get into a hiding discussion around Viv. Jessie would let the cat out of the bag for sure.
"Because I'm supposed to be at work. But I'm not because I'm ."
Viv left the kitchen and returned, tossing a cap and sunglasses on the table beside her tall guest. "You know, I was thinking we could drive down I-66 in the Jeep to Front Royal and then take Skyline Drive south until we found a nice place to stop. There are a lot of pretty lakes out there with picnic tables and trails."
"I wanna go!" Jessie shouted. "Please!"
Even Ruth was a little anxious about being seen, but she knew she had to get past that; the whole reason for running away was so they could have a new life, and they shouldn't have to live it in hiding.
"Okay, I'll go too," Spencer announced, slipping on the glasses and hat.
That sealed it for Ruth. They were going on a picnic.
Spencer sat in the back seat of the Jeep Cherokee with Jessie, the two of them poking each other and laughing until Ruth threatened to have Viv pull over and put them both out. The drive to Front Royal was otherwise dull and uneventful, but things perked up when they reached the parkway. Even with the trees already bare, the lakes and woods were beautiful.
"I haven't been over here in ten or twelve years," Viv said.
"Tell us about the last time," Ruth prodded.
The landlady blew out a deep breath. "It was with Sheila. That's my daughter. We used to come out here when she and Robby were little. Robby's my son. He lives in Richmond now. Last I heard, Sheila was in Kentucky or Ohio or someplace."
"You don't see her anymore?" For Ruth, estrangement from parents was familiar territory.
"I guess it's more like she doesn't see me. I brought her out here for a drive because we'd always had a good time here. I wanted to have a good time with her for a change. We were always fighting about one thing or another." The landlady sniffed and blinked back the tears that threatened to fall.
"So where did you two leave things, Viv?" Spencer asked softly from the back seat.
"We got along up until the day she left, but both of us were holding back, trying not to go off on each other. Then that last day, all heck broke loose, and she walked out telling me she wasn't coming back." Viv tried to gather herself; she was driving, after all. "And she hasn't."
"I'm so sorry." Ruth put her hand on the woman's shoulder.
"I'm not," she sighed. "Well, I'm not sorry she hasn't come back like that. I am sorry that she stopped being that little girl who liked picnics, and dogs, and her family. The woman she grew up to be liked drinking and drugs, and any man she could get to pay for it."
The foursome rode along quietly for several miles, Jessie pointing out cows and horses as they came into view.
"What about Robby? Do you see a lot of your son?" Spencer was looking for a way to get the conversation back on something more upbeat.
"He comes up every two or three months. He works maintenance at the Capitol. It's a good job for him. He didn't get blessed with a lot in the sense department, but he works hard and he's always checking in."
"Does he have family?"
"He got married about three years ago to an older woman. She's good for him. But I don't think they're planning on having children."
"You never know," Ruth offered.
"No, I've given up on having any grandkids. You better watch out, though. I'll spoil that one back there if you let me." Viv nodded her head in the direction of the four-year-old in the back seat.
Ruth was so touched by the statement that her own eyes suddenly filled with tears. "That'll mean a lot to her, Viv. And to me, too."
"Somebody's already spoiled her," Spencer piped up. "She's so rotten she smells."
"I do not."
After driving an hour on the parkway, Viv pulled off at Otter Lake, where a short walk led them to a picnic table near the water. No one was hungry, but the novelty of eating outside was too exciting for Jessie to put off, so they all had an early lunch.
"Can I go feed the ducks with Viv?" the child asked when she'd finished her chips.
Ruth didn't answer, just cocked her head and raised her eyebrows in question.
"May I go feed the ducks with Viv?" she clarified.
"Yes, you may. That was very good that you remembered."
She hadn't remembered, but Spencer had been mouthing the words behind her mother and that reminded her of what to do. The little girl crawled off the bench and grabbed her bread scraps. Viv had brought a whole extra loaf of bread.
"How about you? You want to see where that trail goes?" Spencer invited.
"Sure." Ruth walked over and told her landlady where they were going, asking if she'd mind watching Megan. Viv just waved her away.
"I really like Viv a lot, don't you?" Spencer started.
"She's great. Just look at her with Jessie. She's so patient and sweet. It's hard to imagine her daughter turned out so badly."
"Well, somewhere along the way, Sheila made the wrong choices."
That comment hit home for the blonde, and she began to shake her head. "I sure wish I could go back and choose over."
"Don't be so hard on yourself. Look at that." Spencer turned and looked back through the bare trees at the four-year-old gleefully feeding the ducks. "That was a good choice."
"Jessie's probably the only thing I did right."
"It's going to work out, Ruth," Spencer assured, draping her arm around the smaller woman's shoulder for a quick hug. Like Viv, she had hoped for a day when they could all set their problems aside and have fun. But some problems were too big to outrun, she guessed.
"So what about you? Did you ever do anything that made your parents pull their hair out?"
Spencer warmed all over as Ruth answered the hug by wrapping her arm around her waist. Something was going on here; she wasn't sure what it was but it felt very nice.
"Probably the worst thing I ever did was to pick State over Duke or Carolina," Spencer answered with a chuckle.
"Why was that such a big deal?"
"My father taught statistics at Carolina, and my mother was on the faculty at Duke's med school. They went back and forth for years about where I'd go, and I blew both of them off."
"So is that really the worst thing you ever did?"
"Mmmm, probably. I was a good kid, and we were pretty close. I liked my parents. We did a lot of things together."
"How'd they handle you being gay?"
"They were okay. College professors tend to be more liberal than most, I think. They both liked Elena a lot. Even after we split up, she'd still come home with me for long weekends at the lake and Mom would trash her for letting me get away. Elena always threatened to pull her taxes."
"That's too funny! It's all just so foreign to me. I can't even imagine having a good time with my family," Ruth said sadly.
"Then maybe it's time you got a new family."
When they reached a footbridge crossing a narrow stream, Spencer took the blonde woman's hand and led her onto a smaller trail that went away from the lake. Still unsure if she was imagining things, she loosened her fingers but didn't let go. Instead of dropping her own hand, Ruth asserted herself, gripping tighter to keep the connection.
Silently, they walked deeper into the woods, both very aware and excited that there was something brewing between them. When they reached a log that had fallen across the creek, they stopped. Its mossy cover was inviting, and Spencer grabbed the smaller woman's waist and hoisted her into the comfortable seat, straddling the narrow stream to stand between her parted legs.
Now at eye-level and only inches apart, both women gave in to the electrical surge, and their faces began to slowly move toward the other. Spencer slipped her fingers through the soft blonde hair to the back of Ruth's neck and pulled her closer. Their first kiss was soft, a simple declaration that they both felt this.
"Spencer, I don't ."
"Yes, you do," she whispered.
Again, their lips met, this time more deliberate, more searching. Ruth reveled in the softness of Spencer's mouth, the smoothness of her face, and the tender way the warm tongue stroked against her own. So nice.
When they broke, their eyes held one another as each searched for clues of what had just transpired. Finally, Ruth smiled softly and reached out to caress Spencer's face.
"You're right, I do."
"I knew you would."
George Roscone gave the burgers one more turn and mashed them flat with the spatula, the dripping juice causing the fire underneath to flare. This would be his last cookout for a long time; maybe even the last one ever with this family he loved.
Last night, George had lain awake long after making love with his wife of thirteen years, despising himself for his greedy pursuits. No one in his family suspected his duplicity, but they would all pay for his mistakes.
Nearby, George, Jr. and his twin sisters were playing together on the Jungle Jim. Would they ever get past their father's crimes? George hoped so, but they deserved a father who would do the right thing, who would take responsibility for his actions.
Elena Diaz was closing her net. She'd found out about the other accounts, though it was still a mystery who had tipped him off. It would be far better if he turned himself in now and begged for a plea bargain, even if it meant risking the wrath of the drug cartel. Surely, the government would help him if he offered evidence against the bigger fish.
Tomorrow morning, he would walk into Diaz's office and give himself up. But today, he was a family man.
"I guess we should be getting back, huh?"
Spencer returned the smile and nodded, very encouraged by what she was reading in the warm green eyes. Wordlessly, they had kissed over and over, finally reining in a passion that threatened their self-control. All of the things she knew about Ruth Ferguson had come together in a package that beckoned her, and she wanted more much more. Holding hands, they followed the trail back toward the picnic area.
"I think you should say something to Viv." The women could see the older woman on the shore of the lake, breaking off bread crumbs so the delighted child could feed a family of ducklings.
"What do you mean?"
"I think you ought to tell her who you are, and what you're running from."
Ruth shook her head. "I don't want to put her in the middle of this. Besides, the more people who know, the more we're at risk."
"I understand that, but just thinking about things right now what if you were driving home one day from Wal-Mart and got stopped by the cops? Suppose they somehow figured out who you were? Would you want Viv to just step forward and say Here's the little girl you're looking for,' or would you want her to protect Jessie from going back to her father?"
"What if she doesn't want that kind of responsibility?"
"Look at her."
Spencer was right about the bond that was growing between her landlady and her daughter. "You really think I should?"
"Yeah. And it would probably take some of the pressure off Jessie about keeping things so secret."
When they got back to the picnic site, Spencer invited Jessie to walk with her to see the waterfall in the creek. That gave Ruth the opportunity to talk with Viv.
"They won't take her if I have anything to say about it!"
"I sort of hoped you'd feel that way," Ruth said gratefully. "I really hate putting you in the middle of all of this, especially on top of everything that's going on with Spencer."
"I want to be in the middle of it. It makes me feel like I'm getting another chance."
It made Ruth feel exactly the same way.
"So what have we got?" Chad Merke had gathered the entire team in his living room for an update. Elena Diaz had driven straight to his house after her meeting with Ruth on Saturday morning, knowing that her FBI surveillance team would assume she was going to discuss the break in the Roscone case.
"So far, it's checking out. The program does just what Rollins says," their Visual Basic expert offered. "And the parts that she said were inserted really stand out. It's pretty obvious they were written by someone else."
"Is there any way to know when this bogus program went into operation?"
"Not from this, but we can probably find it on the server at Margadon. It'll have a time stamp." This time, it was their network expert who spoke up.
"What if they've altered it?" Elena asked.
"We've got tools to determine that sort of thing," he explained. "Unless you really know what you're doing, it's pretty hard to get rid of something completely. But even if you can, you leave a big ugly mark that says something's been changed."
"Okay, so that part's coming together," Chad continued. "What have we got on the finances?"
This was Elena's domain. She'd been handed three auditors yesterday afternoon, and they'd all worked into the night and throughout the day today. "Well, as you already knew, we've got evidence of large amounts of cash moving through the hands of two FBI agents, Akers and Pollard. We have major purchases of high-end luxury items cars, boats, houses in the last fourteen months for Peter Crowell, the cytokines supplier; for Adam Huffman, the production manager in Little Rock; and for James Thayer. But we've come up empty on Stacy Eagleton."
"Are you certain she's involved in this?" their boss asked.
"Spencer seems to think so. She clearly fabricated her statements for the newspaper to throw more suspicion on Spencer. Not sure why she would do that if she weren't involved."
"Maybe she just doesn't like Spencer," he countered objectively. "Or maybe she was just repeating gossip. You know how these stories sometimes take on a life of their own."
"That's possible, Chad," Elena conceded. "But she happens to be the manager for the Kryfex contract. I don't like that coincidence."
"Agreed. So we'll keep looking. What's our next move?"
"I want to bring Spencer in and put her in protective custody."
"Fine. Do it." Chad could see the wisdom of getting their star witness out of harm's way.
"And I think we ought to do the same for the informant, and for her child."
"Why do they need to be protected?"
"Because these guys have a habit of killing people who know things."
In all the excitement of the day, Jessie missed her nap and barely made it through her bath without falling asleep. Once she was down for the night, Ruth closed the bedroom door and returned to the living room, her breath catching at the sight of the dark-haired beauty staring at her from across the room.
Spencer was sitting in the straight back chair, her long legs stretched out in front and her arms folded across her chest. It was a commanding posture.
"Do you want to talk about this afternoon?" she asked.
The electricity between them had filled the air when they walked back into the trailer. Every look, every gesture, every casual touch only served to heighten its charge. And now, they were alone again.
Ruth sat down on the arm of the recliner, adopting a pose that belied her lack of confidence. "Okay."
"Are you alright about it?"
"Sure," the small voice said. Ruth was unable to remove her eyes from the tacky symmetrical pattern on the vinyl floor.
Spencer chuckled and leaned forward, dropping her forearms to her knees. "Look at me."
Guiltily, the green eyes finally met hers.
"If it makes you too uncomfortable to even look me in the eye, I suppose asking where you want to go next with this is kind of pointless."
Ruth grimaced, not at Spencer's words, but at her own confusion. Her head was saying one thing, but her heart and body seemed to be saying something else altogether. She found herself inexplicably pulled toward this woman, driven to care for her, and compelled to have her physically close.
"I was surprised. Not by you, but by me. I didn't expect to do that, and when I did, I didn't expect it to feel like that," she admitted.
"How did it feel?"
"It felt I liked it a lot."
"I liked it, too. But I don't want to lead you somewhere you really don't want to go. We're both under a lot of stress right now, and I'd hate to think either of us was just looking for a port in a storm."
The blonde woman nodded in agreement, still barely able to look into the piercing blue eyes. "Is that what you're doing?"
Spencer shook her head. "No."
"Then what are you doing, Spencer?"
The silence was almost deafening as the dark-haired woman considered her response. What indeed?
"I'm just drawn to you, Ruth," she answered softly. "There's a lot about you that reaches out to me. You're brave; you're beautiful; you have a good heart. And I'm comfortable with you. It feels good to be here, with you and with Jessie."
Those were all words Ruth had told herself she'd never hear. If Skip had liked anything about her, he'd never said so. Spencer had just laid it all out there for her, and it was exactly the way she felt too.
Hoisting herself slowly from the recliner, she took the woman's long hand in her own and tugged her toward the hallway, clicking off the small lamp on the end table as she walked by.
Once they reached the bedroom, Spencer closed the door, pressing the button lock to avoid being surprised by the four-year-old.
"It feels good to have you hold me," the blonde whispered as she stepped into the long arms.
Spencer hugged her tightly and brushed her lips against the blonde crown. With her fingers, she tipped the chin upward and delivered a warm kiss, then pulled her close again. Her body was way ahead of this simple embrace, hot with want but tempered with uncertainty.
After a long time, Ruth pulled out of her grasp and turned down the spread. Unhurriedly, she pulled off her t-shirt and reached around to unclasp her bra. Without taking her eyes off the blue ones that bore through her, she pushed her jeans and panties to the floor and lifted the blanket, settling in to watch the tall beauty do the same.
Suddenly self-conscious as hell, Spencer started to undress. Once she was naked, she crawled up from the bottom to her side of the bed, pulling back the covers as Ruth watched her. Gradually, she scooted over until the length of their bodies made contact.
Ruth gently moved against the silky-smooth legs that tangled with her own. It was very sensual, as was this feeling of warm skin against her side, and the soft patch of hair pressing into her hip.
Still unsure of how far Ruth wanted to go, Spencer draped an arm across the smaller woman's waist, luxuriating in the feel of her naked body. If this was all Ruth needed tonight, it would be nice indeed, but she frankly doubted she would sleep very much.
But Ruth had other ideas, ideas that began to spiral as soon as she gave in to the intimate desire to lie naked together. She found Spencer's hand and boldly moved it to the center of her chest, softly stroking the back of her fingers.
Spencer took the cue and began to glide her fingertips gently across the bare torso, stopping at the edge of the bristly curls and tracing the path back up to a trembling chin. From there, she ventured back down, across the collarbone from one shoulder to the other. With a featherlike touch, she trailed her fingers to a breast, encircling its firm outline. No sooner did her nails scrape against a nipple did the hand dart away to start the circuit once again.
Ruth could feel her body come to life; Spencer was teasing her senseless with this delicate caress. She took several deep breaths to still her excitement as Spencer reached centimeters lower toward her center, stroked her breasts more firmly, and lingered over her now-hardened nipples. When the hand finally engulfed a breast and squeezed possessively, her gasp was swallowed by a hot mouth that covered hers. For a long minute, she nearly drowned in the kiss; it was only when the long fingers slid between her legs the she remembered to draw another breath.
I've fallen in love with her.
Spencer knew it as sure as she knew her own name. In her whole life, she'd never felt the need to show her heart as she had when she'd touched Ruth last night.
And it scared her half to death. Spencer had had enough overnight flings or even weeklong flings to know that people could share this sort of thing without the feelings attached. This time, it felt different for her; but she couldn't even guess what Ruth was feeling.
All she knew for sure was that her lover of just a few hours ago was gone from their bed, not in her arms as she had dreamed. Damn! This was going to be awkward as hell.
Dreading the moment, the tall woman dragged herself from the bed, pulling on the jeans and t-shirt that she'd thrown on the floor last night. After a quick stop in the bathroom, she walked barefoot down the narrow hallway.
Ruth and Jessie were sitting at the kitchen bar, their backs to the living room as they paged through the coloring book.
"This one's very nice," the mother said.
"Can we put it on the refrigerator?" Jessie asked.
"Yes, we certainly can," Spencer announced from behind, startling both of the blondes.
"May," Ruth corrected, turning to eye the new arrival.
"Will," Spencer trumped. Reaching between them, she gently tore the page from the book and fished in the drawer for tape, which wasn't to be found.
"Wait, I have some." Ruth got up and went back to the bathroom, returning with the white roll from her first aid supplies.
"That's perfect." Spencer held out her hand and stared pointedly into the green eyes as Ruth laid the tape in her palm, her hand lingering in a questioning caress. The tall woman almost sighed with relief. "Lots of things are perfect."
Ruth met the smiling blue eyes, and something passed between them that set her anxious mind at ease. Spencer was feeling this too, and it wasn't just the physical part that they'd shared last night.
When Ruth awoke this morning, she'd stared at that beautiful face for the longest time, the other woman's touch still fresh on her body. In all her life, she'd never felt so possessed by another, as if her soul was already owned. But despite their intimacy, she couldn't read how deep Spencer's feelings for her ran. Soon in a few days, perhaps this awful episode would be wrapped up and the programmer would have her life back. Ruth worried that she might not be part of that life.
When she'd heard Jessie stir this morning, she'd hastily gotten up, knowing she had no answers for the questions her daughter might ask. Now, as she gazed at Spencer's tender look, she was assured that it was all real; there would be time to talk later about what it all meant.
"I guess I should go call Elena again. You think she's had enough time to look into all that stuff you sent?"
"Knowing her, she's been on it since Saturday."
"What do you think she'll do?"
"I don't know, but listen to every detail. There might be clues there and we can figure it out when you get back. Oh, and I wouldn't use the same phone you used last time. Remember, you said you were headed home, so your bank should be somewhere else."
This time, Spencer wrote the directions for a shopping center in Fairfax, where Ruth should again find a payphone and place her call directly to Elena's office. Before the younger woman left, they retreated to the bedroom, where they shared an emotional hug and a kiss that briefly caused their passion to flare.
"Let me go get this done." After two more quick kisses, she grabbed her keys and stopped at the door to give her daughter a hug. "Be sweet, honey. I'll be back soon."
Thomas Fennimore reshuffled the papers on his desk, pushing his glasses up for the hundredth time today. Anyone walking by his cubicle would be appalled at the apparent chaos, but Thomas knew exactly where everything was, and what it meant to his case.
Elena had given him his own case, a story and a loose set of clues beneath which he might uncover wrongdoing. Eager to prove himself, he'd worked until midnight on Saturday and all day yesterday, pulling records and cross-checking, and laying all the pieces end to end.
Thomas understood greed, but his favorite flaw was stupidity. Unless he was mistaken, Drummond Appliances had committed both. As neatly as his excited hand could, he filled out the request form for travel expenses and two local auditors in Madison, Maine.
Silently, he laid the forms before his boss, grinning broadly as she signed her approval. He was about to speak when her phone rang.
A payphone in Fairfax, Virginia.
"Internal Revenue Service, Special Agent Elena Diaz. How may I help you?"
It was the woman who had come to the park, Ruth Ferguson.
"Yes, this is Agent Diaz," she said calmly, waving at her assistant to alert him to the call.
"This is the woman who talked with you the other day, about George Roscone."
"Yes, thank you very much for calling back. I had a chance to look over the papers that you gave me, and that's exactly the sort of evidence we're looking for. I've gotten approval for a reward, but we need to move quickly. Can you come to my office?"
Chad had approved her plan to pick up this informant and drive immediately to where Spencer was hiding. From there, they would be ushered to a safe house to await the execution of the warrants.
"I don't know about that. Can I still be anonymous?"
"You can remain anonymous," the agent assured. Obviously, that meant her informant didn't quite trust where she stood. Her apprehension was understandable, considering she was wanted for felony kidnapping.
"Good. So should we meet in the same place?"
No, that wouldn't work. They needed to be further away from the surveillance van, and close to a place where Ruth could be whisked away by a waiting car. "What if we met at the Lincoln Memorial? By the vendors on Independence Avenue?"
"Okay, I can do that. What time?"
"Can you come now?" Elena was getting anxious.
"Does it have to be right now?"
"Once the decision is made to move ahead, we try to get things done as quickly as possible. We just don't want to leave any opportunities for things to go wrong at the last minute," Elena explained, now impatient about this woman's paranoia. Spencer's life was at risk, as was the informant's. "I really need for you to trust me on this," she added.
"Okay, by the Lincoln Memorial. I'll come now."
Returning the phone to its cradle, Elena sat back and sighed. This danger for Spencer was coming to an end. The events of the past few days had been a wake up call for her, one that made her acknowledge how she truly felt about the beautiful friend who had once offered her heart.
This case was going to rock the District hard, and Spencer wouldn't enjoy the attention at all. When it was all over, they should get away for awhile. Maybe they could go to one of the islands for a couple of weeks. They could sun and swim, and who knows, maybe even .
"Elena?" the intercom buzzed.
"There's someone here to see you. He says he wants to turn himself in."
The baffled agent stood and poked her head into the hallway, craning her neck to see the reception area. There stood George Roscone.
Mike Pollard stepped back into the van after his walk across the mall. He didn't feel comfortable talking to Akers with the technician present, so his habit was to go outside and walk around.
Akers was pissed this morning because of the new asshole he'd gotten, courtesy of Stacy Eagleton. They had two more days to find Rollins or she was pulling the plug on everything.
"Did I miss anything?"
"Not much. That woman called back about Roscone. She's going to meet Diaz at the Lincoln Memorial. Diaz got the reward approved for her."
"Wonder why she's meeting her there?" At least if Diaz was out of the building, they could take a break from the phones.
"The informant said she wanted to stay anonymous."
"Hmm." That was odd not that they were meeting outside, but that they were meeting in a different place. Why? "Rewind that tape, let me listen."
The technician did as he was asked while Pollard settled in with the headphones. He didn't like what he was hearing. Why the insistence that they meet right away and why at the Lincoln Memorial? The informant hadn't even asked how much the reward was.
"Hey, Jack. Is today a bank holiday?"
"If it was a bank holiday, you'd be here by yourself," the technician chuckled.
Then why wasn't this informant at work?
Mike Pollard needed to take another walk and talk with his partner about this Roscone informant. He had a sinking feeling that Spencer Rollins had gotten under their radar.
The urgency in the IRS agent's request to come immediately was unmistakable, but it was the last thing Ruth had expected or wanted. There was something about moving ahead so fast that was unsettling, but she wrote it off as nervousness about being on the run. She needed to trust Elena Diaz, just as she'd been asked, especially now that Elena held her fate in her hands.
There wasn't time to go back to the trailer. Spencer would worry, but maybe Elena could find a way to get in touch with Viv and let her know things were alright. Or maybe they were ready to bring Spencer in. That would get her out of danger and they could go after the real killers. Whatever they had planned, the agent was expecting her, and if she didn't show up she might miss a window for ending this peril.
From Fairfax, Ruth drove to the Franconia-Springfield station, the same place she'd parked the other day. Before buying her ticket, she studied the layout of the Metro system, looking for the closest stop to the Lincoln Memorial. She had a few choices Arlington, Farragut West, Smithsonian all about the same distance away, but none particularly close. With a five dollar fare card in hand, she boarded the train and settled in for the ride.
It would be over soon, she repeated in her head as she jostled back and forth in the orange vinyl seat. At least it would be over for Spencer. The more she thought about her own situation, the more she doubted there was anything anyone could do. If Elena let her walk, she and Jessie would need to find a new home, she realized dismally. The respite of the last week would be over, along with that glimmer of hope she'd had for a new start here with friends like Viv and with Spencer. She and her daughter would try again in a new place.
When her stop was announced, Ruth stood up and exited onto the platform. The tall escalator took her to street level, where the chilly breeze prompted her to pull up the collar on her jacket. She could see the back of Lincoln Memorial at the other end of the Arlington Bridge.
It will soon be over, she said again.
As she started across the Potomac, a black government sedan pulled silently alongside her. A suited man in a trench coat emerged, flashing his badge as he blocked her path on the bridge.
"Michael Pollard, FBI. I need you to get in the car, please."
Ruth's heart began to pound as the blood left her face. They were FBI!
"In the car, now," he ordered sharply.
Shaking and dazed, she hesitated until he grabbed her arm forcefully and shoved her to the curb. There he opened the back door and guided her inside. Sliding in beside her, the agent shut the door and the car picked up speed as it crossed the bridge and turned the corner onto Independence Avenue.
Elena Diaz continued to pace the area around the Lincoln Memorial, scanning the crowds of tourists for the blonde woman who had called her almost two hours ago. For whatever reason, Ruth Ferguson had changed her mind about keeping their appointment.
Either that, or the FBI agents were on to her ruse and had picked her up en route. And if that was the case, both Ruth and Spencer were in grave danger.
And on to the thrilling conclusion! Oh, wait I said I wasn't going to call it a thriller. Part 5 (conclusion)
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