Disclaimer: See Part 1
Sigrid was pleasantly surprised when they finally reached the house in Lincolnville. She didn't know what she had expected, but certainly not the cozy looking log home that was set on at least two acres of land overseeing the Bay. Even though it was the end of February, she had no problem visualizing the house in the middle of spring and summer. The sun would beat down on the large deck and a breeze would blow inland; cool and slightly humid. Sigrid sighed. It was a nice visual and hopefully something she would experience within the next few months.
"Are you okay?" Eva's voice interrupted her musings.
"I'm fine, thank you." Sigrid smiled and pointed toward the log cabin. "Nice little hacienda," she said in a teasing voice.
"I know. Felix and Lisa were able to buy it just after they got married. It was pretty run down. Leon helped them and what they did was amazing." The expression on Eva's face grew somber. "He and Lisa planned to, one day, move to this cabin and live here full-time. But after the accident things changed. For the last few years, Felix has avoided coming here."
"I can understand that," Sigrid said in a soft voice. "It must be incredibly difficult to be confronted with the dream they shared."
Eva looked aside and sent Sigrid a smile. "That is very succinctly and eloquently put. You do have a way with words, you know."
"Thank you; it comes with the job."
Eva was just about to make a remark when her eyes narrowed. She slowed down the car, while her eyes never left the cabin.
"What is it?" Sigrid knew Eva well enough to be alarmed by the expression on her face.
"I thought I saw movement inside."
Sigrid intently stared at the small building, but she did not see anything out of the ordinary. "There's no car, at least not as far as I can see. Is there a parking area behind the cabin?"
"No, there isn't." Eva let the car slowly roll forward. She unbuckled her seat belt, silently gesturing Sigrid to do the same. "Draw your weapon, but keep it out of sight. I'll park the car alongside the cabin, because there are no windows on that side. We'll go around the back and see if there is a car. If not, we'll go in at full alert." For a moment her gaze caught Sigrid's. "All right?"
Sigrid nodded and pulled her gun out of its holster. For a brief moment, she was grateful that she had been able to avoid any law enforcement. They would have taken her weapon away. She knew that the bullet that went through Donny's shoulder eventually would lead back to her. Right now though she had a firm hold on it, which made her feel less vulnerable, no matter how much she loathed having to carry one.
As soon as Eva stopped the engine of the car, they both jumped out, and made their way to the back of the house. All they could see was a snow-covered deck and field. There were no tire tracks, nor footsteps in the snow. Eva quickly made her way to the door motioning Sigrid to take up a position at the other side. With a look of determination, Eva slowly reached out a hand and wrapped her fingers around the doorknob. She cautiously turned the knob and pulled. Sigrid held her breath. She could feel the adrenaline rushing through her body, and she sincerely hoped there would not be another shooting.
Without a sound the door swung inward. Immediately, Eva moved inside closely followed by Sigrid. Both women had their guns drawn and were covering both sides of the narrow hallway. Their entry was accompanied by a burst of cold air and, if anyone was in the cabin, he would be noticed soon. They did not have to wait long. The sound of mumbling reached their ears and they both tightened their grip on their guns. Eva cast to look at Sigrid, and with her free hand motioned her to cover her back within three seconds. Sigrid nodded, and moistened dry lips. Her eyes never left the fingers on Eva's hand that were steadily counting down; three, two, one. Eva's body hurled itself around the corner. Her arms were stretched out in front holding her gun.
"Police! Put your hands in the air, come on, let me see your hands. Now, turn around, slowly and keep your hands where I can see them." Eva's voice was loud and unwavering.
Sigrid stewed a few steps behind and to the side of Eva. She had a good view of what was going on. A tall person, dressed in a long winter coat, was standing in the kitchen with his hands up in the air. His back was turned to them. It was easy to detect the tension into stranger's shoulders. However, he did as ordered and slowly turned around to face them. The moment the light coming in from the kitchen window touched the stranger's face, Eva let out a loud groan and lowered her weapon. "Dammit, Darkwolf, I could've shot you." She holstered her gun and shook her head in disbelief. "What the hell are you doing here anyway? Weren't you supposed to arrive tonight?"
A grin lit up the face of Lauren Darkwolf. "It's good to see you too, Clemente." She chuckled. "And we were able to get here fast because, believe it or not, the big boss allowed us use of the jet." She stepped forward and envelope Eva in a big hug. "What are you, important or something?"
Eva laughed and returned the hug. "I didn't think so, maybe Miss secret Agent here is,” she said pointing at Sigrid. "Sigrid, this is my friend Lauren Darkwolf. She works for the OSBI and the FBI. Lauren, this is Sigrid Myers, pastor and FBI agent when needed."
Sigrid rolled her eyes at the introduction. She too holstered her gun and stepped forward with her hand extended. "It's nice to meet you Agent Darkwolf. And don't listen to Eva, I'm not an FBI agent, not really anyway."
A pair of twinkling dark eyes looked at Sigrid when Lauren shook her hand. "I'm not so sure about that, Agent," she teased. "I did read your file. You went through all the necessary training. And then some. Your work with the NYPD has been impressive."
"Thank you. I was glad to help. By the way, did I hear you say ‘us'?”
"You sure did. My partner, Maureen Lawrence , is here with me, but she ran into town to grab some groceries. We didn't know what time the two of you would arrive here, and thought it would be nice to have dinner ready."
"Will you be doing the cooking?" There was a hopeful look on Eva's face, and Lauren laughed.
"Unless you want to be poisoned," she said.
Eva turned to Sigrid and sent her a smile. "Lauren is a fantastic cook. We're lucky."
Sigrid laughed and playfully swatted Eva across the stomach. "I don't think I've ever seen you this happy about food," she teased.
"That's because you haven't experienced Lauren's food yet," Eva said with a grin.
"Well, you're making me curious. There is something else that's puzzling me." Sigrid's eyes were dark when her gaze met Eva's. "Did you know about this? Why didn't you tell me?" Even though she tried to sound casual, there was a hint of hurt in Sigrid's voice.
"I was hoping that Lauren would be able to make it here today. She sent me a message telling me she was going to try, but I knew a lot of things could still get in the way." Eva raked her fingers through her hair. "I didn't want to get your hopes up. I had no idea they'd be here so quickly. Trust me, had I known, I would've told you." Eva stepped closer and took Sigrid's hand. "This has nothing to do with trust, I trust you completely, you know that."
"I know, and I'm sorry." Sigrid sighed and briefly leaned her cheek against Eva's shoulder. She was aware of dark eyes that were quietly taking in the scene, but she didn't care. "I guess I'm just tired, and completely stressed out. I've had more adrenaline rushes within the last seventy-two hours than I have had my entire life."
Eva wrapped her arms around Sigrid and pulled her close. Over the blonde's head, her gaze met Lauren's and she received a reassuring nod and a smile. "Do you want to lie down for a while? I know you're tired."
"Tempting," Sigrid said, while burrowing deeper into Eva's embrace. "I don't want to waste any time though. As long as this pesky arrest warrant hovers over me, I won't be able to get a decent sleep anyway." She lifted her head and gave Eva a quick kiss. She didn't care that Lauren was watching. "A nice cup of coffee will probably do the trick."
"Guess what? That's exactly what I can offer right now," Lauren said. She pointed at the coffee maker on the kitchen counter.
“Bring it on,” Sigrid said. She already liked the tall Agent.
“Rather coffee than a nap?” Eva teased.
“Absolutely.” The smile disappeared from Sigrid's face. “Someone is after me and dammit, I want to know who and why.”
“Are you sure it's the right flight number?” Twitch asked for the third time. She looked at Betty with an inquisitive stare. It was obvious she was nervous and Betty couldn't blame her.
“Yes, I am sure,” Betty said with more patience than she felt. “Southwest flight 1895, from Seattle via Chicago. Relax, Twitch.”
“I'm trying, I'm trying,” Twitch mumbled, nervously sipping from her coffee.
“Maybe you'd be more successful at it if you'd dump that cup of caffeine,” Meg said drily.
Twitch folded her hands around her cup in a protective gesture. “Oh, no, I need this. I really do.”
“Are you sure?” Betty grinned at the scowl Twitch displayed.
“Listen, girls. We're in the middle of something really dramatic. I mean, this is material for a Hallmark movie, so stop making fun of me.”
“I'm not making fun of you,” Meg said. “I can't help remembering you complaining about how your physician told you to cut down on the caffeine, that's all.”
“Well, my doctor is not here,” Twitch said and she grinned. “And I won't tell if you won't.”
“As long as you don't drop dead on me all of a sudden. I'd hate to get down on this cold floor to do CPR.”
“Stop bickering, girls.” Betty laughed and shook her head. “You sound like an old married couple.”
Twitch and Meg looked at each other, and when they started chuckling, Betty rolled her eyes. “Do I really want to know?”
“Probably not,” Twitch said with a laugh. “It was a long time ago.”
Meg nodded and there was a twinkle in her eyes. “A very long time.”
“Besides, it was an experiment,” Twitch added after she took another sip of coffee.
“A good one, though,” Meg added and Twitch nodded.
“We were far ahead of our time.”
Betty looked from Twitch to Meg and back again. She was so stunned it was hard for her to formulate a decent sentence. “You've got to be kidding me,” she said after a long silence.
“Actually, we were, kidding, you that is.” Twitch laughed so hard she almost spilled her coffee. “Did you really think that Meg and I…?” She wiped the tears from her eyes and grabbed a tissue to blow her nose.
“Hey, I was very attractive when I was younger,” Meg said with feigned hurt. “I would have been a good catch.”
“You're still very good-looking.” Twitch slowly looked Meg up and down and winked. “So, what are you doing tonight?”
“Would the two of you please stop it?” Betty sighed and gestured toward the gate. “I think Morgan's sister has just arrived.”
Immediately, Meg and Twitch lost their playfulness.
“Where?” Meg had to stretch to look at the direction Betty indicated. “How do you know it's her?”
“Because she and Morgan really look alike.”
They all turned and watched as two young women walked into the arrivals hall. It was easy to see that one of them was related to Morgan; she had the same color hair and facial structure. As they came closer, Betty stepped forward with an outstretched hand and a welcoming smile. "You must be Ellen," she said. A pair of blue eyes, slightly darker than Morgan's, widened in surprise. "You and your sister look-alike," Betty said.
Immediately, the blue eyes filled with tears. "We do?" The voice was soft and wistful. "I haven't seen her in so long I can barely imagine what she looks like today."
"You will soon," Betty said. She could almost feel the pain radiating off the young woman. With a smile she turned to her companion. "And you must be Meredith, am I right?"
The woman, who was tall, smiled and grabbed Betty's extended hand in a firm grip. Her left arm was protectively wrapped around the woman next to her. "Yes, I'm Meredith. It's nice to meet you. You're Betty, right?"
"Yes, dear, I am." Betty half turned and gestured toward her friends. "This is Meg and this is Grace, but she goes by Twitch.
Meredith introduced herself and Ellen, giving her partner a few moments to regain her composure.
Betty understood and while they made their way out of the airport she kept the conversation light and superficial. She decided that when Ellen was ready she would ask what she wanted to know. Betty did not have to wait long.
"Is Morgan still in the hospital?" Ellen asked.
"She is," Betty said.
"Is she okay, physically I mean?"
"She has some cuts and bruises, but the doctor says she'll be fine. They wanted to give her some fluids for dehydration and she has been talking to a psychiatrist and social worker." For a brief moment Betty paused, carefully choosing her next words. ”She's been through a lot, Ellen. She's young and the physical damage will heal. By no means am I a psychiatrist, but it seems she'll have a long way to go in dealing with the emotional and psychological damage.”
“We've talked about that already,” Meredith said. She pulled Ellen a little closer and dropped a kiss on her unruly hair. It was clear to see how much she cared about Morgan's sister and that warmed Betty's heart. “I work for the Seattle Police Department and have worked with trafficking victims. There are some excellent therapists I know personally; Morgan will be in good hands.”
“I'm happy to hear that,” Twitch said. She sent Ellen an encouraging smile. “Your sister is a very special girl. She's strong. There's this fire in her eyes that tells me she's a fighter.”
“And she's courageous,” Meg said. “She took care of those two little ones who were with her, while she couldn't even understand a word of their language.”
Ellen managed a smile. “I do remember Morgan was always pretty smart, a little too smart sometimes for her own good. It did get her in trouble every now and then.” She sobbed and ran the back of her hand across her eyes. “With all that she's been through, I hope she'll remember enough details to catch the bastards that did this to her and all the other kids and put them away forever.”
“Amen to that,” Twitch and Meg said simultaneously.
“Okay, so this is the information I collected,” Sigrid said pointing at the neatly arrangers folders on her laptop screen.
“Is this the flash drive your friends rescued from your house?” Lauren took a sip of her coffee and regarded Sigrid with curious eyes.
“You've heard about that?” Sigrid turned to Eva who was sitting next to her at the table and shot her a quizzical look.
“I read the report. Eva told me about the rescued drive.” Lauren smiled. She leaned forward a little and seemed intrigued. “Although I wonder why your friends didn't hand over that drive to the police?”
Sigrid laughed. “You don't know my friends; they're something else. They told me that since they found it by accident, taped underneath my dresser, they figured it was something important and they didn't want to give it to anyone but me. Betty gave it back to me last night.”
“They're smart,” Maureen Lawrence said from her perch on the couch's armrest. She had returned with some groceries not long after Sigrid and Eva had arrived. Maureen had a quick smile, a firm handshake, and twinkling green eyes. Sigrid immediately liked the red-haired Agent.
“You have no idea.” Eva grinned. “I hope you'll be able to meet them at some point.”
“That would be memorable,” Sigrid agreed. “Anyway, I have nine folders with information on this drive. Maybe we can split them between the four of us? I might have missed something that's important.”
“That's a good idea.” Lauren stood up from the table and walked toward the couch where she had left her laptop. Maureen handed it to her before grabbing her own.
Within minutes, the table was covered with four laptops that were softly humming when they were booted up.
“So, how are we going to do this?” Maureen cast Sigrid a curious look. “Hand the drive around and download a couple of files starting at the top?” She looked confused when Eva started laughing.
“How proficient are you at hacking, Maureen?” Eva said. “I bet our secret Agent here has them all encrypted and hidden behind layers of security.”
When three pairs of eyes landed on Sigrid, she felt herself grow uncomfortably warm. She shrugged and busied herself with studying her screen. “My brother is into computers, and he taught me a few tricks.” She mumbled. When she looked up she saw Maureen and Lauren look at her with a mixture of amusement and respect.
“Anytime you'd want to change careers, let me know,” Lauren smiled.
Sigrid sighed and rubbed her cheeks that still felt flushed. “Right now I don't really know what I want. I just want to get all these puzzles solved and get back on with my life, without arrest warrants hanging over my head.”
“And we will.” Eva's voice held a touch of determination. “Let's do this.”
A few hours later Maureen broke the silence. “What do you make of this, honey?” she asked turning her laptop so Lauren could look at it. When she looked up, it was in a pair of twinkling eyes and a raised eyebrow. Immediately, her face flushed and she groaned.
“Thanks for clearing that up,” Sigrid said with a grin. “I was wondering about that.”
Eva and Lauren laughed at the shocked expression on Maureen's face. Sigrid reached out over the table to give Maureen's hand a friendly pat. “Don't worry, you're among fellow Sapphics,” she joked. ”We all know the secret handshake.”
“And have the toaster oven to prove it,” Eva said with a grin.
They all laughed and Maureen visibly relaxed. “That could have been a costly slip-up,” she said. “Our supervisors and some of our coworkers are aware of our relationship, but being in a relationship with a fellow Agent, a female one to boot, does not always go over easy.”
“It's better than it used to be,” Lauren said. “We'll get there, eventually.” She focused on the laptop screen and her eyes scanned the information in front of her. “What do you want me to look at?”
Maureen pointed to the screen. “Is this an invoice?”
Sigrid stood up and craned her neck to see what Maureen was pointing at. “Oh, I forgot I had scanned that in,” she said.
“Where did you get it?”
“I found it, actually,” Sigrid said. She sank back in her seat and leaned back. She had to search her memory to remember the significance of the piece of paper. ”A few months ago I was cleaning up the office and took some paper to the recycle box in the church' hallway. The crate was almost full and the door was open. Some papers had been blown around the hallway, so I picked them up.” Sigrid gestured toward the laptop. “This was one of them. For some reason, it caught my eye, because the address was close to my parents' cabin. I already knew there had to be a safe house somewhere in that area, so I decided to hold on to it, just in case. Besides, as you can see, it lists soundproofing floor, wall and ceiling material.”
“Was the basement where you found the children soundproofed?” Lauren's eyes had lost the amused twinkle in had shown before.
“If it had been we wouldn't have heard them, would we?” Sigrid looked at Eva who was frowning and obviously lost in thought.
“We did hear something in the basement, that's how we found them.” Eva glanced at Sigrid. “Do you remember anything from that basement?”
“At first it was dark, but as soon as we switched on the light I only had eyes for those poor children.” Sigrid nibbled her bottom lip. “There was a stack of something in a corner, though.”
“Yes, I remember. Rolls, big rolls of something.”
“Could it have been sound proofing material?” Lauren asked.
Sigrid slowly nodded and gazed at Eva for confirmation. “I believe so. It sure did look like some sort of insulation material.” She sighed. “How are we going to find out if that's what it was?”
“Leave that up to me,” Maureen said with a determined expression on her face. She pulled her iPhone out of its cradle on her belt and quickly tapped the screen a few times. “Hey, Cyber Babe, how's the hacking business?” she asked with a wide grin. She turned away from the table and, while talking, walked into the living room.
“Hacking? Do I even want to know?” Eva said with a grimace.
Lauren laughed and shook her head. “Probably not. Although, this specific hacker is on the Government payroll. She's the best of the best.”
“And she's able to hack into the reports about the safe house,” Sigrid said with a nod.
“Exactly.” Lauren smiled. “Maureen and this hacker go way back. They met when Maureen arrested her for tapping into a live newsfeed to show footage of a local politician using some disturbing racial slurs.” Lauren chuckled and shook her head. “The cause was noble, but the means illegal. They were so impressed with her skills though, as soon as she finished her court appointed community service, she received a contract to work for the Government.”
“Hackers and the Government; a match made in heaven,” Eva said, making Lauren laugh. She looked at Sigrid who was opening another window on her laptop. She had seen it once before and chuckled. “We have our own hacker right here.”
“Not true. I have access,” Sigrid muttered. “And there's nothing wrong with some creative searching in the name of justice.” She briefly looked up at Lauren. “The company name on the invoice, isn't that Yankee Pilgrim?”
Lauren glanced at the screen in front of her and nodded.
“Good. Assuming playing it legal and paying taxes to keep away nosy federal agents landed them a tax ID, I will…yes…alright, do that as well…” Sigrid continued to mumble for a few moments. She was completely absorbed by the information on her screen. “Okay,” she drawled after a few minutes. “Look at that, will ya?” She turned her screen so both Lauren and Eva could see what she was talking about.
“Archibald Tate. It's him again,” Eva said.
“It sure is. He owns this company, at least on paper.”
“Are there any bank accounts you could trace?” Lauren asked.
Sigrid entered a few numbers, muttered a curse and repeated the process. “Damn. It looks like they've got me locked out of that one already.”
Lauren stood up and walked around the table. “Let me try. I should have access.”
Sigrid made room and Lauren quickly entered her ID and password. “Ha, I'm in,” she said after a few tense seconds. She pushed the laptop back to Sigrid. “Here, I'll let you drive.”
“Thanks,” Sigrid muttered, already focusing on the screen. “Alright, look at this,” she said after a while. “See this account? That's Yankee Pilgrim. Now, look at the accounts that are fed from that one,” she tapped on the screen. “Every month, money is transferred from the YP account to these two accounts. This one is Tate's.”
“How do you know?” Eva looked puzzled.
Sigrid shrugged and let out a chuckle. “I've seen it before. It ends in 666, which I thought was funny. That's why I remember. I saw it when I went through his personal tax information, remember?”
Eva nodded. “If he's involved in all of this, the 666 is pretty appropriate. Any idea whose account the other one is?”
“Not yet. I can track it to the Cayman Islands. From there it goes to Switzerland and then I hit a road block.” Sigrid sighed and rubbed her eyes. “I'm sorry.”
“Don't be. You did fantastic work , ” Lauren said. She looked up when Maureen sauntered back in with a huge grin on her face.
“I love that hacker,” she said. “She was able to get into the police reports and yes, the inventory of the cabin lists rolls of sound proofing material. They were found in the basement. And guess what? They were sent by the company on the invoice.”
“To a company that belongs to one Archibald Tate,” Lauren said. When she noticed Maureen's surprised expression, she gestured in Sigrid's direction. “Apparently, we have our own divine hacking system in place.”
Eva laughed and was able to catch Sigrid's hand just in time. Had she been too late, it would have punched her in the shoulder. “Oh, you're awesome, pastor,” she teased. She pulled her into an embrace, ignoring Sigrid's muffled protest. “You are so awesome, did you know that?” Eva let out a happy sigh and boldly dropped a kiss on a pair of warm lips. “We're getting closer, Sigrid. The net is tightening.” Her face lost its playful expression and turned serious. “We're going to catch these bastards.”
Continued in Part 19
Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Return to the Academy