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Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book One Chapter 1-2 Sampler

Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale

SPECIAL THANKS/ CONSIDERATIONS:

 

Special thanks to the Lord, for using my late beloved mother Janet’s hidden storytelling talents to create this book, and to her for spending the last four years of her life writing it, this was really her story, I’m just the poor sap who got left with the job of pushing it those last 10 yards over the goal line.

 

Special thanks to Brother Connor for his help in preserving our mother’s documents, and my family, the Salisbury’s of Eugene, Oregon, for taking care of me during this critical time that I’ve forgotten how to take care of myself (a harder job than anyone can imagine). Special thanks to the 12 step fellowships of Eugene and Coos Bay, Oregon, and , Nevada for being there for me when I needed them (don’t kid myself, kiddo, I still do need them).

 

And special thanks to my lost kitties, Bodie and Lynx, who made the ill-fated journey to with me and Mother Janet, who ran away when I took too long settling Mother’s business in Oregon, because I wouldn’t take any help from anyone (didn’t want to burden anyone with Mother’s Estate Fallout). That was my fault and entirely on me, but that still doesn’t stop me from missing them. If anyone says losing pets is no biggie, just get over it and get a new one, forget them, they’re full of it.

 

And special thanks to any of the unmentioned websites who choose to put this book out for me and make it available to the reading public, without them, you wouldn’t be reading this book, publishers, the great “gatekeepers” of the information world.

QUICK DISCLAIMER:

 

Some nameless third parties have notified me that my previous version of the manuscript presented possible libel/invasion of privacy issues, a legal dark path they made clear they didn’t wish to travel with me, so in a grudgingly hard fought compromise, I have overwritten some sensitive names of people, places and institutions with the tag, as well as replacing special characters (ie $#@!) to represent curse words with the simple underscores “_”, to better placate the culturally sensitive and the easily offended, so as to improve my sales of this book (drastically), and hopefully keep me and the publishers out of civil court, now onto Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

DEFENDER:

A SCOTTISH-AMERICAN FAIRY TALE

 

BOOK ONE

 

CHAPTER 1-2 SAMPLER

 

WRITTEN BY: JANET C. SMYTH, COPYRIGHT 2010-2014

 

EDITED AND CO-WRITTEN BY: TRAVIS L. SALISBURY (HER SON), COPYRIGHT 2015-2016

 

DATE OF JANET’S ORIGINAL BRAINSTORM/FIRST WRITE: APRIL 24, 2010

 

DATE OF TRAVISFINAL EDIT/KINDLE PUBLISH: SEPTEMBER 03, 2016

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

SPECIAL THANKS/CONSIDERATIONS…..PAGE 1

 

PROLOGUE: UNDER THE RAINBOW…..PAGE 3

 

CHAPTER ONE: HEROIC MEASURES…..PAGE 6

 

CHAPTER TWO: TARNISHED BRASS…..PAGE 58

 

 

CHAPTER THREE: THE VORTEX EFFECT…..PAGE 116

 

CHAPTER FOUR: THE SQUIRE SQUAD…..PAGE 145

 

CHAPTER FIVE: NO REST FOR THE WICKED, OR THOSE CHASING THEM…..PAGE 196

 

CHAPTER SIX: CURSE OF THE SPIDER WOMAN…..PAGE 240

 

JANET’S OBITUARY…..PAGE 270

 

TRAVIS' PERSONAL PLEDGE FOR 10% OF THE PROCEEDS FROM THIS BOOK SALE, ALSO KNOWN AS TITHING:…..PAGE 274

 

STORY SYNAPSES…..PAGE 274

PROLOGUE:

UNDER THE RAINBOW

 

Kate drove East out of Denver, the city still clothed in darkness, but as the lights grew smaller in her rear view mirror, she experienced the unsettling premonition that her life was about to change in a way so unexpected that she wouldn’t recognize herself when it was over. In her mind’s eye she pictured a mighty wind rushing across the prairie, and she was swept up in it, turned round a half dozen times, transported precipitously through the skies, and, journey completed, deposited in entirely new and unfamiliar territory. Holy hat-rack. A total transformation. Of everything. That had to be a tornado. She looked anxiously at the sky. She was certainly headed the right direction to find a storm, directly into tornado country. Supposedly, there was little warning when one was coming, even a big one, a green tinge to the sky, a certain heaviness in the air. A ‘feeling’. And that’s all Kate really had, the barest tickle at the base of her brain, a sensation like static electricity humming across her skin. It was the right season as well as the right place, early summer just past the front range. Meteorologists claimed, with some good justification, that the area had the wildest weather on earth. But no matter how intensely Kate searched the sky, it remained serenely and undeniably clear, even showing a few tiny prickles of late fading stars. The only clouds to be seen were bare whispers on the distant horizon. Hopefully, if there was a tornado out there, it wouldn’t be wherever she was going.

 

When in doubt, consult God, so Kate did a bit of praying, asking God what He thought of her taking the Interstate, the fastest possible route East. Curiously, she thought she heard a clear admonition to travel by the less traveled roads. Which wasn’t any part of a ‘game plan’ designed by her, and not what she wanted to hear. She was in something of a hurry to check in at her new job at a small private women’s college back in Washington DC There she’d be a full instructor, and not just an ‘assistant’ like she’d been at her old job in San Francisco. She was looking forward to it. But Kate believed her real job wasn’t what she did for a paycheck, but instead, doing whatever God wanted her to do. And besides, she knew she’d be sorry if she ignored one of God’s biddings, she’d miss out on whatever He wanted to show her. So she obligingly headed southeast instead of directly east. Which led her through towns with picturesque names like Limon, Kit Carson, Eads, and Towner, and brought her ever closer to the great state of Kansas.

 

Kate had always held some peculiar ideas about Kansas. A fan of the Wizard of Oz, the artist in her soul was inspired by the the story’s vivid colors. Ruby slippers, or silver shoes (depending on which version you liked), yellow brick roads, an emerald city, and of course, the rainbow itself. Rainbow, symbol of God’s promises to man, and always a magical portent.

 

Most people took Kansas to be a metaphor for the rest of the world, believing if something could happen in an uneventful place like Kansas, it could happen anywhere. But what if Kansas only appeared humdrum on the surface? What if Kansas wasn’t mundane at all, but was, in fact truly, ‘magical’? Then the fantastical wouldn’t be less likely to happen in Kansas, but more so. Indeed, where better than Kansas for something wonderful or terrible to happen? Maybe it was the site of one of those vortexes, or was that vorteci? Whatever. No one had ever explained why there were so many tornadoes in Kansas. Not really. Kate watched The Weather Channel. But they pretty much told you ‘how’, not ‘why’. Why usually turned out to be a ‘God question’. And nobody answered those kinds of questions, except God. Somewhere between Towner and Tribune Kate crossed from Colorado into Kansas.

 

After half an hour or so of driving, Kate stopped and pulled off beside the road. So far, western Kansas had turned out to be every bit as bleak and cheerless as the land described in OZ. Not ‘gray’ perhaps but certainly grayish, all colors bleached and dulled by the relentless elements. The weird world envisioned by Andrew Wyeth. But now the road had started to dip down into the shallow bowl of an irrigated river valley. Ah! The Emerald Kingdom. Now that was more like it. She smiled as she studied the contrast, before and behind. It paid to be patient. God’s promises always came true, but only in their own time.

 

Ahead of her land touched by water was almost a tropical green, a hue Gaugin would have relished. Here, summer had already arrived, it was hot and a little muggy even early in the day. The vivid green of the land was accompanied by a bright blue sky ripped with startling white clouds. Gaugin might have loved the green, but Van Gogh would have loved the clouds and the texture of the land. And the bright colors would probably have inspired anyone who’d ever put brush to canvas, including Kate. So God had given her this beautiful view, just for obediently turning off the Interstate. She was happy. This view alone would have been ample recompense for going the long way round. Unless the revelation wasn’t finished. There might be more ahead. The electricity still prickled along her skin, even stronger, more insistent.

 

She looked back towards the West. She could no longer see Colorado’s distant purple peaks. But back towards the front range the sky was misty. And spanning the sky behind her was a rainbow. Kate knew the laws of optics, a rainbow appeared in the opposite direction of the sun. Both logic and whimsy suggested if the rainbow was ‘behind’ her, she must at some point have driven ‘under’ it. Obviously, if she’d entered a magical kingdom by way of a mystical gate, the normal rules of reality would no longer apply.

 

A rainbow behind and the Emerald Kingdom ahead, how could she lose with that combination. The wild Disney bright colors of the Kansas river valley were reminiscent of a children’s story, suggesting a realm of ‘witches and yellow brick roads’, castles and dragons, clashing swords. That sort of thing. A place where unusual, ‘highly dramatic’ events might happen on a regular basis, a land where anything could happen.

CHAPTER ONE:

HEROIC MEASURES

 

Somewhere after Ness City, and before Bazine, Kate came upon a brilliantly lit scene, the remains of a very crumpled late-model white sedan, and standing next to it, a man who, except for his modern clothing, could have stepped out of a battle from a hundred or a thousand years before. For a moment, Kate found herself looking for a bloodstained sword or battle axe laid at his feet. She had chided herself. As usual, she was being fanciful. Because everything she was seeing could have been caused by an auto accident. Unless her old tired car truly had carried her ‘Somewhere Else’. If so, she supposed very much that ‘wounded knights’ might be a real possibility. In that case, the apparition beside the road might be as ‘normal’ as rain over Puget Sound.

 

Inexplicably, the man wasn’t trying to wave her down. In fact, not only was he not seeking aid, he was glaring at her car as if he didn’t really want her to stop. Kate wondered if the seemingly hostile attitude might be a manifestation of shock, which could have been precipitated by his obvious injuries. Even without an invitation, the livid red stain across the bright white of his tattered dress shirt painted an instant ‘distress flag’ across Kate’s retina and she slammed to a stop. She would have to help the accident victim, whether he wanted help or not. As she stared at him, the world around her entered some sort of ‘hyper-state’. Sound was dampened, time slowed, space seemed to float, and yet she was more aware, more alive. It seemed to Kate that rather than time slowing, perhaps she was moving ‘faster’. Adrenaline rush, perhaps, or something far stranger.

 

The car was in one of those graveled turnouts highway departments seemed to place every twenty miles or so for maintenance. There was something anonymous looking about the vehicle, flung sideways beside a huge pile of gravel. Was the car from a known commercial fleet perhaps, or a rental? Where ever it had come from, the white ‘war-horse’ definitely needed to be put out of its misery. Hopefully the rider was a bit more salvageable. Although when Kate took a closer look at him, she was far from sure of that. He was fully covered in dirt and blood, the white dress shirt was badly torn, and the dark slacks not in much better shape.

 

Then she noticed the way he stood. He didn’t look defeated. Far from it, this particular ‘warrior’ looked more than willing and able to go a few more rounds with destiny, to go on fighting to his last breath if necessary. A small chill ran down her spine. This one wasn’t going to be easy. This one was formidable. Even in his battered condition, and even on a matter as important as his own survival, Kate knew she might have her work cut out for her, convincing him to ‘stand down’. She turned her car onto the gravel and came to stop, put the brake on. Climbing out took a bit more courage, walking towards him even more. But he wasn’t looking at her, he was looking out towards the road behind her, his expression angry and apprehensive.

 

“Did you see the black truck?” She took note of the voice. Rich. Deep. Cynical. Impatient. She was tempted to ask him if he was hallucinating, because she hadn’t seen any truck.

 

“No, I didn’t.” Kate peered at his vehicle one more time. He obviously believed that he’d been in a two car smash-up, not a rollover, and that looked to be the case. The car had been badly crushed from the side, the driver’s door completely caved in. The source, possibly, of her would be rescuee’s obvious arm and shoulder injuries. What had happened to his face? Hadn’t he been wearing his seat-belt? If what he believed was true, where was the other car?

 

“You must have. A big diesel, late model, with Colorado plates and reinforced front bumper. When they saw your car coming, they took off as fast as if God’s Holy Angels actually were sitting on the roof.” This had to be one of the stranger things anyone had ever said to her, and Kate wondered if she should re-evaluate the level of shock this man was experiencing. But just to be certain, she glanced behind her to make sure there weren’t any angels standing back there…..Nope.

 

“The angels probably jumped off when I slowed down.”

 

“Or they’re still there, but now, no one can see them.”

 

“I didn’t see any men, or any truck.” She pondered a moment. “Or any angels. Just you. And your smashed car of course.”

 

“I guess that despite the plates, they could be from Kansas. They did head East. If so, that would be good news. It means you’ll be safe if you turn around and head back the way you came.”

 

“Which I have no intention of doing. Nor am I going anywhere else until I see that you get some medical attention. Can I call an ambulance for you? From the looks of your car, you can take your time on the tow truck.”

 

Kate was beginning to think this guy was showing definite signs of being out of his head. He had to be delusional, and paranoid to boot, if he actually believed someone would intentionally cause an accident. Although she supposed that he could have been the victim of a hit and run.

 

But at least by disagreeing with him, Kate finally seemed to have finally gotten his attention. His glance swung back from the road to include her. But when he looked at her, he began his perusal from the ground upwards, speaking before he had gotten much farther than her knees.

 

“Let me guess, a librarian.”

 

Suddenly on the defensive, Kate fought a desire to cringe. Not that the man wasn’t perilously close to the truth. She was an assistant professor of art history, but she spent most of her time in a library, doing research. Not that there was anything wrong with that. Her garb was entirely appropriate for her profession. She was wearing a green tweed suit, her best, conservatively below the knee, with two inch very sensible working woman pumps. She thought the color of the suit set off her auburn, tending to wild, locks quite nicely. But at 5’9”, the shoes made her a little bit too tall. It took only an instant to notice that even with her tallish self and a two inch advantage, he was taller still.

 

He studied her a little more closely. “No, I have it, a teacher.” He still hadn’t gotten any farther than her chest, which for some reason made the heat rise in Kate’s cheeks.

 

“You are…..” His eyes swept up to lock with hers.

 

Kate looked at him openly, staring straight into his eyes. Forever afterward, she’d think looking into his eyes was her first mistake, or maybe not the first, but only the most serious of many. It was only much later, she’d recall that at that moment, he appeared to be as stunned as she herself felt. If anything, more so. For her part, Kate was so mesmerized by the electric depth of his gaze, she felt rooted to the spot. She’d never seen anyone with eyes remotely like his. They were a peculiar color, one Kate had seldom encountered before, a blue so dark he’d be taken for brown-eyed in black and white photos. People called such eyes ‘violet’, or so she’d heard. They weren’t any shade of purple though, blue-violet maybe, but closer to indigo. A blue as dark as unwashed denim. But the color would have made his eyes merely ‘unusual’, not unique. It was the fire that burned behind them that was quite spectacular.

 

This was a very dynamic individual, with an intellect seemingly somewhere in the stratosphere. His face was difficult to judge, damaged as it was. But whole she thought, it would still have been a hard face, angular and long with a squared off chin. He had a fully decisive brow line and a high forehead, light brown hair threaded by sunlit gold, probably not from a high-priced salon, but from time spent outdoors or in chlorinated water. He didn’t seem quite vain enough to care much about his hair, and probably too busy to care, as well. Now the hair was completely disheveled by whatever had happened to him, and he didn’t seem to care much about that either, even adding to the chaos by running his fingers of his right hand through it now and then. Kate had a feeling his hair was always rumpled, but if the remains of the dress shirt were any indication, his clothes usually were not. He stared at her for a good thirty long seconds in open mouthed shock, though at the time, she thought perhaps he was having trouble breathing, because of his heavily bruised and abraded face. His somewhat parted lips gave Kate an opportunity to note extremely white and even teeth, which probably gave him a killer smile when his face was less damaged. Kate suddenly felt a heated disgust for whoever had punched him in the mouth. Because somehow she knew, that was exactly what had happened to him. The man closed his mouth, as well as he could. And then he made yet another highly unusual comment.

 

“Holy Mother of God, you’re her, aren’t you?” With a slight grimace he looked heavenward towards the ever-brightening sky. And then he nodded. “Silly question, of course you are.”

 

“I take it you’re a Catholic, Sir.” Kate guessed. Either that, or she’d dropped quite firmly back into the middle ages.

 

“I certainly am not. Not this part of the family, most of them switched over generations back. Irish Nanny.” This made as little sense to Kate as everything else he’d said so far. “Look, whoever you are…..What is your name by the way?” He stopped abruptly as if unwilling to proceed without the information he required.

 

“Kate.” Kate swallowed. “Kate Greenwood.”

 

He tilted his head slightly to one side as if seeing something she couldn’t see, or listening to something she couldn’t hear. “Naturally. It would be. Something like that. Well, Kate…..Miss Greenwood. Or is it ‘Mrs. Greenwood’?”

 

“Is that relevant?”

 

He quirked her an odd half smile that touched only one side of his mouth. “Possibly.”

 

“Well it wouldn’t make a whit of difference to a lot of men out there, so please make your point and have done with it. It’s worse than useless to stand here arguing about trivia when you’re…..” Kate glanced down and watched while a tiny rivulet of blood ran down the back side of his left hand and dripped off his curled and limp looking fingertips. “Bleeding.” she finished. There was probably a large laceration in the upper portion of his left arm, deltoid muscle perhaps, but she couldn’t get a good look. It was hidden from view by the ragged remains of his blood-soaked shirt sleeve. As a matter of fact, it appeared that he couldn’t lift his left arm by its own power, otherwise he would have raised it by now to slow the blood loss. Instead, the limb hung horribly loosely, and now that she took a closer look, his left shoulder looked suspiciously ‘out of whack’ as well. Good Grief. He probably had a dislocated shoulder, and possibly a broken collar bone. While not life-threatening in and of themselves, Kate had heard such injuries were painful enough to put a strong man on the ground. And he seemed to have lost quite a lot of blood. Yet there he stood, quite willing to argue issues of ‘social protocol’. And speaking to ‘his God’, whoever ‘his’ God might be.

 

“OK. The point is this, Ms. Greenwood.” and he put particular emphasis on the ‘Ms.’ “I want you to climb right back in that little car of yours, and drive away. As fast as you can go. I would advise to the West, opposite of the direction taken by my attackers.” Well, she had to say this for him. His ‘delusions’ were remarkably consistent, if a bit on the colorful side.

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. In the condition you’re in…..Do you realize how long it may be before someone else drives by? This spot is very isolated.”

 

“I know. So how exactly did you happen to be passing by, out here in the middle of nowhere?”

 

Kate cocked her head to one side, thinking. She could play dumb. She could tell him the names of the towns she’d driven through. But Kate was pretty sure that wasn’t what this man really wanted to know. She was pretty sure he wanted to know ‘why’ she was on this particular road. And that was a little more complicated. Here was a conundrum. To tell or not to tell, that was the question. Kate had an impulse to take a virtually unprecedented risk.

 

“What would you say, if I said I got up this morning and asked God which way I should go, and He said….. Or I thought He did…..‘Go this way’, ‘and that’, ‘and that’…..And suddenly I ended up..… here?”

 

There was a long pause. “I’d say that was interesting. Maybe more than interesting. Strange in the extreme. And incredible. But only incredible in the best sort of way. Maybe even ‘miraculous’.”

 

“It sounds odd, I know, but sometimes God gives me little ‘nudges’. ‘Go until I tell you to stop. You’ll know what I want you to see when you see it.’ But I only expected a fabulous view. He doesn’t often give me people”.

 

The man raised an audacious eyebrow. “That makes two of us surprised by today’s events. I didn’t expect to be given to somebody today, either.”

 

“I didn’t mean it like it sounded.”

 

“Ah, but maybe God meant it exactly like that. He’s quite mysterious.” The smile looked odd, hung across his mangled features. “I suspect you were sent to save me. But now you’ve done your duty, running off the bad guys, I want you to climb back in your car and get out of here. They could be on their way back, right now.”

 

Kate considered the situation for a few moments. He wanted her to escape the danger by leaving him behind. Which might, or might not, keep her safe, maybe or maybe not, but would surely do him no good at all. Considering the tenuous condition he was in, the next time they’d surely kill him. He was making a noble gesture, but what a blatant waste it would be to die, when he could live! She couldn’t possibly walk away without trying to save him. Her stubborn attitude was no doubt conveyed quite clearly by her expression.

 

“Look…..‘Kate’. If you refuse to leave voluntarily, I have the authority to order you to leave.”

 

“Authority?” Kate glanced about, puzzled, wondering what she’d missed.

 

“This is a crime scene. I think someone may have been killed here today.”

 

Oh my goodness. Holy fruitcake. That would make him ‘law enforcement’ of some kind, despite the lack of uniform. A sheriff’s detective maybe, driving the lonely county roads solo, in an unmarked car. Yes, that made a certain amount of sense.

 

“Who are you? Or is the better question, ‘Who do you work for’?”

 

He made a grasping gesture, repeated three times, his right hand reaching for his left hand pocket. Then he gave up in frustration, sighing heavily, which probably hurt as well. In his current state of pain, he couldn’t quite twist his body far enough for his right hand to reach into his left-hand pocket.

 

“I apologize for asking this, but could you reach into my left hand pocket? I realize that proposition sounds dubious, but I think what’s there it will answer all your questions. Probably. For a while.”

 

This was not what she had expected to be doing on a bright Monday morning, but Kate gingerly inserted her fingers into his left-hand pocket, wondering why anyone would keep their wallet on their off-hand side, which would have to be awkward. Unless it wasn’t his off-hand side. She pulled away abruptly at the realization.

 

“You’re left-handed.” The surprise caused Kate to take a deep breath, which wafted in his smell, a surreal combination of fresh dirt, fresher blood, oil, gasoline, the salt tang of sunlight on clean skin, and some fainter spicy, woodsy smell. He must be an early morning shower freak. Kate preferred baths, taken late in the day. Slowly.

 

“Mostly.” He was looking down at her, amusement written all over his damaged face. “Though I’ve been known to do a thing or two with my right hand.”

 

“Can you shoot your weapon with your right?”

 

“I practice with both. So I think I might ‘manage’ to fire a weapon with my right. The problem will be reloading.” He grew impatient, or rather more impatient. “Are you going to look at my credentials, or what?”

 

Kate made another swipe at his pocket, careful not to touch him when she grabbed the case. Fortunately his slacks were of the loose variety. She flipped open the leather case, expecting a Sheriff’s badge. There on the left were some business cards, but she barely glanced at them, because on the right there was a badge. But it wasn’t a Sheriff’s badge of any county in Kansas. It was Federal.

 

Suddenly, Kate’s heart fluttered, and she took a step backwards. Maybe he wasn’t making it up about the bad guys coming to kill them. This was becoming all too real. And all too weird.

 

“What’s an FBI agent doing in a field in the middle of Kansas?”

 

“‘Outstanding in my field’? I wouldn’t have taken you for a punster.”

 

“You didn’t answer my question.”

 

“No I didn’t, did I? And I’m not sure that I should. I don’t know that you should be any more involved with this than you already are.”

 

“I stopped to ‘give aid and comfort’ or whatever it is motorists are supposed to do for fellow travelers. So you could say I’m already involved. They may follow me, even if I leave you stranded here. Which I’m not going to do.”

 

“All right. I was out here to meet an informant. He’s missing. I think they may have killed him. Undoubtedly, I would have been next. Have I thanked you, by the way?” So he wasn’t delusional. He was after some bad people, and they, apparently, were after him. “But the way I see it, if they’d commit two murders, I doubt they’d blink at committing a third to get rid of a witness. So now you see why you have to leave. If you want to help me, and you’ve got a cell, you can call this in, but only after you’ve left the area. Let me give you a card with the right number on it.”

 

He reached out and pulled one of the cards from the leather case she held in her seemingly nerveless fingers. When she seemed unwilling, or unable to grasp it, he placed it between her fingers, then squeezed them gently shut to keep the card from falling down to the dirt. His hand, she noticed, was quite large, very strong, long on bone and sinew, rather like a steel clamp. If he’d chosen to grab her hand, he could easily have crushed it, but instead he applied about as much pressure as if he’d been holding a butterfly.

 

The card said simply: ‘GD McFadyn’. Which wasn’t very illuminating.

 

“‘GD’, Hmm.” Kate smiled.

 

“An unfortunate combination. You can call me ‘Drew’. In fact, you can call me anything you like, as long as you take your pretty little…..‘self’ out of here.”

 

At thirty-two years old, and 5’9’‘, Kate knew she was nether pretty nor little, but she chose not to argue with the crazy man about that particular issue, since they had so many other meaningful issues to argue about. He took the case from her then, flipped it shut and replaced it in his pocket, the right-hand side this time, presumably so that he could get it out on his own the next time he needed it. Kate looked at the card in her hand more closely. It said he was the ‘Section Chief’ of ‘Special Section Six’, whatever that was. It seemed she had really stepped in it this time. He only looked a bit older than she was, certainly not old enough to be ‘Head’ of anything. Kate’s hand trembled slightly, as the full import of the card began to sink in.

 

“Look Mr. McFadyn…..‘Drew’…..Agent McFadyn…..Whatever. Do you honestly believe I can leave you out here alone?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What kind of person do you think I am? I couldn’t possibly do such a thing. You could bleed to death, or be killed by these thugs you say may be coming back.”

 

“I’m aware of that. But it might not happen. I’ve already been rescued from almost certain death once today, why not twice? And besides, I’ve ordered you to leave. You should spend less time worrying about other people, and more time taking care of yourself.”

 

“Thanks for the advice. But I’d have to return my ‘Good Samaritan’ badge if I left you behind. No running off on people in need. And I certainly think you qualify. What happened to your phone?”

 

“They smashed it.”

 

“I see. No means of transportation, no means of communication, middle of nowhere, badly injured, and as the ‘piece de resistance’, bad guys coming back to kill you. You’re definitely coming with me.”

 

“And if I refuse to go with you?”

 

“Then we’ll both be right here, when the bad guys come back.”

 

He looked at her for a few moments, appraisingly. “You’re that stubborn?”

 

“Yes,” Kate said, without hesitation, “whatever it takes to convince you. To the death, if necessary. But wouldn’t it be better if we both survived?” Kate tried to keep the plea out of her voice, but she knew it was in there somewhere.

 

“You say you’re willing to die, but what if God decides to test your resolve?”

 

“Then so be it. With God’s help, I cannot fail. Die, yes. Fail, no.”

 

Agent McFadyn looked heavenwards, and he would have turned both palms upwards, except that one of his hands wasn’t working. “I tried to get her to leave, didn’t I?”

 

He turned back to Kate. “I guess I’ll just have to go with you then. Though I have a feeling I may regret this, somewhere down the road.” He smiled uncertainly. “Before we go, I have to retrieve my briefcase from my car. Oh, and one other thing. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to go back the way you came.”

 

“That’s unreasonable. I’m headed East. I could just as easily take you to…..”

 

“I have to go to Denver.”

 

“Denver? I just came from Denver. Wichita is…..”

 

“The wrong direction. Take me west, or leave me here.”

 

Kate swallowed. A deal breaker. “Are you sure about this? I should probably take you to the nearest hospital, although I’m not sure where that is. Or at least I should take you someplace where they can call you an ambulance.”

 

“I have to report what’s happened. I hope you understand why. I have to report it before someone sticks a needle in my arm and I’m dead to the world for two or three days. And as for me getting prompt medical attention, I’m fairly sure they’ll send a chopper with a medic…..if I ask. Does that cover your objections, for the moment?”

 

He smiled at her almost patiently, as if sure she’d come up with more objections, quite soon. His plan didn’t really address the question of how she was going to make it to her scheduled meeting in Washington DC on time. But what she wanted, or what she’d been doing, now seemed irrelevant. Her plans had been superseded. And it was imperative to get him some medical help before he lost any more blood.

 

“OK.” she said, shaking her head, “you win, we’re going West.”

 

The trip to his car proved quite difficult, since he was barely able to walk. He moved like a man forcing his way through a sea of molasses. It took him two or three minutes to cover the twenty feet to his crumpled car. But his very deliberate movements didn’t appear to impede his strong desire for more information. Being ‘half dead’ was insufficient to stop his mental processes, or even slow them down much.

 

“You never answered my questions.”

 

“Which questions were those?”

 

“About whether you’re a ‘Mrs’ or a ‘Miss’.”

 

Kate considered refusing to answer, but she realized that was a childish reaction. Better to get it over with.

 

“I used to be married, but now I’m not.”

 

“Ah…..” he said, as if that explained everything.

 

“And the other question, are you a librarian or a teacher?”

 

“I don’t recall that you asked me. You guessed.”

 

“But was I accurate?”

 

Kate sighed. “Yes, sadly, you were. ‘Close’ on the first try, and ‘dead on’ with the second. I’m an assistant art history professor. Some people would say that makes me a bit of a teacher and a bit of a librarian. Apparently I’m easy to read. No pun intended.”

 

“You don’t have to defend yourself. I’m something of an ‘expert’ on academics. Because I used to be one.” His eyes, what she could see of them, were too tired and worn to dance. There was an ember of laughter in there somewhere, and also some understanding. “You know.” he said with a softer smile, “You’re quite beautiful, in a strange, ‘I dreamed you up’ kind of way. Maybe I did dream you up. Maybe none of this is real.”

 

It was singularly weird that he’d say such a thing, because Kate had been having very similar thoughts about him. Not that he was beautiful in his beaten-to-a-pulp condition. Except in a knightly, courtly, ‘just have done battle’ sort of way. Dashing maybe, but most certainly not ‘pretty’ in his present state. Still, there was a hint of an elegant nobility beneath all the dirt and blood. She had a feeling underneath the debris of battle, her ‘damaged knight’ might even be somewhat…..unsurpassed. Someone very truly remarkable. He might be one of those mythical fellows found in every fairy tale, the one ‘destined’ to prevail against all odds, vanquish all foes, win the hand of the fairest of women, and when all was said and done, ‘rule wisely and justly’.

 

In other words, ‘A Hero’. He seemed to have all the requisite qualities. Such vastly incredible constructs were reputed to exist, even in mortal form, but they were extremely rare. Like hen’s teeth, or ‘aliens’. Kate had never expected to really actually meet one. But now it seemed she might have done so, merely by following supernatural travel instructions. The fairy tales never said what mere humans were supposed to do once they encountered a creature as rare as a unicorn. There were no instructions. Maybe you were just supposed to instinctively ‘know’. But Kate, being lost, really didn’t know what she was supposed to do with him now that she’d found him. She was, however, sure of one thing. After this day, meeting this man, her life would never be the same again. Perhaps much better, perhaps much worse, or perhaps some measure of both, but never again the same. Her life was now and forever irretrievably ‘changed’. He had already ruined her future. From this day forward she would always know he existed, somewhere. She would from here on in compare all men to the unbelievable stranger she’d met, ‘once upon a time’. And now, from this moment forward, she was committed to giving this extremely disturbing vagabond, a ‘lift’. Worse, she’d given her word. For good or for ill, she was stuck.

 

The door of Agent McFadyn’s vehicle was hanging by one hinge and partially blocked the opening. He yanked the remains out of the way with his ‘good’ arm. Kate now winced. That had to hurt. And if he could do something strong and powerful like that when badly injured, she quailed at the thought of what he could do when he was ‘healthy’.

 

“How did you get all these injuries anyway. Weren’t you wearing your seat belt?”

 

“I was…..But after the second time they rammed the car, I decided I’d better get out from behind the wheel. As you can see, they were ramming it from the driver’s side.” The collision had left a huge indentation in the vehicle door, it would have been driven at least a foot into the area behind the steering wheel.

 

“Apparently they didn’t much care if they got you out in one piece.”

 

“You think?” He smiled a small, grim smile. “I picked up this shoulder..… problem, on the second impact. I wish I’d unbuckled a little sooner.”

 

He reached in, pushed a button on the car’s steering column, and as Kate drew nearer, a drawer slid out from under the seat. In it was a briefcase. He reached in, using the uninjured arm, and coded the case open. Kate lifted one eyebrow. A case with a security code. And inside was a gun. It looked like some old automatic with a fancy brushed silver surface. But what it probably was, was some brand-new three times as expensive .45 ACP with an unreflective surface, the better to sneak up on your opponents with. Not anyone’s standard issue weapon, but fairly hard-core. Kate shivered. At the insistence of her ex-husband, she’d become a decent shot, but the thought of a human body bored through by an accidental misfire made her nervous. And even more, the thought of humans shooting each other on purpose made her nervous. He reached out and took the gun into his right hand with the ease of long familiarity. In most people’s hands, a .45 ACP was a big weapon, but his hand was large enough to make the gun look a size smaller, like a 9mm would look in her hand.

 

“I don’t suppose you know how to load one of these ? It’s not something I can do one-handed.” Kate wanted to shake her head in the negative. But that wasn’t what she did.

 

“Yes, it so happens I do.”

 

He laid the gun back in the hard snap case and picked it up again, this time by the barrel and held it out to her. Kate felt herself give a slight inward gasp. It was never wise to let someone point a weapon at you, and security people were more aware of that than most. True, it was supposed to be empty but…..on the off chance that there was a round in the chamber he had just put her in a perfect position to shoot him? Why would he do such a thing? How could he possibly trust her that much when he’d only just met her? God knew she wasn’t a terrorist. But how would Agent McFadyn know that? When Kate wrapped her fingers around the grip she took care not to let her pointer finger stray anywhere near the trigger, and not to let her thumb get too close to the safety. And for good measure she pointed the barrel down at an angle towards the ground.

 

“Would you mind loading it for me?” He handed her a clip and stuck two more in his right pocket. She slid the clip into place until she heard it click, still keeping the weapon pointed at the ground. Then she handed it back to him, holding it by the barrel herself, but making sure the weapon was aimed to the side instead of back at her chest.

 

“You appear to know your way around a weapon.” So it had all been a test, nothing but a test. He was probably a weapons instructor at Quantico and was just checking out the new kid. “That’s good. As, if something happens to me, you have my permission to take this gun, and mow down whoever seems to be causing the difficulty.”

 

That was an inspiring, if highly unsettling, statement. Do not mourn, do not grieve, and for heaven’s sake don’t act ‘helpless’. Pick up a weapon and defend yourself. Interesting. Nothing ‘tentative’ about his opinion, either. Apparently he was a strong proponent of ‘self-defense’.

 

“It seems I’ve been officially promoted to ‘Tonto’.”

 

“I haven’t officially ‘deputized’ you, but it does kind of lean in that direction, doesn’t it? And there actually are some people who give me a hard time about being a ‘lone ranger’ type. Therefore, I’d appreciate it, if you didn’t mention the fact my weapon is now unloaded, and under my seat. I didn’t think I’d need it. Not in a rural area with a clear line of sight for hundreds of yards in every direction.”

 

“So how did they get you, anyway? You don’t seem particularly easy to ambush.”

 

“It seems the ‘clear line of sight I mentioned didn’t include this giant pile of gravel here. They waited until I pulled in and immediately roared out and hit me. Repeatedly. I had about two seconds warning.”

 

“Your secret’s safe with me. But tell me, what good does it do you to have a security code on your case? Wouldn’t someone just take the whole thing? Or does the case self-destruct if it isn’t opened properly?” Kate was making a joke, but Agent McFadyn seemed to take the question at face value.

 

“The hard drive in the laptop will destroy itself, but not the gun. However, when the hard drive fries itself, it pretty much makes a mess of everything else in the case. There’s enough damage and discoloration to insure a would-be thief would have a hard time using or fencing the stuff…..which is the whole point of course. Would you mind getting it for me?”

 

Kate eyed the case suspiciously. “The case with the gun in it?”

 

“That’s the one.”

 

“In your condition, how can you possibly shoot?”

 

“Passably, I think. We’ll see. And the FBI doesn’t normally leave guns lying around, not to mention the contents of the hard drive. I can’t even leave the case behind. Security and all that stuff. I’d get my knuckles rapped if I lost it.”

 

Reluctantly, Kate reached for the alarming case.

 

“Leave it unlocked, we might need it on short notice.” he said quietly.

 

Kate felt a definite catch in her throat. “I suppose that’s possible.”

 

She walked to her car and placed the open case on the floor of the passenger side of her car where Agent McFadyn could, just possibly, reach it one-handed. Then, she went back to collect her large passenger. When she looked at him though, she momentarily froze in place. It was a disturbing sight, a damaged man leaning against a wrecked white car. He looked worse than before. It was possible his condition was deteriorating.

 

“Now all I have to do is make it to your car.”

 

Kate knew he was trying to make light of his condition, but the attempt fell short. He really wasn’t looking too good. And now that it was time to get him into her little bucket of bolts, it didn’t seem like it was going to be easy to accomplish. Her car was smaller than average, he was larger than average, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, he was injured, which would make every ‘bend’ of his body excruciating. Without asking his permission, which she had a feeling she wouldn’t get, Kate moved to put her shoulder beneath the arm on his on his good side, and placed her arm around his back for support. There was a shudder as he drew a painfully deep breath and then he carefully draped his right arm across her shoulders and let her support some of his weight.

 

Unfortunately, Kate hadn’t considered the effect bringing her body into contact with his would produce. He was heavy, warm and animal, and she was immersed in his scent, salt, sunlight, and sandalwood. There was the faint metallic tang of blood as well, but that only made everything seem a bit more ‘desperate’ or…..‘romantic’, in a bizarre sort of way. And whatever ‘animal’ he was, despite having a soft hide, the critter’s underpinnings were more like ‘wood over steel’. The man was so hard he could dent something. Which made her think she was transporting an athlete disguised as a yuppie. Now she’d have to guess what sort of athlete he was. Some endurance thing, no doubt. Or maybe he was into martial arts. They crossed the distance to her car without mishap. He only leaned on her a little. But when they got to the door of her car it became trickier. She had to support more of his weight as he slipped into the less than adequate space. She could tell it hurt him. When he settled into the seat, she noticed his eyes were closed. She thought he might have passed out from the pain, and she started to lean across him to fasten his seat belt. But then his eyes flashed open.

 

“That’s OK, I’ll get it.” He reached down and picked up the .45 ACP placing it on his lap at an angle, so that it was approximately pointed at the steering column. His mildly tanned complexion, the part that wasn’t already purplish or raw, had turned a retchy shade of gray as the pain from twisting his body caught up with a system already at the end of its resources.

 

“I never thought the guys who trained in Iron Man were really made out of iron, although I guess in your case it could be some exotic steel alloy.”

 

“I actually have trained for that. How did you know?”

 

“A wild guess…..and the fact that you’re about as soft as a marble park bench.”

 

“Thanks for the compliment, though I’m really not all that ‘impressive’. Look..…Kate. No matter how this turns out, I need to say some things. You’re an unusual woman, and I’m very honored to have finally met you. I’m also very grateful to you, because you’re probably saving my life. And more than that, if something was to happen to me, I want you to know that I’m extremely pleased you listened to what you thought God told you to do. I wish more people paid attention. If they listened half as well to God as you did, the world would be a far better place.”

 

Kate leaned in towards him one more time. “Please elevate that arm, or put some pressure on the wound or…..something. I still think we should bandage it up before we leave.”

 

He shook his head. “We don’t have time. I’ll be fine. I’ve had worse.” Which begged the question of whether he made a habit of this sort of thing. He grinned at her crookedly. “But thanks anyway, ‘Mom’.”

 

Despite the wiseacre remark, he dutifully used his right arm to lift his left and drape it along the back of the seat. Since the position pulled all the muscles of his injured shoulder, she knew the activity cost him. He looked pale when he finished and a fine mist of perspiration coated his face. Kate had the awful feeling he was worse off than he was able to admit. She gently closed the door, walked around and climbed into the driver’s seat. Then, she started the engine and drove out of the innocuous looking, but seemingly ‘momentous’ turnout, headed west, back the way she’d come from.

Agent McFadyn immediately asked to borrow her cell phone so that he could report in. When he saw the purse she was carrying the phone in, his brows rose a notch, and a vague smile painted his swollen lips, but he said nothing. And it was well that he kept silent, because Kate was quite defensive and protective about that particular item. The first thing she noticed about the call was that he had no trouble getting through on the phone. She could imagine the song and dance she would have had to perform to get a message to someone at the FBI. But the people at the other end obviously knew who he was. That kind of quelled any lingering doubts she might have had whether he was a ‘real’ FBI agent. He was. He told whoever was on the other end of the line that they were headed north towards I-70. He described the type of vehicle they were in. And he told their backup to ‘hurry’, on the possibility they were being followed. At one point, he laughed a low crazy little laugh, even though the even crazier circumstances didn’t seem to warrant any laughter. It was quite odd, listening to a one-sided conversation. Now and then there was the sound of woman’s voice, scratchy and tinny over the line, but it seemed like she might be joking with him.

 

“If you could see my face, you’d understand why office politics is low on my priority list right now.”

 

More chatter.

 

“No, I won’t even object if Donovan’s on the chopper. He’s bound to bluster his way into this one way or another. And, as usual, I’m going to be left holding the bag. Everything that went wrong will be my fault, and everything that goes ‘right’ will be his doing. We both know that’s the way the office operates. Right now, that’s the least of my worries. I think we may have had a…..fatality. And if my…..” he paused and glanced at Kate, “companion and I don’t come in, we may be next on the list.”

 

There was a momentary interruption while whoever was on the other end of the line processed this information, and then the conversation proceeded on a slightly more serious tone.

 

“Yeah, I know. If they’d only played fair it would have gone a lot better. On a good day I could probably handle three or four, maybe even five. But by the time they pulled me out of the car, I was too messed up to defend myself, let alone get any ‘payback’. They kind of snuck up on me. ‘Bad Guys’ are like that, or so I’ve heard. But when I recover, I’ll see if I can’t even the score a bit.”

 

Some sort of question.

 

“Not too bad. I have a feeling I’m going to be in the hospital at least a day or two. But you can tell everyone rumors of my ‘imminent demise’ have been greatly exaggerated. Donovan will be very disappointed I survived again, but that’s just too bad.” He laughed again, and there was laughter on the other end as well.

 

“I’ll talk to you again in a couple of days, or whenever the medical people clear me.”

 

He got off the phone, and Kate wondered who he’d been talking to. The easy banter sounded like no ‘law enforcement to dispatcher’ communication she’d ever heard of. But what did she know? Maybe the movies and television had it all wrong.

 

“Who were you talking to?”

 

“My friend in Data Retrieval. She’ll contact the dispatcher.”

 

Well that explained the informality. But it only raised the question of who his ‘friend in Data Retrieval’ might be. He settled back down in the curve of the seat, sighing, and closed his eyes again. If he hadn’t been so smashed up Kate would have said he was “snoozing”. But as it was, she thought he was phasing in, phasing out. Mostly “out” she thought. That worried her. You weren’t supposed to let someone with a head injury drift off. The fingers of his left hand occasionally brushed against the hair that tumbled down slightly past her shoulders. He said nothing about the contact, perhaps wasn’t even aware of it since the injury might have made his hand numb. But Kate was certainly aware of it. A lover would have run his fingers through her hair, just so. So she was greatly bothered, even though it had been her own idea to elevate his injured arm. She was beginning to regret having agreed to share such close quarters with him, since she hadn’t quite counted on the effect it would have on her. She tried not to let the exquisite tickle distract her.

 

Nevertheless, she was finding it difficult to think of anything but how close he was. Under other circumstances, Kate was sure she would have found Agent McFadyn very interesting, if not downright attractive. If he hadn’t been so personally intimidating, she might even have imagined what it would be like if he kissed her. Like he would probably be interested in doing so, of course. She wondered if he was the kind who gently insinuated himself, or the kind who would just grab her and start removing pieces of clothing. Surely, he was more subtle than that, but there was something unnerving about him as well. Almost as if he enjoyed living on the edge. Which really wasn’t any of her business, since all she was doing was taking the man out of harm’s way. Soon he’d be back with his compatriots, ‘solving crimes’ hundreds or even thousands of miles from anywhere she’d be. But just now, he was so close she could smell him, and feel the warmth emanating from his body. And hear his breathing, which seemed labored. She wondered if she should she wake him up. Eventually, she decided he was neither asleep, nor unconscious, but merely waiting, in ‘standby mode’ conserving energy for whatever crisis might ensue. That impression was confirmed when, without opening his eyes, he finally spoke again.

 

“It’s all right if you talk to me, I won’t bite your head off.”

 

“Why were you meeting your ‘contact’ out here in the middle of Kansas?”

 

“An agent wouldn’t normally share the details of a case he’s working on with someone who gives him a ride. But.….” Kate said nothing more, merely quirked an eyebrow in his direction. “You are also beautiful, gracious, Divinely inspired, most probably trustworthy, and you also happen to be rescuing me, so.….” Kate ignored the compliments, at least outwardly, though each of them seemed to thud softly into her consciousness, somewhere near her heart.

 

“If there’s some danger, I think I ought to know what it is.”

 

“The more you know, the more danger you’ll be in. You may already know more than you should.”

 

“In that case, I’d say it’s too late to turn back. You might as well tell me the rest. I need to know what I’m dealing with.”

 

“All right. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” My informant lives…..lived…..in Denver. But he was afraid that they’d discovered who he was. He made a run. He’s been hiding in Wichita. He wanted to be as far as possible from his family in case these people ever caught up with him. A few days ago he said he had a package for me. We agreed to meet halfway between, back where you found me. The idea was, we’d each know if we were being followed. I wasn’t followed. But they were waiting for me. That’s why I think he’s dead. They must have followed him. Or else they knew where we’d be meeting ahead of time.”

 

“So unless they followed him without his knowledge…..”

 

“We have an information leak in the Denver Office. Which is why it’s imperative that I look into this myself instead of handing it off. Whoever I tell about this, may be the very person who set it up.”

 

“Who knew about the meeting?”

 

“That’s just it. It’s a very short list. My Boss, who needs to know these things, who I trust implicitly. Gladys, who I’d trust with my life, and you would too, if you knew her. That was her I was speaking to, on the phone. I don’t think anyone ‘sold me out’. But that doesn’t mean that the internal communication wasn’t monitored somehow. My hacker informant contacted me via computer. It’s possible someone could have gotten access to my laptop, bypassed the usual protocols and read my e-mail. That would still mean I’m dealing with someone in the office. Now I have to look at everyone I’ve been working with, and wonder which of them was willing to hand one, or possibly two, other human beings over to torture and death. It’s discouraging, to say the least.”

 

“And I don’t suppose the FBI is exactly eager to admit they’ve let a fox into the hen house.”

 

“Not exactly, no.” he laughed. “But the alternative to catching the fox, is to let it go on eating the chickens.”

 

“Which means you took something of a risk, in telling me this. I mean, I could be a reporter, or something. I’m not, but I could be. What made you decide to trust me enough to tell me this? Just because I’m a Christian? I could be lying about that. A prison cell block ‘conversion’? Someone who prays only under threat of imminent death. I could be a ‘poser’.”

 

“Well, it doesn’t hurt that you claim to believe in God, but I’ve noticed actions speak a lot louder than words. You stopped to give me aid and comfort, didn’t you? You could have driven right on past. And then there’s your choice of academic field. Art history. No glamor, so you’re not after fame. No big research grants, so you’re not after money. I’m pretty sure I’ve got an idealist, and probably a sincere Christian as well.”

 

Kate didn’t miss the fact he used the word ‘got’, as if he’d ‘caught’ her, like a mermaid, or leprechaun. Or a fish.

 

“How did a college professor end up working for the FBI?”

 

“I’m not a real FBI agent, not if you only count the ones with the buzz-cuts, the big muscles, and the ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ attitude. I’m really just a computer geek who got promoted. It’s pretty boring and mundane stuff.”

 

Ah, that word ‘mundane’. So far, absolutely nothing about Agent McFadyn was boring or mundane. Unless one considered murder, mayhem and espionage boring. Of course, strange things did happen in Kansas. So substitute mystical for mundane. And as to his being a computer geek…..he seemed to be a ‘head honcho’ kind of geek, just important enough for someone to think he was worth killing. What he was claiming was that he was just some ‘scientist type’ who’d been enlisted to assist the ‘real’ FBI. But if he was only a ‘technical adviser’, what was he doing meeting with an informant, what was he doing toting a gun, and why was he a third of the way across Kansas? And if he was just a desk-jockey, why did he seem to be in the peak of physical fitness, and able to pretty much rip a car door off it’s hinges with his ‘weaker’ arm? The pieces of his story didn’t quite fit together. Kate turned to look at him. He wasn’t very far away. Way too close, really.

 

“What sort of thing does ‘Section Six’ do, anyway?”

 

“Our full title says ‘Hacking and Anti-Terrorism’. But most folks in DC just call us ‘HAT

 

“So you’re the man from HAT?” Strange was piling on strange. “You catch hackers, then. I see. And what else?”

 

There was a momentary hesitation, Kate was fairly sure he was making up a very good story or else deciding how much of the truth to tell her. “Well, in addition to ‘catching’ hackers, I employ former hackers. No use letting all that talent go to waste. We try to break into computers. If we’re successful, we advise systems managers to beef up their security. Sometimes, we help them with that. We also listen to all kinds of Internet chatter, looking for key words. I could call up every last one of your phone conversations on that cell of yours. Hopefully you haven’t been chatting about blowing up the DC Monument.”

 

“So I’d better not say anything improper.”

 

“We mostly leave the tawdry stuff to vice. Doesn’t mean we don’t like to listen, though.” He smiled a Cheshire Cat grin. Probably a good deal of what he’d said was a ‘tall tale’, but Kate sensed there were a few kernels of truth hidden in there somewhere. And if any part of what he said was true, Agent McFadyn dealt in some scary stuff. Stuff people might kill over.

 

“Agent McFadyn…..”

 

“Call me Drew.”

 

Kate paused. “You don’t really look like a ‘Drew’.”

 

Agent McFadyn opened one eye, or attempted to, and scooted up in his seat. “OK, If I don’t look like a ‘Drew’, then what do I look like?”

 

Kate glanced at him sideways for second, then turned back to her driving. “I don’t know…..something…..softer. But strong.” She hastened to add.

 

“‘Soft’ but ‘Strong’. Isn’t that a description of a bathroom tissue? That’s the first time anybody’s accused me of being ‘soft’ about anything. But, I admit, I might have some of that hidden away inside, somewhere. How about if I spelled it ‘Dru’ instead of ‘Drew’? Would that help? That’s the way it’s spelled on my birth certificate. My parents were very ‘Old Country’. David James McFadyn, Killara Alexandra McFadyn…..”

 

Kate had a sudden mental picture of ‘Dru’ McFadyn wearing a kilt. The unruly hair was already unfashionably long for government service. But not long enough to look well with a kilt.

 

“You’re going to have to let your hair get longer if you’re going to wear a kilt. I was speaking of your other name, the one that begins with a ‘G’. So what’s your first name?”

 

“I can’t tell you that.”

 

“If you told me, you’d have to shoot me?”

 

“No, probably not. Not unless you asked me three or four times.”

 

“You probably wouldn’t shoot me. That’s comforting. So why can’t you tell me?”

 

“Because I haven’t used that name since high school.”

 

“Oh, I see. One of those ‘teen sophistication’ things. I sense there’s a story behind this. What was the incident that caused you to stop using the mysterious first name?”

 

“It wasn’t an ‘incident’, it was a person. I had to beg my Dad to go to a public high school. Actually, begging didn’t work. I had to threaten to hitch hike across the country. And my sister had to go to bat for me. The private school I had been attending was exclusively male, no girls. So about ten minutes after I got into public school, I got a tremendous crush on a girl. A very stuck-up girl. She made fun of me. Said she wouldn’t be caught dead dating anyone with a sissy name like mine, said it was ‘positively medieval’.”

 

“I happen to like old medieval things, like artwork.”

 

“I didn’t bother to point out that the guy she’d been dating, ‘Chuck’ I believe his name was, was probably, in all reality, a ‘Charles’. And if you ask me, there’s nothing more ‘sissy’ than a ‘Charles’. Unless maybe it’s a ‘Percy’, although somehow ‘Percival’ sounds like he’d be a wise old knight.”

 

“I don’t suppose you’d care to explain to Mr. Norris that ‘Chuck’ is actually a macho pseudonym for a wimpy name like ‘Charles’.”

 

“Really rather not. You would bring up an example like that.”

 

“Well, if she didn’t know her boyfriend’s name was just as ‘anachronistic’ as yours, she probably wasn’t smart enough for you anyway.”

 

“It’s good to clear that up after all these years, but I don’t think I much cared too much about girls brains in those days. She had lovely long legs, and I think I was drawn to her snooty attitude. I used to think a snooty attitude was a definite plus. If someone thought they were ‘too good for me’, I thought they were pretty darn cool.”

 

“Huh? How did those kind of choices work out for you?”

 

“Not very well, as you see by my single state.”

 

“What happened with the girl?”

 

“I became something more of a realist. I eventually realized that she would never have had anything to do with me, no matter what I was called. I was a certifiable nerd, you see, captain of the debate team and president of the chess club. Although in my defense, I never wore glasses or a pen protector. I was even sort of a jock. I was involved in a laundry list of random sports. Competitive Swimming. Fencing. Played Tennis. Also Went Rowing. Sailing. Shooting Of Course. I went Riding, we had horses. Well, Allie had horses, but she let me ride them. I dabbled a bit in the martial arts. A bit of cross-country. Of course, I don’t think the football team believed you should get a letterman’s jacket for swimming or cross-country.” That was an impressive list, but Kate pretended not to notice how long it was, and how very ‘upper class’. She began to suspect some Ivy League connections along with the money.

 

“I suppose you were pretty good at cross country.”

 

“Not really. I was too big, two or three inches too tall to have maximum running efficiency. It helps with the swimming though, long stroke.” He finished the recitation in a rush, perhaps hoping she wouldn’t notice how very many of his pursuits involved bashing, mashing, shooting or slashing, violent stuff. Then he sank back down in his seat. Without answering her original question.

 

“So you’re a chess player.”

 

“I am.”

 

“I’ve always thought the knight was an interesting piece. It makes unexpected moves, forward and sideways at the same time.”

 

“I have the icon of a chess knight on my web page. And I do try to keep people guessing. Sometimes it even works.”

 

“What color? A white knight, or a black?”

 

His eyes narrowed. “A pale sort of grey. Why do you ask?”

 

“Almost, but not quite white? You see yourself as basically ‘good’, but flawed?”

 

Agent McFadyn stared at her for quite some time in silence.

 

“Are you going to psychoanalyze me?” His voice was low and amused, but there was an edge to it. “Because I must warn you, it’s been tried by a much more experienced hand than yours, though possibly not one quite so.….‘inspired’. I admit, though, I do feel a certain stain on my soul. And you seem to have found it….. rather quickly.”

 

Now this, was troubling. Apparently Agent McFadyn trusted her enough to tell her, if a bit reluctantly, some of the relevant details of the case that had now sucked her into its coils. But he had some personal ‘secret’ that bothered him far more. Something he was unwilling to share with her.

 

“I’m not very interested in talking about me. Why don’t you tell me about yourself instead? That purse for instance. Pink plastic with black polka dots. Minnie Mouse? You see yourself a a large female mouse, perchance?”

 

“Very funny, Mr. Agent Man. No, it was given to me by a little girl who is like a daughter to me. Her mother is my best friend, and I treasure it because…..because…..”

 

“The child gave it to you. And it reminds you of home. Say no more. But if you’re that sentimental, you must have wanted children of your own.”

 

“Bill was an attorney. He said we were too busy to start a family.”

 

“And were you ‘too busy’?”

 

“I was for a while, helping put Bill through law school. After that I wasn’t so busy, but he said that he was still too ‘uncertain’ and ‘unstable’ in his profession’.”

 

“And then what happened?”

 

“He had an affair with his secretary.”

 

“Ah. Bad News.” She wasn’t going to tell Agent McFadyn she’d found them on top of a desk. Surely that was ‘too much information’, even for an ‘inquiring’ mind like his. And a detail she’d just as soon forget.

 

“I found them together.”

 

“Worse and worse.”

 

“I decided to surprise him with some Chinese take-out when he was ‘working late’. It turned out I was the one who was ‘surprised’. Although I guess I shouldn’t have been.”

 

“Sounds like a cruel b*stard as well as a womanizer. It also sounds like you’re well out of it. I’d like to say all marriages are made in heaven, but some of them don’t seem to be. I can’t say much about the ‘womanizing’ though, I used to be one of those myself.”

 

“Used to be?”

 

“Due to some personal problems…..I’ve had a rather long ‘dry’ spell. So long in fact, that I think I can definitively say that I ‘used to be’ a womanizer. But we’re talking about me again, and I want to talk about you. What do you think he saw in this woman?”

 

“I don’t know. Someone who wasn’t me. Someone with values more like his own. He’s kind of a greedy and selfish guy. And, as you’ve pointed out, I don’t care that much about money.”

 

“Was she beautiful?”

 

“You know that’s the weird thing. Half a dozen people, and not just my best friend, have told me she wasn’t as pretty as I was. She was even three years older than me. She was blonde, very ordinary. Not ugly, just ‘average’.”

 

“I’m not surprised.” He snorted derisively. “I’m sure if he’d been able to find a stunningly beautiful woman to wound you with, he would have. So he was probably hard up.”

 

“I suppose there aren’t that many truly beautiful women, are there?” Kate had never really considered that fact before.

 

“Lovely Villainesses aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, and what few there are, tend to sell themselves rather ‘dearly’. Most of them probably wouldn’t be willing to engage in a dirty petty ‘revenge affair’ with a two-bit attorney. Not enough in it to merit their attention. They’re far beyond the cheap blandishments a man like your hubby would have been able to offer them. ‘World Class Villainesses’ are out seducing dictators, or crashing corporations.”

 

“Evil Villainesses? You mean somebody like the ‘Evil Queen’ in Snow White?”

 

“Wouldn’t you call a woman who purposely sleeps with a man she knows is married, who has a wife at home waiting for him, a woman who’d like to have children, a villainess? I’d at least have to call her a ‘thief’ of the very worst kind. She stole your husband didn’t she? Although not without his help, of course.”

 

“Why did you call it a ‘revenge affair’? I hadn’t gone behind his back. I hadn’t done anything to him. I helped him, not just once, but many times. Why would he set out to destroy me?”

 

“I would guess you thoroughly annoyed him by being a ‘good person’. Some people don’t need more excuse than that, to try to take you down.”

 

“So you’re saying my husband intentionally tried to hurt me, because I represent something he doesn’t like? You’re saying it wasn’t something that just happened, that he set out to be purposely malicious?”

 

“If I was a betting man, I’d lay money on it.”

 

“That’s…..a crazy thing to say, if you’ll pardon my saying so. I don’t see where you’re getting all these wild suppositions.”

 

“You should be thanking your lucky stars.….and God above, that all he drove you to was ‘divorce’. You’re fortunate he didn’t destroy you completely. I’m sure he would have preferred it if you’d turned into a drunk, or committed suicide, or come down with cancer. You got off relatively ‘easy’, though I’m not sure I would have been able to convince you of that at the time it was happening.”

 

“Even if what you say is true, I don’t understand what his motive was. Nobody does anything without a reason. I don’t understand why my being a ‘good person’ would offend Bill. Isn’t that what people are looking for in a mate?”

 

McFadyn shrugged. “People encompassed by darkness, get very ‘agitated’ around people of light. The only commerce good has with evil, is when one overtakes the other. Good disperses Evil, merely by being ‘itself’. Dark retaliates, by trying to annihilate Light. Do you recall the motive of the ‘Evil Queen’ you mentioned? It was envy. She envied Snow White, her beauty, her goodness, the love she seemed to draw effortlessly from those around her, and she envied Snow White’s ‘inner happiness’. I’m sure your husband quietly hated you for the very same reasons. He probably called you a ‘goody two-shoes’, either to your face, or behind your back. You made him ashamed to be what he is, simply by being your own lovely natural self. You can see from the fairy tale that envy is sufficient motive for murder. How much simpler is it, just to engage in a vindictive affair?”

 

“You make it sound so trivial.”

 

“Really, I don’t take this sort of thing lightly. Every day a person climbs out of bed, they’re pitched into a spiritual battle. And I’ve been the victim of a few curses, myself.”

 

“You’re gong to have to explain what you mean by ‘curse’.”

 

“The way I see it, you escaped, more or less intact, which is a very good thing. Your husband did, however, lay something of a ‘parting curse’ on you. After going through what you did, it will be difficult for you to trust any man, even should you find one that’s ‘trustworthy’. Your husband cursed you with anxiety, fear and loneliness. And possibly, a bleak and lonely future.”

 

“So I guess that makes me ‘damaged goods’. You weren’t kidding about the psychotherapy, were you? You must have paid for a whole shelf’s worth.”

 

“Unfortunately, my therapists were unable to ‘cure’ my basic personality. And that’s the source of ninety percent of my difficulties.” He laughed, at himself, it seemed. “As to being ‘damaged’, that’s true of everyone isn’t it? Some more, some less, but everyone has a weak spot. Fortunately, God likes cracked vessels. To let His light shine through. Or so I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know, of course, being all perfect and undamaged myself.”

 

“You have a positive ‘gift’ for sarcasm, Agent McFadyn.”

 

“That, has been noted, before. But I thought you were going to call me ‘Drew’?”

 

“It must be distressing to discover you’re smarter than your psychiatrist.”

 

“It’s happened a time or two. Luckily, God still listens to me, even though I’m a little ‘cracked’. He’ll listen even when I’m ‘unrepentant’ about being flawed. And God’s ‘by the hour’ rates are lower than any other psychiatrist I’ve ever run across.” McFadyn smiled at that, as if the thought brought him a little relief from whatever pained him.

 

Kate glanced at the gun on his lap, gripped loosely, but looking very at home in his grasp. Maybe he even slept with a gun in his hand. Which was a chilling thought. The gun’s safety was on, and the barrel pointed at an angle that would miss her if the gun went off accidentally. But still…..

 

“We’re coming up to the highway intersection. If I turn north at Scott City there’s only two towns for the next 80 miles.”

 

“That’s what I would do. The sooner we get close to I-70 , the easier it will be for the chopper to find us.”

 

“I’m impressed that you’re leaving it up to me. Most men like to micromanage.”

 

“I have issues, but they’re not about women’s driving. You’re doing fine, I trust you.”

 

“You’re sure? You’d trust a ‘flaky’ lady who relies more on intuition than on logic?”

 

“Every mathematician I know relies on intuition at one time or another, that unpredictable magical element you and I would call ‘Divine Inspiration’. My less religious colleagues refer to it as like, ‘tuning in to the Cosmic Consciousness’, or ‘mining their own subconscious’. The laconic label it a ‘hunch’, but it’s the same process. Without it, science would be four or five hundred years back, at least.”

 

“Mysticism. Not what I’d expect from a ‘computer whiz’.”

 

“Inspiration is the source of all creativity. I think it could be successfully argued that without inspiration, mankind would have died out long since. A society that existed by ‘logic’ alone would always solve it’s problems in a ‘safe’ timeworn fashion. And then when some great crisis that couldn’t be solved by following ‘traditional’ methods came along, they would have been stumped. A ‘Dead-End’. Literally. The human race would never have made it without a few ‘aha’ moments, a dose of inspiration now and then.”

 

“It sounds as if you must have studied ‘creativity’ quite a lot.”

 

“I’ve studied ‘game theory’. Which requires studying human nature. Logic is predictable ‘linear’ thinking, a series of if/then statements beginning in a predictable place and ending in a predictable place. Creativity, ‘inspiration’, is network thinking. Since the pathway is almost infinitely variable, so is the outcome. An ‘inspired’, ‘illogical’ move, is one of the few things that can tip the balance between two chess masters. Logic says that if they’re equally talented, they’ll always play to a ‘stalemate’.”

 

“But that doesn’t happen.”

 

“Usually not. Either one of the players makes a mistake, or one of the players does something unexpected and ‘inspired’, forcing his opponent to react. That’s also the only way a human can beat one of the big computers that have been programmed to play chess, by making a move that’s not strictly ‘logical’. The computer can’t predict the way a human mind will solve a problem. Computers don’t make mistakes, but they’re baffled by human thinking. Inspiration is the one aspect of game play that can’t be predicted.”

 

“So you value me for my illogical thinking. That’s very big of you. I can see that you’re magnanimously generous and tolerant of the intellectually less endowed.”

 

“You’re not going to let me dig myself out of this, are you?”

 

“Just kidding. I can tell you’re trying to ‘play nice’ with the silly schoolteacher. So this ‘game theory’ stuff, that’s your real academic interest? The computers are just window dressing?”

 

“Game theory is why I became involved with computers, well, ‘more’ involved with computers. It’s why I switched out of law, and decided to go into information systems instead. Game theory is very…..interesting.”

 

“And next you’re going to tell me that ‘inspiration’ is the missing ingredient that causes artificial intelligence to fail to duplicate human thinking.”

 

“I think creativity is one of those ‘Divine Gifts’. If God created man in His own image, creativity must head the list. God is creative. Man is creative. But artificial intelligence can only reiterate what it already knows.”

 

“So man is created in God’s image, but computers are not.”

 

“Computers are created in man’s image. We can’t make goldfish or trees very well, either.”

 

“So humans have ‘souls’, and they have ‘creativity’, but I think you’re forgetting one other quality that separates man from machine.”

 

“And that would be?”

 

“Love. Compassion. Desire to be a blessing to others. Charity. Whatever you want to call it.”

 

“Ah, yes. ‘The greatest of these is Love’. By this you shall know them. Can’t write a program for ‘love’.”

 

Agent McFadyn raised a dark eyebrow in her direction, seeming to imply that she could make what she would of his reference to ‘love’. She’d been referring to ‘charity’, he, it seemed, was thinking of something else entirely when he used that word.

 

“You should like ‘love’ very well if you’re fond of the illogical. Love is counter-intuitive, something you have to ‘give away’ to get, and hold loosely, if you want to keep. It might be life’s greatest paradox.”

 

“I think a child knows more about love than most adults. Adults think too much.”

 

“Present company excepted, of course.”

 

“Of course.” he smiled. “Which is why children are wiser than college professors.” He chuckled, a deep ripple of sound that caught Kate unprepared.

 

“Do you ever miss teaching?”

 

“Some would say, ‘once a professor, always a professor’. And there are people who work for me who claim I still treat everyone like they were my grad students. Like that’s a ‘bad’ thing. It isn’t as if I grade them. Well…..maybe I do. But certainly not on a curve. I’m not trying to wash anyone out, I’m trying to keep as many of them in as possible. Not that they make it easy, of course.”

 

“Students are never easy. Where did you teach?”

 

“A technical college.”

 

Which didn’t answer the question, and Kate wasn’t going to let it pass. “You did promise not to bite my head off. Which implies a certain level of co-operation. So which technical college?”

 

Another long silence. Then…..“MIT.”

 

That was some ‘technical’ college. He might have a penchant for sarcasm, but apparently he had one for ‘false modesty’ as well. “I’d have taken you for a ‘Yaley’.”

 

“I got ‘out’ of law, and ‘into’ information systems. I went to Yale for a couple of years first, but I was exceptionally bored by my pre-law classes. I’d already covered the material two or three times, and I felt like the requirements they were having me fill were not only a waste of my time, which is a thing one can never have too much of, but also a waste of their classroom space. It makes much more sense to teach students who don’t already know the subject, right? So I cut out and left. What I really wanted to do, was to learn something new and different, something challenging. I wanted to try working with computers, not just as a career, but a way of life. I had quite an interest in hacking, I was a hacker myself. I could have been caught at it. If I had been, you’d be speaking to me right now through bars. But instead, I decided to study everything related to hacking. Since it was a sort of lifetime avocation anyway, why not turn it into a job? There had to be somebody out there who actually wanted me to hack into a computer. The government was the only one who came to mind. So my life changed course.”

 

“How did your parents react to you dropping out of Yale?”

 

McFadyn winced as if she’d touched a sore spot.

 

“It was just my father by then, my mother had died long since, and my father was none too pleased. The way he saw it, since he had the connections to get me into virtually any college he wanted me to attend, I was obligated to major in ‘business’ at Harvard, or ‘law’ at Yale. The idea of me pursuing ‘computer studies’ at MIT had never entered his thinking. It was far from the first time we’d disagreed, but it was one of the much more ‘momentous’ divergences. I was doing what I wanted, for once, and not what he wanted. He’s not used to that.”

 

“How old were you when you dropped out?”

 

“Nineteen. Then I spent two years as a law clerk. I didn’t go back to college until I was twenty-one and could pay my own way. To get into the program I wanted to get into, I spent a summer as an intern working for a professor at MIT which proved well beyond all reasonable doubt that I could ‘do the deal’. In the fall they admitted me to their doctoral program.”

 

“I see.” Kate said, feeling a little nervous. So he’d ‘dropped out’ of Yale at nineteen, and ‘dropped in’ at MIT straight into the doctoral program at twenty-one. How many people did that? Not many, she’d guess.

 

“How old were you when you got your doctorate?”

 

“Twenty-four.”

 

“And you started to teach immediately?”

 

“Yes. And because I was younger than some of my students, I promptly grew a shaggy beard, which I thought made me look ‘distinguished’. But looking back, I think it only made me look like a teenage werewolf. Maybe a younger sibling of the Unibomber.”

 

Kate found herself smiling in spite of herself, but had to turn away to concentrate on her driving. She slowed down to a respectable speed and drove sedately through the town of Dighton. Three gas stations and two convenience stores later, not to mention one stop light, they were passing into the countryside again. The fields were becoming more sere, brown and grassy as they gained altitude. But she’d seen all this before, going in the other direction. She began wondering about the elephant in the living room. There really was no ‘easy’ way to ask this. So she might as well just blunder forward.

 

“So how high is your IQ anyway? It has to be up there.”

 

The silence was deafening and seemed to last a little too long.

 

“According to which test?” he said, finally.

 

“Oh, ‘in general’.”

 

“No really, I’d have to know which test, because it varies considerably. Which test, did you get enough sleep the night before, did you have a cold the day you took the test, is it a type of question you’re familiar with, which types of knowledge are being tested…..”

 

So the guy was an expert on IQ tests, which probably meant he’d taken quite a lot of them. “You really don’t want to tell me, which means it’s very, very high, and you’re sensitive about it. Which is ridiculous. Because all anyone would have to do, is look you right in the eyes, and they’d know almost immediately, that you’re intimidatingly intelligent. So there’s not much point in trying to hide it, is there?”

 

“I think I might have tried a little harder if I was really attempting to ‘hide’ it, don’t you?”

 

“Why are you resisting a compliment?”

 

“IQ scores are meaningless, irrelevant. What really counts is humanity, and there’s no score for that. Maybe what I’m afraid of is that you’ll decide I’m not really human. But I’m just like everybody else. For instance, I must be human. I’m bleeding all over your upholstery right now. ‘Prick them, do they not bleed?’ Yes, human. Very human. I get rather extremely tired of people saying I’m not.” Now where had that thought come from? She had not been thinking he might be an alien. Although now that he mentioned it…..

 

“Not only human, but quite a fine chess player, I believe. Leading me so far from what I really wanted to know. You were going to give me your first name, ‘Agent’ McFadyn. Two steps forward, one step to the side. And you’re certainly good at ‘sidestepping’.”

 

“I don’t recall promising I’d answer that particular question. And I must say, your persistence shows no bounds.”

 

“So go ahead and shoot me. But give me the name first.”

 

McFadyn sighed quite melodramatically, as if in defeat. But Kate wasn’t fooled. This man did nothing by chance. Not a thing. He’d probably intended to tell her all along, but out of an obstinate nature, had decided to make her work for it.

 

“Gareth.”

 

Kate began smiling and couldn’t stop. The name suited him, so perfectly it was one she would have chosen for him herself. It was not only his first name, Kate thought, it was his ‘true’ name. Of course it could have been that now she liked absolutely everything about him, including his name.

 

“I suppose my mother, God rest her soul, would be happy to hear someone call me by that name after all these years. It was she who gave it to me, you see. She was a ‘romantic’, an admirer of Mallory and Scott.”

 

Kate remembered the good-hearted Sir Gareth had been killed by his friend Sir Lancelot, due to an excess of idealism on Gareth’s part, and an excess of battle-frenzy on the part of Sir Lancelot. She hoped a far kinder fate lay in store for this ‘Sir Gareth’. And that he never turned into a ‘Lancelot’.

 

“So let me get this straight. You’re not really ‘Agent, GD McFadyn’, you’re actually ‘Dr. Gareth McFadyn’.”

 

“You’re very clever, you’ve ‘caught’ me. I surrender. I’m no more than an ‘academic’, and a poor one at that. It’s been years since I published a paper on anything.” Kate felt a moment of triumphant satisfaction. But it was a short-lived glow. “However,” he continued, “while I hate to disturb someone in the throes of self-congratulation, I’m afraid we have an issue of far more immediate concern. Take a look out your back window, about half a mile back. If I’m not mistaken, that’s a large black truck.”

 

Kate looked in her rear view mirror. Sure enough, there was a black truck on the road behind them, still far in the distance. How McFadyn could possibly see that far with eyes that looked like he’d spent a few too many rounds in a boxing ring, she didn’t know, but he’d seen them in the mirror even while carrying on a bantering conversation. Well, apparently he was a ‘multi tasker’, with excellent eyesight.

 

“Is it the same vehicle that smashed your car?

 

“I think so. Both vehicles were black. Appropriate, I thought. But the SUV had darkened windows, so I never saw the party who was probably calling the shots. Unless the occupants of the SUV just dropped by to admire the results of the knee-breakers handiwork. Which is a ghoulish thought, but I think it might be the case.”

 

“Why do you think so?”

 

“Because the second vehicle didn’t show up until until the guys who were trashing me had pulled me out of my car. Like they didn’t want to get their hands dirty, but they had wanted to watch. They didn’t leave, until it looked like I was pretty much done for. Game Over, they thought. Situation resolved. I guess if I’d died, the investigation would probably have died with me, at least for a while. I doubt if my Boss would have let it go that easily, but there would have been a delay. The bad guys would have bought themselves some more time. Have I thanked you, by the way? I’m beginning to lose track a little, of what’s been said, and what hasn’t.”

 

“I think you’ve thanked me one way or another three or four times, and you’re very welcome. But what should I do now?”

 

“It was the hired help, the ones who were working me over, who were driving the black diesel. And that’s what the guys behind us are driving. So I guess you’d better speed up.”

 

Was it her imagination, or were his responses becoming a bit more ‘vague’ as in someone gradually succumbing to blood loss.

 

“Mr. McFadyn…..”

 

“Gareth. Under circumstances where we may both be incinerated in a fiery crash together, I think we can afford to be ‘informal’.”

 

“Gareth, then. I’m afraid at speeds higher than 80 mph, this car, just like Oz’s wicked witch, may dissolve.”

 

“I’m glad you have a sense of humor.”

 

“Either that, or I have a car that actually does dissolve. You’ll have to make up your mind which is more likely.”

 

“A very dry sense of humor.” he amended. “Well, all you can do is try, and see what happens.”

 

Kate pressed down on the gas pedal and thought ‘positive thoughts’.

 

“Don’t government agencies frequently use black vehicles?”

 

“Frequently, although the vehicle that was supervising this little shindig didn’t have government plates. But plates are easy enough to switch.”

 

“And since you couldn’t tell who was in the SUV because of the tinted windows, it might even have been someone you would have recognized.”

 

“An unpleasant thought, but one that had crossed my mind.”

 

“What sorts of things were they asking you about?”

 

“The first few times they hit me, they said they wanted ‘the file’. Presumably the one my contact was bringing to me. Maybe they didn’t get there until my hacker friend had been there a while, and they thought he’d hidden it somewhere for me. I’m sure after they dealt with him, they searched his body. They searched me. They searched my car. And yet, still, they thought I had it.”

 

“Which only means they didn’t find it and they were looking everywhere. Do you think your informant brought a vehicle?”

 

“There was no extra vehicle here when I arrived. But he must have come out from Wichita somehow. So maybe they took it away before I got there. Possibly to tear it apart, a really thorough search.”

 

“Why did they go on hitting you when they saw you didn’t have it?”

 

“Now that’s a very good question. When I didn’t cough up the file, they must have decided I was so stubborn I’d never give it to them, or…..that I actually didn’t have it. That was when they switched over from punching me to smashing me into the car. That was about when the SUV drove off.”

 

He squinted into the mirror. “I think I ought to call this in. And while I’m at it I’ll tell them we turned north on 83.” He borrowed Kate’s cell again, and made the call, a different extension she thought, the tones weren’t quite the same.

 

“Be advised. We have some…..interlopers about a quarter of a mile behind us.”

 

He listened to whoever was on the other end of the line for a few moments.

 

“You’re going to have to handle several subjects, at least five, I’d say.”

 

He listened for a moment. “Yes, I have my weapon, but there’s just me, and I’m not in very good shape. Also,” he glanced at Kate “there’s someone with me…..a civilian. Actually, it’s her vehicle that I’m in, and her phone that I’m using. Otherwise I’d be back at the crime scene. Probably part of the crime scene. I’d just as soon not pay her back by catching her in a crossfire. But yes, obviously, if we’re overrun, we’ll do the best we can.”

 

“Damn.” he said. “I wish they wouldn’t do that.”

 

“What?”

 

“They’re so used to me handling everything, that they more or less just asked me why I didn’t handle this ‘by myself’. Only this time I can’t.”

 

“They aren’t coming?” Kate felt a small thrill of panic that she hoped she hid adequately.

 

“Oh they’re coming. It’s just that the attitude is less co-operative, shall we say. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised with Donovan at the wheel.”

 

“Who’s Donovan?”

 

“The Denver Bureau Chief.”

 

“Is he your Boss?”

 

“No. And that’s part of the problem, at least as far as he’s concerned. I know there’s something rotten in the Denver Office. I’m going to prove it. Donovan either knows that, or he fears it, and he’d just as soon I’d drop the case. That’s not going to happen. We have a difference of opinion.”

 

“Meanwhile, we’re out here, with those guys behind us. Do you really think you can handle them alone? Especially in the shape you’re in?”

 

“Don’t worry, I won’t have to. And it will take them a while to catch up with us. You’re moving away from them, remember? Elementary physics. But just to give us as much time as possible, go as fast as you can.”

 

Kate chewed her lip and pushed the little car even harder. The speedometer crept upwards to eighty-three and seemed to stick there.

 

“Now where were we? I think I was explaining why I have medieval name. But we’d covered that.”

 

“Did you win all your chess games back in school?”

 

“No, I lost quite frequently. Strategic games. I had to win just often enough for my peer group to acknowledge me as their leader, but not so often that they resented me. I tried to keep the win rate between 56 and 60 percent.”

 

“‘Now that is scary, a strategic ‘loser’.”

 

“Sometimes it’s necessary to lose in the short run, to win in the long run. And always better to lose for the right reasons, than to win for the wrong ones.”

 

“A ‘sacrifice play’. Jesus, for instance, seems to have been a Master of that concept.”

 

“Willing to lose everything, to gain the ultimate goal. Accepting death, to gain the life beyond death. In chess, losing the queen, to achieve checkmate. It takes a cool head and a strong heart to walk that close to the edge.”

 

“Or a lot of faith.”

 

“You’re right. I prefer faith to nerves of steel, but in this particular situation, it might be helpful to have both.” McFadyn leaned forward to watch the rear view mirror. He seemed very calm. He had something going for him, that was for sure. And whatever it was, Kate wished she had more of it herself, she could feel herself shaking.

 

“And if you’re called on to give…..everything?”

 

“You mean my life? Since, I have to die anyway,” he shrugged, “if I die doing the right thing, I die full of grace. I intend to die ‘gracefully’, so there’s nothing to fear.”

 

“They’re getting closer, aren’t they?”

 

“Unfortunately…..”

 

Kate heard the ka-chunk of McFadyn’s seatbelt being unfastened, his indrawn breath as the pain of twisting in the seat hit him, and then the click of the hammer being drawn back on the gun. He had turned to his right in order to use his right arm, leaning awkwardly over the seat. This had dislodged his left arm, which hung uselessly at his side again, and would go back to bleeding out. That arm had to be hurting like a brass band on ‘loud’ by now. But he was ignoring it. He seemed ready to fire out the back window.

 

“So I was wondering,” he sighted down the barrel of the gun, “what you might be doing for lunch next week?”

 

Kate would have stared at him, but at the rate she was driving, she couldn’t look aside. “Are you asking me out?”

 

“I was trying to, yes.”

 

“How can you ask me out? You’re from Denver.”

 

“If you’d looked more closely at that business card, you would have noticed all the numbers have a DC area code. I’m from Washington DC. The same place you’re heading. Interestingly enough.”

 

Kate was nonplussed. Not just by the proposal, or by the timing, but the fact that he’d make the suggestion in the first place. Hadn’t she more or less confessed to being a ‘religious nut case’? And here he was, asking her out anyway. Of course this was coming from a man who thought he’d seen angels sitting on the top of her car, and who held regular conversations with the sky.

 

“Aren’t you put off by my…..weird religious leanings?”

 

“Do I sound like I am?”

 

“Well no, but…..”

 

“You really don’t have to question everything so hard. Sometimes things are what they seem. I really am interested in you, I’m not just ‘faking it’ for some obscure reason. Actually, I’m thrilled and delighted that you believe in God. If I wasn’t so smashed up, I’d show you just how very thrilled and delighted I am. For the moment, I’ll have to give you a rain check on anything ‘substantial’. But my IOU’s are a pretty sure thing, both the threats and the promises.”

 

Without his seatbelt, if they were in a crash, which they probably would be if the bad guys caught up with them, Gareth would be thrown against the front window. Then he would have two bad shoulders. Or maybe this time it would be his scintillating brain that would be crushed.

 

“I think it’s illegal to ride without your seatbelt.” Kate said, pointedly.

 

“In pursuit of justice, I can ride on the roof if I want to. As long as I don’t put you in harm’s way. As a matter of fact, since most of the time I’m much more of a desk jockey than a field agent, I might normally even be enjoying all this cloak and dagger stuff. But not with you in the car with me. That ruins whatever ‘Bondian’ fantasies I might harbor, because if something were to happen to you…..”

 

Kate felt a sense of elation, and simultaneously acute embarrassment, which could only be quashed by changing the subject.

 

“How close are they? Are they close enough for you to…..shoot at them?”

 

“Not yet. And before that happens I want you to understand something. I’m going to have let them get very close before I can shoot at them. I have to be absolutely sure it’s the same people before I ever fire a shot. And with my eyes the way they are…..”

 

“Are you any good with that thing?”

 

“Pretty good.” Kate could tell from his tone he was wearing that unnerving little smile. “But you still haven’t answered my question about lunch.”

 

“How do you do that?”

 

“How do I do what? You’ll have to be more specific.”

 

“There is someone chasing us, and they probably want to kill us, and if I don’t drive much faster than I’m used to, in what seems to me the ‘wrong direction’ I might add, they will most certainly catch us. Meanwhile, your friends are speeding towards us…..how far away…..”

 

“Probably ten minutes, maybe less. Just keep driving.”

 

“My point exactly. You have no idea if you’ll get your ‘air support’ in time, but instead of getting ready…..”

 

“What more could I do, right in this moment?”

 

He had her, of course. There wasn’t a thing he could do to make sure their rescuers would arrive in time. Well maybe one thing.

 

“You could pray.”

 

“What makes you think I’m not?”

 

He sounded relaxed, not the least bit worried about dying. Perhaps he was praying after all. Which would make him the ultimate multi-tasker, simultaneously praying, getting ready for battle, and attempting to expand his social life.

 

“If I were to go out with you…..hypothetically, of course.”

 

“She’s weakening.”

 

“I didn’t say I would, but if…..if I were to do that. Wouldn’t you get in trouble for getting involved with someone you met on a case?”

 

“I might. Wouldn’t it be worth it?”

 

“Mr. McFadyn. Agent McFadyn.”

 

“I thought you were going to call me Gareth?”

 

“I was, Sir Gareth. But I am beginning to think that you have all the worst qualities of a knight as well as all the best.”

 

“And that would be?”

 

“Stubborn. Stubborn and Stubborn.”

 

“Sounds like a family of lawyers. And there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with ‘stubborn’. A stubborn man with faith, can move mountains.”

 

“I think you’re reading far too much into the fact we both believe in God. A lot of people do, you know. It might not mean anything…..special.”

 

Her wounded knight snorted something approximating a laugh. “And God sent you to save me when I was half-dead in the middle of Kansas. Yes, I’m sure it’s nothing. Probably just a co-incidence.”

 

“You’re being sarcastic again.”

 

“What, me?”

 

“What if I don’t like you?”

 

“How would you know? We just met. And anyway, I’m an ‘acquired taste’, we’ll work on it. People tend to love or hate me, there isn’t much middle ground. But I already know you don’t ‘hate’ me.”

 

“And how would you know that?”

 

“You passed up an excellent opportunity to leave me by the side of the road.”

 

“That doesn’t prove anything. I’d stop to help my worst enemy.”

 

He paused. “I believe you would. And I think I might like that about you. Besides being stunningly pretty, you seem to have a whole armload of principles you won’t abandon, no matter what. So how about this then? It’s hard to imagine some woman having ‘knight fantasies’ about some man she ‘detested’.”

 

Kate felt like she’d been stripped bare and left to hang in the wind. And she found herself so embarrassed, she wasn’t sure she ever wanted to look the man in the face again, let alone go out with him. The mental defenses she so carefully erected between herself and others, Agent McFadyn seemed to demolish with ease. Every word she spoke to him was going to be that much more he could use to undermine her. Not that she shouldn’t have expected that from a man with eyes that seemed to see right through everything.

 

“Kate, are you all right?”

 

“I am fine, ‘Agent’ McFadyn.”

 

“Ah, so I’ve hurt you then. I…..didn’t mean it.” Kate would have sworn she heard a trace of a Scottish lilt in his regretful tone. Just a hint of ‘ya then’ and ‘didna mean’. But considering his name, if his parents really were ‘Old Country’, he’d probably absorbed the Scots cadence as a child.

 

“I’ve lost by winning. That was a match I should have forfeited. For a smart man, I can be incredibly stupid at times.”

 

Kate didn’t know how to take the half apology. With Gareth McFadyn it might be sincere, or it might just be another attempt at getting round her defenses. And she didn’t yet know him well enough to judge which it was. Her heart leaned one way, and her head the other. But Kate had learned not to trust her feelings. When he spoke again, it was with more urgency.

 

“They’re right behind us.”

 

She heard him take a deep breath as he sighted down the weapon. She suddenly remembered, you exhaled and then fired. But that was for firing a single shot. If you needed to continue firing, you had to learn to synchronize your breathing and your shooting. That was more difficult, but possible. Agent McFadyn could probably do it. There was a great crash as the back window was broken out by gunfire. Both of them instinctively ducked, although there was no shelter.

 

“How many shots hit the car, do you think?” Kate said, with her face nearly down on the steering wheel.

 

“Two. One’s lodged in the back of my seat, lucky me. But they did make one minor miscalculation.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“They just made it a lot easier to shoot at them, and I don’t just mean the missing glass. They just handed me just cause for retaliation.”

 

“I don’t know if I can do this.” Kate’s voice shook. She was afraid her fear would cause her to crash.

 

“Then I’ll just have to believe for both of us. Keep driving. And look off to the Northwest.”

 

Kate peered off to her left. By now, the sun had moved to a spot more directly overhead and it was getting hot and dusty. The dust made it difficult to see into the distance. But she thought she could make out a speck on the horizon, rapidly approaching. It had to be the FBI helicopter. Either Gareth McFadyn’s hearing was exceptional, or he had somehow known they were there.

 

“I think it’s your buddies. How did you know they were there?”

 

“Do you think I’m surprised when God helps me? I’m only surprised when it seems like He hasn’t. And then it usually turns out that He did, but but I was just too dumb to see it, or he helped me in some way I wasn’t expecting. But we asked and He answered. That’s pretty simple.” He sounded almost cheerful. Now, Kate was more sure than ever that he was going into shock. Battle euphoria.

 

“You make it sound simple. I’m not so terribly sure everyone else finds it so.”

 

“I’m going to ask you one more favor. And you’re probably not going to like it. I want you to speed up even a little bit more, to open up a space behind us so the chopper can land between us and our.….pursuers.”

 

“What good is that going to do? Won’t they just reverse and take off back the way they came?”

 

“They might. But the helicopter can take off again just as easily as it lands. It shouldn’t have any trouble running the suspects to ground. And they can shoot from the copter, now. Since our suspects opened fire, we’re allowed to use deadly force to stop them. The driver will probably slow down, since he’ll have seen the helicopter. That’s the usual reaction. But in case the driver’s not bright enough to back off.….perhaps I can slow him down, just a trifle.”

 

Gareth leaned his cheek against the arm he had thrown over the back of the seat and fired two quick shots, seeming like thunder in the small confines of the car. There was a distant thunking sound as of metal hitting metal. He had aimed at their radiator most likely. Somehow she thought if he hadn’t wanted to question them, he might have shot the driver instead of the vehicle. The truck behind them slowed appreciably. Kate hit the gas, the little gray car groaned, the rescue helicopter sped overhead to take advantage of the space that had opened up between the two vehicles. It landed lightly behind them, like a spider at the bottom of a web line. A large, noisy, wind-driven spider. Finally, Kate slowed and pulled to the side of the road. She was sure the tires must be smoking by now, as well as the rear windshield being missing. She felt lightheaded, a little like she might faint. As usual, her vivid Kaleidoscopic imagination had managed to make a bad situation into something quite a bit worse, something totally ‘overwhelming’. They had not died in a fiery crash. Gareth had not smashed his head against the front window. Their support had arrived ‘in time’. She let herself take a deep breath.

 

“Sad that you’re too scared to go out to lunch with me. You’ll never know what you missed.”

 

“You’re speaking of the ‘food’ of course.”

 

“Naturally. What else could I possibly have meant you’d be missing?”

 

“That sounded suspiciously like a dare to me. And I’m not exactly scared of you. I don’t think you’d hurt me, or anything. You just…..make me feel…..uncomfortable.”

 

“I make a lot of people uncomfortable. For instance, I sometimes move a little more quickly than other people think is reasonable. But in my book, ‘hesitation’ can waste a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’. Sometimes there isn’t time to do something carefully. Sometimes you just have to do it.”

 

With that, he leaned across the seat, gently turned her face toward him with his good hand, and lightly placed a kiss on her lips. Kate’s eyes closed automatically. His mouth tasted salty, sweet, and his breath softly warmed her cheek. He tasted clean. Bright. As very strongly as she sensed his desire, she felt his love and acceptance even more. Desire was a flame that could sear the heart and soul, burning both the one doing the desiring and the one desired, but Gareth seemed as self possessed on this as in everything else. Whatever Drew’s blazing passions might be, he was sure holding them at bay, like a floodtide held back by a massive stormgate. Instead, he was letting her bathe in the warm and healing glow of his regard. He was being quite gentle. Since they had only just met, that depth of feeling was nigh on impossible, wasn’t it? Still, she felt it. Who was Kate to say what was possible or impossible? That just because she’d never before in her life been treated with so much care and reverence, didn’t mean it couldn’t be done. After all, she’d been convinced no more than a few moments after she met him that with this man nothing was impossible. Heroes did impossible things, slaying dragons and so forth. That was pretty much the definition of a ‘hero’, doing the impossible and making it look ‘easy’.

 

From what she understood of men, wanting her and not taking her was impressive, a delicate act of self-control. It seemed that while he’d committed himself to pursuing her, he was going to do it slowly, and carefully. Exactly like a knight dedicating himself to some great crusade that might take years to accomplish. And a fair amount of blood and sweat and gold. That such a man could not be dissuaded. Kate knew ‘she should been outraged by the kiss’ but, strangely, she wasn’t. It wasn’t so much like a kiss, but the first step of what promised to be a very long courtship dance. She could say ‘no’ at any time, but did she want to? He’d been very subtle about painting himself into her corner. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen it coming, but she hadn’t felt alarmed enough to do anything about it. It was then she realized something else. For some inexplicable illogical reason she trusted this unknown man. He’d gotten inside her defenses in a way far more profound than just kissing her. By the time she opened her eyes, just a moment it seemed to her, he was sitting back in his seat as if nothing had happened.

 

“What was that for?”

 

“Those knights you keep going on about. On the eve of battle it was customary for the knight’s lady of inspiration to bestow a token. Since you don’t seem to have a scarf, I thought a kiss might do. But it has to be a chaste and holy kiss.” he admonished, waving a finger at her.

 

Two black SUV’s sped past, doubtlessly on their way to assist with the arrest behind them.

 

“What ‘upcoming battle’? I thought we just finished with one.”

 

“I’m probably going into another with Bureau Chief Donovan any moment now. I hear he’s on the chopper. Frankly, I think I’d prefer another gun battle. At least there’d be a clear-cut winner. Oscar Donovan just loves to get on the news and I don’t, so we’re bound disagree about how to handle this.”

 

“You just made him a nice ‘bust’. Maybe the arrest will be on the news, and so will he. He should be happy with you.”

 

“It’s more complicated than that. Donovan doesn’t like hackers, and he had a particular enmity for my informant. The fact that Kestrel was such an extraordinary hacker, made Donovan hate him even more. We’ve had words about me ‘collaborating with the enemy’ before. Not that I ever made any bones about the fact that I was a former hacker.”

 

“It’s hard to picture someone like you as a criminal.”

 

“But I was, as long as I was pursuing my obsession. I understand why hackers do what they do. It’s the impossible challenge. It’s irresistible to some people. Sort of like your mouth.”

 

“You are off topic.”

 

“Not necessarily. An obsession is an obsession. But let’s just say I have more empathy for hackers than Donovan does. I mean for Pete’s sake, Kestrel had a wife and two kids. And besides Donovan’s dislike of hackers, he and I have ‘other’ issues. He’s not going to be happy I was out there by myself. He’d be rather upset if he knew my unloaded weapon was locked underneath my car seat. He also won’t like the money the Bureau spent today pulling me out of the fire. Of course I think that’s preferable to letting our suspects get away, but that’s just one of many issues on which Agent Donovan and I don’t see eye to eye. Let’s just say he considers my methods unorthodox.”

 

“Are you saying he’d let you get killed, just to save money?”

 

“No. He and I just have different ways of doing things. Different ‘priorities’. You haven’t known me long enough to know this, but I am after these guys. I don’t intend to give up easily. And if that means expending some resources, well…..”

 

Surely, you didn’t do anything ‘wrong’ by calling out a helicopter, or even having it cross state lines, that’s justifiable when an agent’s been attacked, right? Which you had been. Doesn’t that make it Federal business?”

 

“True. But I think Agent Donovan thinks my pursuit of these bozos is a ‘tad’ overzealous.”

 

“I suppose the guys in the pickup could just as easily been arrested by the Kansas State Police.”

 

“And that would have been a lot cheaper than calling out a chopper, ten agents..… and a medic. If I’d followed procedure we could have nabbed these guys without all the hoopla. Although as you say, Donovan does like hoopla.”

 

“But if the guys in the truck hadn’t been following us, they could just as easily have disappeared into the Kansas countryside. You were the bait in the trap that caught them.”

 

“We were the bait. Yes, that would be my view. But not Donovan’s. Did I mention Agent Donovan doesn’t much like me personally, either.”

 

Two more black vehicles sped past, going to join the feeding frenzy behind them. Gareth ignored them.

 

“So he’d fall into the category of those who hate you, rather than love you?”

 

“I think you could safely put him in that category. Although maybe ‘detest’ might be closer. He doesn’t think I’m important enough to waste a full-scale ‘hatred’ on me.”

 

“I think he’d be smart not to underestimate you.” Kate had the strangest feeling that those who took Agent McFadyn too lightly, did so to their sorrow.

 

“Sadly, I don’t think ‘smart’ enters in. About the lunch…..I know there’s no ‘husband’, but is there possibly a boyfriend? Not that a boyfriend would be a problem really, I’d outlast them. Maybe wave my credentials around and scare them off.”

 

“I see. All’s fair in love and war.”

 

“What kind of food do you like, by the way? Remind me not to order Chinese.”

 

“I can’t go out with you.”

 

“Sure you can.”

 

“It just wouldn’t be right…..”

 

Long pause. “What if I said, ‘Please’?”

 

“I can’t.”

 

His eyes shut. There was some indefinable look of pain on his face that went beyond whatever he might be feeling physically. He had sacrificed his pride to obtain the object of his desire, the shiniest and most beautiful chess piece that had been on his board in some time, or maybe ever, and he’d failed. What she was seeing was a look of resignation. He turned his face away, as if he couldn’t bear to look at her.

 

“You’re right. I should give you up completely, walk away, never speak to you again. For your sake, if not for mine.” He swallowed hard, still not looking at her directly. “But I won’t promise not to look you up someday just to see…..if you’ve changed your mind about me.”

 

Kate didn’t know if he was giving up on her for the moment or forever, but she knew she was losing him for at least the foreseeable future. He put the gun back in the case and shut the case with an audible click. Preparing to exit her car, and quite simultaneously leave her life. There was a large crushing feeling of panic. Kate suddenly experienced a dozen emotions in three heartbeats, all of them disturbing. Time was running through her mind at full hyper speed, like sand running from a broken hourglass. Men who smiled when they were winning were easy to find. Men who were honorable in defeat were quite rare.

 

“Hamburgers would be fine. I like mine with onions though, so you might have to sit quite a distance away.”

 

He stopped halfway out the door, his head tilted to one side, like a bird studying a worm.

 

“You’re waiting to see if I’m just messing with you.”

 

“The thought did cross my mind.”

 

Kate shook her head. “I’m not like that. If I say I’ll do something I’ll…..” Kate swallowed, thinking of the enormity of what she was risking. “I’ll try to do it.”

 

He relaxed, and laughed his low laugh, like water running over smooth stones. He looked elated, as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders, joyous even. Kate realized she would do almost anything to keep that expression painted on his face, ‘forever’, if possible. How had she gotten herself into this?

 

“Tell me the truth, though. You only said ‘yes’ out of pity.”

 

Nearby the chopper was landing again, ready to whisk him away for medical treatment. A selfish part of her didn’t want to relinquish him, even though she knew he needed immediate attention. She wasn’t sure she’d ever see him again.

 

“You’re right of course. For some reason, even though I don’t know you very well, I don’t like to see you looking sad. But cheer up, ‘pity’ isn’t such a bad motive is it? Would you rather it was greed or lust? What if I was just after you for your money or your great looks? How shallow would that be?”

 

His mouth fell open slightly in surprise. “Good point.” he countered. “I take it you have absolutely and completely no idea who I am.”

 

“Some FBI guy? Should I know more about you than that?”

 

“No. I think it’s fantastic that you don’t know me from Adam. This way I can sink or swim on my own merits. Probably sink, but who knows? You should know going into this, I’m a fairly good swimmer. But I still wish you’d said ‘yes’ because you felt good about spending time with me, instead of because you ‘felt sorry’ for me.”

 

“Has it occurred to you that I felt sorry for you because I like you? I must like you more than I’m afraid of you. Which is saying quite a lot, considering how scary you are. And…..” Kate gathered her courage. “I think if God went to so much trouble to bring us together…..it would be a terrible mistake to lose contact with you. Even if we’re just supposed to be friends…..it must be…..pretty important.”

 

He ducked back into the car, just long enough to lean his good hand onto the dashboard and plant a quick kiss on the corner of her forehead. The certainty she was safe and everything would be all right had just begun to shimmer through her, when it was gone, as quickly as he was gone. He took the certainty with him. Like every fairy tale, the prince kissed a woman and woke the sleeping princess, and then they disappeared.

 

Most likely, Agent McFadyn would soon be gone and she’d be on her own again. He bent down and looked through the window one last time, like someone saying good-bye at the airport. True in a way. His own private airport, set down temporarily, on the way to the Interstate.

 

“Just remember, a promise is a promise. No backing out.”

 

Then he laughed again and turned to go with the medic. Yes, she was going to miss him. But she couldn’t be so foolish as to actually believe that their lunch date would ever happen, let alone to turn into anything more. This strange dream would make an interesting anecdote when she was an old ‘grandmother’, although she wouldn’t have any grandchildren to share it with. No one would believe her anyway, no car chases, no bullet holes, no FBI, and definitely no shining knights. The medic was shorter and stockier than Gareth, but had a strong hold on his good arm as if offering support. She watched them walk towards the helicopter and wished she was going with them. Wished she was going with him, rather. Kate couldn’t explain to herself how a person who had such an openly ‘dangerous’ side could make her feel so safe and protected. It was as if when he was near her, all of his more deadly qualities metamorphosed into finer, or at least ‘different’ qualities. Like he was split in two, and his more gentle courteous self seldom showed. Well she had supposed, that ‘dual nature’ was rather knight like in itself. The knights used to smash one another over the head with great swords by day, and eat sweetmeats and charm the ladies with poetry by evensong. Although Gareth seemed a measure beyond the ‘average’ knight in serious dedication. He’d have to be one of that ‘inner circle’ of knights who were on a ‘holy quest’. Which led to wondering what sort of quest a man like Gareth would consider worthy of being deemed ‘holy’. What would motivate a man like that? Revenge? Honor? Power? After a moment or two she thought she had it figured out. She thought there was a good chance his grail was ‘Duty’. She now watched the two men as they walked towards the helicopter.

 

Then Gareth slowly stopped walking, and began to look more like a tree, one about to be toppled by an unseen wind. Next, he went down on his knees. Then he was on the ground. The medic managed to guide him into a controlled fall, so that he landed face down, ‘mostly’ on his uninjured side. The medic motioned for a couple of stretcher carrying guys to come running. Kate’s hand automatically went over her mouth, and it seemed to her that her heart had leaped into her throat. She was out of the driver’s door in two or three seconds, racing across the grass. Oh God No, Not Him, Not Now. What if they couldn’t bring him back? What if he died, right there on the grass, no more than a few feet away. It might have been a thousand miles, for all the good she could do. What if she never got to speak to him again? She hadn’t covered more than a few steps of the distance separating them before a couple of big FBI agents, of the crew cut, grim faced variety, barred her way.

 

“I’m sorry, Miss.” one of them said. “You’ll have to stand clear. The medic has charge of this situation now. Agent McFadyn is no longer your responsibility. Go back to your car and sit tight. Someone will be over to talk to you in a few.”

 

Kate turned back reluctantly. Had he really been so badly injured all along? Just ‘holding it together’, to ‘protect’ her or ‘impress’ her, when he should have collapsed long since? If he’d gone from ‘damaged’ to ‘critical’ on her watch, then it was her fault that he was in this condition. Still, she realized, the ‘tough guy’ act must have developed long before he ever met her. This was one stubborn ox of a guy. Stubborn to the point of death, perhaps. He most likely had made an unbreakable vow to always carry out the duties of a shining knight, even if it killed him. Gareth McFadyn seemed to have just a bit too much pride. Kate then stumbled back to her car. When her tongue touched her lips, they tasted salty and sweet. She had to think. Was that from his kiss? No, she decided it was probably from the tears running down her face. Kate couldn’t understand why she was crying. She barely knew the man.

CHAPTER TWO:

TARNISHED BRASS

 

It was with a great deal of relief and a few murmured ‘thank-yous’ that Kate watched them bring her former charge back from the edge. The medic got an IV in Gareth’s uninjured arm. And in no more than a few minutes he was sitting up and talking. Then he got up and sat on the lowered tailgate of one of the vehicles, which were slowly coming back to form up a group. She started to relax when she realized he wasn’t going to die after all, least not today, he was going to be all right. So she should go then, as soon as she gave some sort of statement. There was really no reason for her to continue hanging around. She wasn’t really much of a ‘witness’, not having seen anything more than an injured FBI agent. That wasn’t anything they’d particularly want to hear about. Agent McFadyn could tell them all the gruesome ‘details’ himself. Kate had little difficulty recognizing Donovan when he appeared on the scene. He climbed off the helicopter, after things were obviously ‘under control’. He was a balding man, built like a tank, with sunglasses, flak jacket and very shiny shoes. The flak jacket wouldn’t protect him from a head shot by an assassin, but it would look really nice and ‘official’ on the news.

 

Gareth was sitting on the tailgate, swinging a leg back and forth, and Kate realized that the medic had stripped off the rest of his shirt. What was left unmarred of his skin was a beautiful light golden tan, but there was precious little that was the original color. The rest of him was bruised with purple and gouged with red. He looked like he had been trampled by the bulls of Pamplona. Kate had to admit, having your vehicle hit repeatedly by another car was a lot like being smashed by a large metal animal. He wouldn’t be doing any shirtless calendars any time soon. Then the medic got out the 1 liter antiseptic bottle and prepared to pour it over his patient’s entire head and torso. Kate gasped, imagining what that was going to feel like. Gareth blithely turned his face up to the light and closed his eyes, as if expecting enough grace to handle it. He stopped swinging his foot and sat very still. Kate said a very fast prayer. The medic upended not 1 but 2, separate, 1 liter bottles of the stuff over Gareth’s head. Gareth’s only concession to the pain was to tense up slightly, and then he smiled, as if glad it was over. Kate wasn’t sure she could have handled it so well. She started to feel a burning heat of anger since someone had tried to turn a highly functioning human being into a piece of roadkill. She was still staring off into that direction and so distracted by her anger that she failed to notice the agent who’d walked up beside her car, until he tapped on the glass behind her head. She nearly jumped out of her skin.

 

“Miss, it’s time. Agent Donovan wants to speak to you. Bring your purse and come with me.”

 

Her purse. Now that was a problem. They probably just wanted to see her ID. Self consciously she pulled her license out of the purse and started to leave the purse behind. No sense being judged a ‘juvenile’ if she didn’t have to be. Then she remembered all the other items in the bag, things she might need. Breath mint anyone? Reluctantly she replaced the license and tucked the purse under her arm. Maybe no one would see it. Yeah, sure. She then closed her car door and followed the agent, the journey leading right past Gareth and the medic. Kate slowed down just long enough to admire McFadyn’s stylish new bandages. He had tape all around his ribs. His left arm was in a sling, and his left shoulder had been immobilized. He had butterfly bandages closing the cuts on his face. Despite Kate’s belief that his nose hadn’t been broken, he had cotton stuffed up one side of his nose. Someone had draped one of those crazy plastic and flannel disposable blankets over his shoulders. As if he could possibly be cold. It was probably in the mid 80’s. Most of his chest was now covered with bandages, and he actually looked flushed. Now that he had enough fluids not to go into shock, he might even start running a fever. The body’s full response to grievous injury, mobilizing all defenses. Kate wondered why everyone always so eager to cover the wounded. Was it really a precaution against shock? Perhaps bystanders were driven to cover up the ghastly evidence of the frailty and impermanence of a human body. Kate approached from behind Gareth’s shoulder, the medic could see her creeping closer, but Gareth could not. The medic, ‘Thompson’ his name tag read, was giving Gareth a bad time and apparently enjoying every minute of it.

 

“I told the guys in the lab there wasn’t any point in coming out here to look at you. After all that Ironman training, you aren’t really ‘human’ any more, anyway. So if there’s something wrong with you, bolts and bearings missing, cracked windshield, rusted bumper, we could just as well fix you up back in the auto shop.”

 

“How’d you happen to bring the saline, then?”

 

“Accident I’m sure. Next time I’ll bring transmission fluid.”

 

“I’m not planning on there being a ‘next’ time.”

 

“That’s what you said last time.”

 

“We could always send you in my place.”

 

“How can I take bets on how long it will be before you get various parts of your self in a sling, if I’m out there somewhere with various parts of myself in a sling? No, no, it’s my job to stay at home base and collect the bets, it’s your job to go out and do some thing dangerous and entertaining.”

 

“If we send you, I’ll be the one collecting on the bets.”

 

“You’ll spoil everything if you do that, I’ll lose all that money. Next time I figure you’ll go for something traditional but dramatic, maybe being staked out on an anthill, some thing like that. If it were me staked out in the sun, I’d just turn into a raisin, but you, all that endurance athlete muscle, you’ll make a first rate piece of jerky. We’ll wait about six months to collect the remains. You should be ‘well seasoned’ by then.”

 

“Always good to know you’re in my corner.”

 

Thompson’s eyes swept over Kate standing a few feet away and she could tell the moment he decided she might be willing to plat along.

 

“There’s a really fine looking woman standing behind you. She appears quite concerned with your well being. That wouldn’t be the mystery woman you’ve been going on and on about would it? That one with smooth buttermilk skin, cute little freckles across her nose, dark red wavy hair flowing past her shoulders, big green eyes tilted up at the corners and long pretty legs? That was how how you described her, wasn’t it?”

 

“Tommie, I swear, if I wasn’t so thrashed…..”

 

“That’s the only time I have the nerve to bait you so viciously. Only when you’ve been fairly well ‘disassembled’. When you’re in good shape, you’re no one to mess with. So this woman isn’t the one then?”

 

Thompson turned toward Kate to address her directly. Meanwhile, Gareth seemed to be avoiding eye contact.

 

“Ma’am, you must have a twin somewhere who looks very like you. Very Like.”

 

“It’s possible, I guess. Everyone’s supposed to have a double somewhere.”

 

“If I were an old-time movie buff, I’d say you remind me a bit of those forties movie stars, though I’m not quite sure which one. Rita? Susan? But there’s a reason they were pin-up girls. Men liked staring at them for hours.”

 

“I am not, never have been, nor wish to be, a ‘movie star’. This ruffian convinced me to shanghai him by eliciting a misplaced sense of duty. He claimed to be a lawman and then told me some tall tale about imaginary bad guys driving black trucks. Since then, I’ve discovered that he does these sorts of things as some bizarre form of recreation. I merely had the misfortune to become involved in one of his ‘adventure scenarios’. Now that I know he never needs any help, I would definitely leave him for the buzzards.”

 

“And she has a bit of the other Kate’s wit and class. I don’t recall men often got the better of her, either. I don’t know where McFadyn found you, but I don’t think he should put you back. I’d say you’re definitely a ‘keeper’. Oh, that’s right, he wasn’t talking about you, just someone who looks a great deal like you.”

 

“The resemblance is purely accidental, I’m sure.”

 

“And since you’re not the one, you also wouldn’t be the one about whom McFadyn said “I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven, there stood Maid Marian, in the flesh.”

 

Kate thought she saw a flush, starting at Gareth’s bared waist and traveling upwards to his hairline, but it could have been her imagination. She walked around to the front of him and attempted to look him in the eye. For some reason he was not as eager as usual to look back at her.

 

“So, Agent McFadyn has ‘Maid Marian’ fantasies does he?”

 

“Apparently.” Thompson answered. “But fortunately they were about somebody else.”

 

“Yes, that is fortunate.” Kate parried. “No telling what a person’s fantasies might reveal about their secret desires. It could become downright embarrassing.”

 

“No worries there, then,” Thompson breezed “since it wasn’t you.”

 

“I didn’t say the part about ‘dying and going to heaven’.” Gareth grumbled. “On a day like today, I wouldn’t joke about that.”

 

Thompson rolled his eyes as if dealing with the tantrum of a small child. “Just the ‘Maid Marian’ part, then. Maybe he only said the ‘mystery woman’ was ‘heavenly’.”

 

“All right, All right. Guilty as charged. Now both of you knock it off. Besides, it’s her fault. You heard her say she made me go with her.”

 

“Forced you? You mean like at gunpoint? Now that’s interesting. Never knew a woman to get the drop on you before. You must be slipping in your old age.”

 

“Well she didn’t precisely force me, more like ‘coerced’.”

 

“I see. Well we’ve all conjectured about your fatal attraction for women, the secretaries are always in a dither when you walk through a room. But this is the first time I’ve heard of a woman who fancied you so badly that she kidnapped you the moment she saw you. But wait, she doesn’t seem to be carrying a weapon. How did she do it?”

 

“I give up.” Gareth said, looking down and covering his face with the only hand that still worked.

 

Thompson turned back to Kate.

 

“I have seen him use the ‘Traveler’s Aid Gambit’ before, but never quite this successfully. You’re right about his pursuit of ‘extreme sports’. I’ve seen him turn himself into hamburger one or twice before. There was a bike race when he was out here a couple of years ago. He had decided to slide through the gravel. That was fun. A footrace a year or so before that where he had decided to take a shortcut by falling down a hill full of brambles. I believe we also hauled out the antiseptic on those occasions. We try not to make fun of him when he looks like this, although it’s hard not to laugh at least a little. I’m not the only one to have questioned his sanity now and then. I’ve considered having him committed, but he can afford very good lawyers.”

 

“He sounds challenging.”

 

“Definitely. We’ve had to order a whole crate of bandages just for him, and that’s only for the stuff he does when he’s not at work.”

 

“Tommie, I think I hate you. I’m trying not laugh. It hurts.”

 

“That doesn’t surprise me, I think you’ve got a couple of cracked ribs.”

 

“You know I’ve got busted ribs, and you make me laugh anyway? I do hate you. Just go away.”

 

Gareth clutched his chest with his good arm, trying not to laugh.

 

“Yes, Mr. Thompson, do ‘go away’.”

 

The man who’d approached without their notice, was of course, Oscar Donovan. The laughter and camaraderie died an uneasy death. Medic Thompson’s face became stony.

 

“I wasn’t quite finished here, Chief Donovan.”

 

“Oh, I think you are. Agent McFadyn and I have business to discuss. A few more wasted taxpayer dollars. Not an important issue to a man who thinks unlimited budgets are the norm, but still…..of some concern to we ‘grunts’ who work down here in the trenches, you know, the folks who do all the work?”

 

“But he’s not…..” Thompson still looked concerned.

 

“It doesn’t matter. If he’s in good enough shape to find your poor excuse for humor amusing, he’ll last long enough to answer a few questions. Such as why he and this…..‘woman’ felt it necessary to go joyriding across half of Kansas.”

 

“You can’t make that call. I’m not even sure he’s stable yet.”

 

“When I want your medical opinion I’ll ask for it? Do I make myself clear?”

 

Thompson closed an iron jaw on whatever he’d been about to say.

 

“Clear as lead crystal, Agent Donovan.”

 

“Then I expect to see you leaving in the next thirty seconds.” There was a click as Thompson shut his supply case.

 

“I’ll catch you on the rebound, Mr. Roadkill.” Thompson waved a high five in Gareth’s general direction.

 

Gareth waited patiently while Thompson made his exit, but then he intervened.

 

“I think you’re being unfair to Thompson, Agent Donovan. He’s only trying to do his job. And he’s pretty good at it.”

 

“What you think has very little to do with anything, Agent McFadyn. Now where was I? Oh yes. What we don’t need is a civilian listening in on our conversation. So you there, whatever your name is, Miss…..” Donovan turned towards her like a Cape Buffalo swinging sharp horns in search of new prey.

 

Kate cleared her throat and took a step forward, reaching out to offer her hand for a handshake.

 

“Kate Greenwood.”

 

Donovan stared at her hand and pointedly ignored it. Eventually, Kate let it drop back to her side.

 

“Well, whatever your name is, and I don’t really care at this point, you can follow Thompson’s example and leave.”

 

Kate was reluctantly turning to go when she was interrupted by Gareth.

 

“I’d prefer that she stay, Chief.”

 

“Oh, and why is that? Is she your new ‘best friend’?”

 

Gareth smiled. “I don’t know yet. But she is involved in this investigation.”

 

“How do you figure that?”

 

“Did the guys in the truck have a cell phone? And by some chance, a set of binoculars?”

 

“Yes on both counts. What difference does that make?”

 

“Just a thought. They had the time, the means and the inclination to give her license plate number to whoever is running this operation. Which means Miss Greenwood may now be a target. Which makes her involved, I’d say.”

 

“What you claim is an operation. We have yet to see evidence of anything but your overactive imagination.”

 

“I also strongly believe there’s been a fatality. You’re not going to be able to sweep something like that under the carpet, no matter how much you want the Denver Office to rate a clean bill of health.”

 

“A fatality? You mean your informant? If one of my men had died, I’d be willing to nail your hide to the wall. But if it’s one of your people…..those criminals, your ‘good buddies’, as far as I’m concerned, a few less hackers would be an acceptable outcome.”

 

Gareth stared at Donovan with a look of distaste. “Agent Donovan, it’s like you give the Bureau a bad name. We’re here to protect the public, not dangle them in front of predators like worms on a hook.”

 

“No, it’s men like you, who sympathize with society’s worst elements, who undermine the government. Hackers aren’t ‘civilians’. They aren’t even people, they’re ‘criminals’ for heaven’s sake. Criminals don’t deserve the protection of our laws. Anyone who plays ‘patty cake’ with them has ‘dubious’ loyalties. Unless you’re making some sort of ‘moral statement’ by bedding down with those vermin. Perhaps you don’t mind if we start thinking you’re one of them. Because maybe you are. If you believe there’s any such thing as a ‘lovable criminal’ you’re mistaken. You’re about a thousand years too late to play ‘Robin Hood’. So you’d better make up your mind about whose side you’re on, damn soon. As for your ‘girlfriend’ here, it’s fine with me if she hears you getting a dressing down from a superior, but that’s hardly something I’d want, if I were in your shoes.”

 

Gareth paused, gathering his thoughts like a shepherd gathering his flock before a storm, exactly, Kate thought, like Sherlock Holmes would have gathered his evidence before presenting his case. He was smiling faintly.

 

“On the first point, Miss Greenwood is not my girlfriend. I’d like her to become my girlfriend, but only if she wants to be. We have in no way, shape, or form, at this point in time, formalized that relationship.”

 

“Second, you are not my superior. I have no idea how a ‘Section Chief’ compares to a ‘Bureau Chief’. We aren’t ‘dukes’ and ‘barons’ no matter how much you’d like to paint it that way. But your jurisdiction is ‘regional’, namely Denver, Colorado, and environs, where mine is ‘national’. I’m not quite sure how you came to the conclusion that I work for you, but that doesn’t seem to be supported by the facts.”

 

“Finally, you can chew on me however much you like, in front of Miss Greenwood, or behind closed doors. I don’t answer to you. The only way your complaints would have much weight or substance is if you presented them to my real Boss, and he happened to agree with you. I don’t think you want to talk to my Boss. Or do you?”

 

It could have been her imagination, but Kate thought Agent Donovan suddenly acquired a pale and sweaty look beneath his artificially enhanced tan.

 

“One of these days McFadyn, you’re going to get caught out in the open. No ‘Boss’, no ‘family connections’ to protect you, just you, on your own. They’re going to take you down. I hope I’m there to watch. I think I’d really enjoy it.”

 

“You might not be there to see it. At the rate you’re going, you’ll probably drop dead before then, from pure ‘cussedness’. It must be tiring to hate so many people. It’s a wonder you have time to do anything else.”

 

“Better to ‘hate’ the right ones than ‘love’ the wrong ones. You’re probably not enough of a Patriot to understand that. Just some weak-kneed dilettante delinquent who never had who never had to do a real man’s work. If you’d ever had to break a sweat you’d understand. What can we expect from the likes of you. You are your father’s son, after all.”

 

“I never have condoned my father’s behavior, nor am I likely to do so.”

 

“No, but you sure as hell benefited from it, didn’t you? All that Ivy League BS. Well, we’ll just see how hard you’re laughing, ‘funny boy’, when you get yanked back to Washington DC on a short chain.”

 

Gareth looked remote but resolute. “I won’t say I’ll won’t be recalled, because I might be. I’m not dropping the investigation. Not on my life. As soon as I can, I’ll be seeing my informant’s family. Whether you ‘approve’ or ‘disapprove’ is irrelevant. If he’s dead, and I believe he is, then he died serving this country’s interests, which is more than either you or I have done.”

 

“That’s fine with me. In that case, I think I’ll just exercise my ‘limited’ jurisdiction all over you. You said Miss Greenwood was involved in this case, and let’s say I happened to believe you. I’ve decided she behaved in a ‘highly suspicious’ manner when she stopped to pick you up.”

 

“Are you implying Miss Greenwood had something to do with the attack on me?”

 

“If you weren’t blinded by your hormones, you’d be skeptical of your ‘lady friend’s’ timing as well.”

 

“You know Donovan, it’s one thing when you call me…..let’s see what was it? Oh yeah, an ‘unpatriotic wimp with criminal tendencies’. When you start calling my good friends potential traitors, I could become, shall we say ‘annoyed’. I’m quite sure Kate had nothing to do with today’s events.”

 

“You’d vouch for someone you’ve known for less than two hours?”

 

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I would.”

 

“Well that’s just fine and dandy, if I counted your opinion as worth a hill of beans. As far as I’m concerned, your endorsement of this woman is a prime reason for detaining her.”

 

“In that case I’ll have to exercise my somewhat less limited jurisdiction. I’ve decided I’m not going to give my report until I get out of the hospital.”

 

Donovan swayed on his feet, helpless before PalePaladin’s calm defiance.

 

“I’m not going to forget this.”

 

“I’m certainly hoping you’ll remember this.” Gareth smiled pleasantly, if a little tightly. In response Donovan’s body shimmered and sputtered with rage, exactly like grease on a hot skillet. The agent shook his head and then moved slowly away, his face beet red, his gait stiff and tight.

 

“He’s forgetting to breathe. Rage will do that to you. Bad move.”

 

As soon as Donovan was out of earshot Kate mumbled, “That was intense.”

 

“Kate, I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s all right. He wanted me to think I’m being detained because of what you said about my being involved in the case. Oscar wanted me to blame you, but I don’t. I’m pretty sure he would have done it anyway, no matter what you’d said or done. He was quite bitterly determined to make you pay some way. I think you’re right, I think he really doesn’t like you much.”

 

“Unfortunately, he decided to punish me by inconveniencing you. Fortunately though, while you’re in custody, I’ll be in the hospital, probably asleep, out cold. My being unconscious will take all the fun out of torturing me. Otherwise he’d probably parade you past me in chains, just to see if he could get a rise out of me.”

 

“And would it,” Kate grinned, “get a ‘rise’ out of you, that is?”

 

Gareth smiled. “Absolutely. I already feel like my world would go sideways if I lost you.”

 

“Oh good, I thought I was the only one.”

 

“I keep wanting to grab you and run off to a desert island or something. Not very logical. Maybe the drugs talking. Speaking of that, I would really like to give you a ‘good-bye’ kiss. But I think it might cause kind of a scene. Particularly the way I’d like to kiss you. That might cause even more of a scene.”

 

“We can’t have that. The nation might fall if the FBI was seen ‘kissing’ people.”

 

He laughed for a moment, then his expression became downcast. “They’ll be coming for you soon.”

 

“I know. I don’t want to leave you.”

 

“And I don’t want you to go. But they’ll come for you anyway. So…..I have to hurry and tell you this.” Kate could tell taking a deep breath hurt him. “When they take you to Denver, they’ll ask you to give a statement. They’re allowed to ask you questions, that’s part of their job description. But if they start to ask you the same questions repeatedly, or if they hold you too long, I want you to call someone. Do you have a pen, and the business card I gave you?”

 

Kate pulled the required items from her purse.

 

“OK, I want you to take down this number.” He gave her a number and an extension. “The woman’s name is Gladys Montgomery. If whoever is doing the interview exceeds the limits, she’ll get you a ‘good’ attorney. And I, personally, am going to make sure you get to Washington on time. You said Thursday morning, right? I can do that, even from a hospital bed. Do you believe me?”

 

“I’m sure that you, can do almost anything, from almost anywhere…..I mean…..” Kate amended, thinking her zeal sounded a trifle over-the-top “I think that if anyone can do it, it would probably be you.”

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. It means a lot to a man who’s going to feel helpless for the next two or three days.”

 

“Do you think your mysterious Boss will let you have the time off?”

 

“He has no choice, I’m going to be flat on my back. Actually, he’s been after me to take some time off. Not in the middle of a case, though.”

 

“What’s above a Section Chief, some mighty bureaucrat?”

 

“You could put it that way. He’s the Undersecretary.”

 

“Undersecretary?”

 

“Of Defense. Raymond Carlisle. Or you can just call him Ray.” Kate felt herself take in a sharp breath of surprise. “I thought spoke of him. Thompson’s right. My thinking seems to be muddled today. I don’t like to be a name dropper, but don’t tell me I completely failed to mention him. Mr. Carlisle would be incensed to be mistaken for an ordinary pencil pusher. Of course these days, I guess that would be a ‘mouse pusher’. Doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it though.”

 

That was it then. Kate had been waiting for a ‘shoe’ to drop, another big revelation from her slightly mysterious ‘Special Agent’. Just how ‘special’ was he, anyway? Raymond Carlisle would be another major piece in the contradictory puzzle of McFadyn. In terms of real power, Raymond Carlisle outranked nearly everybody, except the president and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Reputedly, he might have even more ‘clout’ than his own boss, Secretary of Defense Aaron Chandler. Chandler was more of a ‘figurehead’, the sort who attended state functions, and said the right thing at the right time to support the president. Carlisle by contrast, seemed to be his own man, having long weathered the terms of three different Presidents, including a change of party. There was a tremendous deal of speculation about Carlisle’s real role in the government, rampant rumors he might be a ‘power behind the throne’. One thing Kate did know, however, was that Raymond Carlisle was the official ‘Liaison’ between the FBI and the CIA.

 

“Impressive.” Kate breathed. “Yes, you failed to mention Mr. Carlisle. I wouldn’t have asked except that bringing up your ‘Boss’ seemed to scare Donovan into a surly sort of acquiescence. I knew it had to be somebody important.” Kate began to wonder what else Agent McFadyn had ‘failed to mention’. He didn’t seem to be the type that bragged much, at least overtly, in fact he seemed to go to the other extreme, concealing more than he revealed.

 

“He’s imposing all right.” Gareth laughed. “Invoking Carlisle is very handy for subjugating the troops. It always works, at least for a while. But Donovan will come after me again, more’s the pity. I wish I could just concentrate on solving the case, instead of having to play these petty political games with one hand tied behind my back.”

 

“Or an arm in a sling.” Kate smiled. “Still, you did pretty well.”

 

“Let’s hope so. Pray for me, Kate. I’m going to need it.”

 

The men who came to ‘collect her’ weren’t particularly gentle or courteous, they made it very clear that she was ‘in custody’. Undoubtedly, Agent Donovan had broadcast the idea that she was to be treated as a member of the ‘enemy faction’, a potential ‘traitoress’ at the very least. Though why she had let McFadyn live, when she’d ‘had him ‘at her mercy’, they had no idea. Perhaps it was supposed to be some subtle ploy, she was just ‘biding her time’ until she could ‘worm her way into his confidence’. So far it didn’t seem to be working. Gareth hadn’t told her very much by now, except that she was now probably on someone’s ‘hit list’. Two burly agents each grabbed an elbow and hustled her towards one of the black SUV’s. She was summarily shoved into the middle seat of the waiting vehicle. The dark van came complete with darkened windows and laboring air conditioning. There was a large agent next to her, and another behind her, just in case she got ‘feisty’. She sat and watched helplessly, as the helicopter taking Gareth and the medic away lifted off no more than five minutes later. She wished she were with him. The van carrying the prisoners left soon after that.

 

But it seemed the agents in the vehicle that held Kate weren’t going to leave right away. They seemed to be waiting for something. What the something was, turned out to be The Press. Chief Donovan was looking forward hungrily to taking sole and glorious credit for Agent Drew McFadyn’s bust. While they were waiting, he wandered over to brag, which somehow seemed to fit nicely with his previous behavior. The agent driving the vehicle, Rudy Burrows, was another one who struck Kate as being somehow ‘off kilter’. He wasn’t physically as intimidating as Donovan, only medium-sized with a small paunch padded by kevlar. However, Rudy’s face more than compensated in unpleasantness what he lacked in physique. His mouth was perpetually down turned at the corners, a hypercritical smirk was permanently pasted upon his face and his eyes were sharp as chips of flint. Not to mention that he had a pasty white complexion that seemed out of line with the rest of the FBI health fanatics, including Gareth. It seemed Burrows moonlighted as ‘Boss Donovan’s best buddy’, but it appeared he might have gotten the position by being the only one willing to listen to Donovan’s constant complaining and self-aggrandizement. What some might and would call a ‘Pathological Toady’. Predictably, Donovan bent down to confer with his chum.

 

“McFadyn’s going straight to the hospital. The medic still claims he’s in pretty bad shape, despite his typical ‘spit in your eye’ attitude. With him out of the picture for a while, I think there’s a good chance his investigation has ground to a halt. But if not…..I’m going to make sure he’s recalled. I’m sick of him.”

 

“I second that emotion.” Burrows nodded. “The guy definitely sticks his nose where it’s not wanted.”

 

Donovan leaned in the window. “I’d like your car keys, Miss Greenwood. I’m having Agent Johnson drive your vehicle back to Denver. I told Agent McFadyn I’d have it repaired and get you back on the road. After we question you, of course.”

 

Kate was quite suspicious of any gesture of helpfulness from Agent Donovan, but she handed the keys over anyway. She didn’t feel like she had much choice.

 

“I’m surprised you gave in on that, Chief.” Burrows chided. “I didn’t think you were one to let McFadyn call the shots on much of anything.”

 

“Normally, I’m not. But he threatened to stay here until the press showed up and then say some rather ‘unkind’ things about me, unless I had the young woman’s car repaired.”

 

“Stay here? Instead of going to the hospital? I’d say the man is ‘psychotic’, not just stubborn. Couldn’t you have had him ‘restrained’? If the medic had knocked him out, you could have sent Agent Do-Good to the hospital whether he wanted to go or not.”

 

Donovan chuckled, but it was an unpleasant sound. “A nice idea. But I have no desire to face the attorneys that boy personally knows, let alone the ones his father could bring to bear. And he seems to have the medic in his pocket. I doubt Thompson would have knocked him out for me.”

 

“I don’t know. Removing McFadyn would definitely smooth things out. The longer he’s here, and the more he blabs, the more people are going to believe that this bogus computer break in he keeps harping about actually happened.”

 

“It’s not going to be easy to get rid of him. I hear Carlisle treats him more like a son than a professional flunky.”

 

“I suppose you’re right. Unless McFadyn becomes a public embarrassment, Ray Carlisle’s unlikely to turn on his ‘golden boy’. Digging up some dirt on McFadyn is the best shot we’ve got. Maybe something could be arranged.”

 

Burrows exhibited a rodent-like smile. Agent Donovan laughed.

 

“Unless we can put whoever was pounding him on the payroll. He looks like if they’d hit him a few more times, our worries would have been over. If they’d kept going, not even Thompson could have glued him back together.”

 

“I like the way you think Chief. The way you think on your feet is just inspiring. Always the wheels going round. That’s what makes you such a great leader, you lead by example.”

 

Kate wondered if she had an anti-nausea pill in her purse. No, probably not. Never there when you needed one. She also wondered how much longer she was going to have to endure listening to the chowder head society trashing Agent McFadyn, who, so far as she could tell, had done nothing wrong. Maybe McFadyn had been right when he’d said light and dark were ‘natural enemies’, certainly the sort of people who scuttled around in dark corners didn’t seem to like bright and shiny people one bit. Not One Iota. The Haters hated McFadyn just for being McFadyn. He didn’t actually have to do anything. Oh, well. She’d just have to ‘learn by listening’, even if ‘office politics at it’s worst’ wasn’t her favorite subject.

 

“I can’t believe McFadyn claims his investigation is a matter of ‘national security’. Do you realize, if they decide to follow his recommendations, Oversight will be reviewing all our files on an annual basis? We can look forward to some beltway jerk breathing down our neck and riffling through our paperwork from from now until the end of time. What a pain in the behind that will be.”

 

Whatever continued complaints the two ‘bosom buddies’ might have made about that notorious thorn in their sides was cut short by the arrival of a news van. It roared up and then came to a dramatic halt amidst a cloud of high plains dust. It was probably from Pueblo or Colorado Springs, there hadn’t been time for someone listening in on the Police Band to have come from all the way from Denver.

 

“Oh, Hey.” Donovan said. “Gotta go.” He was off like a flash toward the van.

 

“Give ‘em hell, Chief!”

 

Burrows put up his window, cranked up the air-conditioning and they were ready to go. Well, Burrows was ready to go. Kate wasn’t sure she wanted to be going anywhere her companions were going. Not that she didn’t have a lot to think about on the rest of her long and boring ride back up I-70 to Denver.

 

Kate spent the trip wondering. She wondered what type of information might have been stolen. The FBI concerned themselves mainly with ‘domestic’ problems, leaving ‘foreign’ problems to the CIA. But she had no way of knowing which areas of information were apportioned to the computers in the Denver Bureau, so she’d have to rely on inspired ‘guessing’. She’d heard the comment about issues of ‘National Security.’ Which had meant whatever had gone missing was something ‘domestic’ of a quite ‘momentous’ nature. It was possible someone was planning a terrorist attack. The FBI probably had records detailing every military base in the US. A terrorist attack on a US Military Base would be a very bad situation. Bad enough perhaps, for Kestrel to risk his life to bring the news to Gareth. Then she began to wonder how Gareth figured into all this. How had he become involved in the first place. Gareth’s ‘official’ title was Systems Security Analyst. So he was the ‘firewall guy’, probably the one who’d initially installed their security software. Certainly, the one who examined the system for potential weaknesses, once it was installed. Of course, Kate was getting the feeling that Gareth was a bit more than his official title indicated. He was being treated about the way the police seemed to treat Internal Affairs.

 

The stolen information had been taken while Chief Donovan was supposed to be watching the store. That didn’t necessarily mean Donovan himself had been involved, but he might be afraid he would be held responsible for lax security, some sort of negligence that allowed the security breach to happen. Anything making Donovan ‘look bad’ might put his career, or at least his pension, at risk. In that case, Kate supposed it wasn’t surprising that Donovan wasn’t happy under Gareth’s scrutiny. ‘Mr. Crusader’ was determined to get at the truth, while Donovan would be much happier if the truth never came to light. Lastly, Kate began to wonder about Gareth’s strange connection to God. He’d been standing beside the road expecting ‘Divine Intervention’, like he’d known someone would be coming for him. Kate thought it must be very nice to have that much faith, to be so sure of God’s favor. He didn’t seem to doubt it for a moment. Kate doubted it all the time. She pulled the battered business card out of her purse to look at it. She turned it over to look at the number on the back. There was the thumb print. She remembered him pressing the card into her hand. He’d been courteous, one might have said chivalrous, even when badly hurt. Under very adverse circumstances that would have caused most people to be out of their mind with fear, pain and anger, he had the self-control to treat her patiently and kindly. The determination to try to save both of them, despite her initial resistance to believing his story. He might not be a knight, but he could certainly give lessons in ‘courtly grace’. If he was like that when he was gravely injured…..what would he be like when he was at full potential? If McFadyn focused all that seemingly boundless natural energy towards a single point…..that’s what they called a black hole wasn’t it, ‘a singularity’? McFadyn’s mind seemed powerful enough to create a ‘spiritual singularity’.

 

The compound housing the Denver Federal building was on Denver’s west side, which meant her churlish captors had to drive all the way through downtown traffic to get there. Kate found herself getting a headache, which could have been due to any number of things. Stress, low blood sugar, sorrow over a fine man beaten to a pulp and another would be Patriot most probably dead, none of it anything she could change, definitely made her head hurt. Kate took note that she was taken into the building by way of a ‘side’ door. The better for her to ‘disappear’ into, was the dark thought that crossed her mind. Still, she knew Agent McFadyn would soon be creating havoc somewhere if she wasn’t released. It made her feel a little less ‘alone and abandoned’. Not that she should have felt ‘alone’ in any case, two agents always accompanied her at all times. They didn’t touch her after pulling her from the car, but were constantly so close that she was under no illusion she could evade them with some quick move, they were always near enough to grab the ‘dangerous’ suspect.

 

Eventually, after traversing many hallways, Kate was ushered downstairs into a small, plain room. It seemed as though the walls might be built from old cement block, or something similarly flimsy. It felt distinctly ‘prison like’. It was now well past lunch time. Her growling stomach reminded her she had skipped a real breakfast, hoping to get an early start. She’d thought she’d be in Topeka by now. Being lunchtime, she thought maybe that they might give her something to eat. What she got, was a glass of water. She sat down on the hard chair, bolted to the floor she noticed, so it couldn’t be used as a weapon. She smiled to herself, thinking, ‘Someday I’ll think all this was funny’. A solid looking uniformed jail matron came in and stood by the wall. OK. That was standard. Female detainee, female officer present for questioning. Then a man came in with a file folder and sat down on the other side of the table. Interrogator. He had the look. Lean, old, saturnine, and supremely disinterested in anything she could tell him. He’d heard it all before, about a dozen million times. His badge said that his name was ‘Gillespie’. Kate decided that if she cooperated with Agent Gillespie, she might get turned loose sooner. In time to eat something before dinner, perhaps.

 

“Look, I’ll be glad to give you my fingerprints, if that will speed things up.”

 

“Fine.” he said. “Since you give your permission we’ll take your prints. They’ll be clearer than the ones off your car.” He motioned to someone out in the hallway who brought in an ink tray.

 

“What prints off my car ?” Kate thought she might have developed a hearing problem. It seemed like the only reasonable explanation.

 

“Well, you turned your car over to us voluntarily. So we can take your prints off the vehicle, as well as any other evidence we want.” He nodded, perusing his fingernails in great detail.

 

Kate spent a minute or two trying to remember if she had lint under her seat, or underwear, or anything else of import. Not that it mattered. They’d examine anything they wanted, whether she wanted them to or not.

 

The next question was one she’d been dreading, but it was inevitable.

 

“Exactly what were you doing out on that stretch of road?” Gillespie consulted his notes “Route 96 it says here. That’s hardly the usual tourist route. I mean, it does go east, but surely that’s the long way around. Care to explain?”

 

Here came the dilemma again. If she told Gillespie she had driven where God told her to go, Kate was fairly sure he wouldn’t receive the idea with the same open-mindedness that Gareth had shown. In fact, Kate was fairly certain Gillespie would either believe she was lying, or that she was crazy. She wasn’t certain whether being labeled ‘disingenuous’ or ‘delusional’ was more of an insult, though personally she thought being a little ‘crazy for God’ wasn’t such a bad thing.

 

“Route 96 and 83. We turned north at Scott City. Driving around in the country side isn’t unusual for me. I frequently use the back roads when I can. I’m a painter, and the concrete interstate isn’t exactly a source of inspiration. The secondary roads are a lot more interesting. Old barns, rusty farm machinery, quaint old farmhouses, wild looking abandoned fields, you don’t find any of that along the freeways.”

 

“I see.” Gillespie said, although Kate was pretty sure he didn’t see, not at all. Just as she had feared, Agent Gillespie didn’t appear to believe a word she’d said. Of course, she doubted he had ever believed anyone, even those who were telling the truth. He reared back in his chair and began idly playing with a pencil.

 

“You’re a painter, you say? Do you have happen to have any proof of that?” She did, as a matter of fact. She had one of her favorite paintings stashed in her trunk.

 

“I have one of my paintings in the trunk of my car. I can go get it if you like.”

 

“That won’t be necessary. I’ll have someone bring it in.”

 

Meaning of course, that she wouldn’t be going outside and ‘escaping’ before the interrogation was over, and meaning furthermore he would be checking every last statement she had made. They waited slowly through several long awkward minutes of silence while someone went to fetch the painting. The painting was a large one. It showed a field of early summer flowers. In the midst of it, sat a young boy and girl, maybe seven or eight years old, dressed in old-fashioned clothing. They were smiling. Nearby, an ungainly looking puppy romped through the weeds and flowers. It was perhaps Kate’s ode to the carefree nature of an idealized childhood, one she wished she’d had. The whole scene was bathed in a sort of golden glow. Gillespie studied it for a few seconds.

 

“Isn’t that cute. Little kids and puppies. I’m surprised there’s not a flying flag and an apple pie in there somewhere.” His snarky tone seemed to indicate that if the scene were any more bucolic, he might barf. “So let’s just say for the moment that I believe that you painted this…..bit of Americana, what possessed you to interrupt your journey and become involved in Agent McFadyn’s little ‘roadside drama’? Why did you stop?”

 

The rest of the interview went pretty much in the same vein. They managed to get in touch with her new boss in Washington. They called her up old boss in San Francisco to corroborate that part of her story. Yes, she really was who she said she was. They finally let her out of the interrogation room a little after 4 pm. Kate felt like she had just gotten out of jail. Here she was, stuck in Denver, again, just more than twelve hours after she had tried to leave it. She had nowhere to go. She was too tired to start driving, What she really wanted, besides something to eat, was to know how Agent McFadyn was doing. Kate noticed that since she had been in the Federal Building, she’d gone back to thinking of him as ‘Agent McFadyn’ instead of ‘Gareth.’ The very idea of her going on a ‘date’ with him seemed more and more outlandish. Like something that would happen to somebody else. It was rather unbelievable in the first place that she would go out with an FBI agent. She supposed her politics were a bit right wing for San Francisco, as in did not personally identify as a Hippie Liberal Feminist, but she did routinely not ‘Hang Out’ with ‘Law Enforcement Types’ either. Not that she had nothing against the military in particular, they kept the country safe, after all. But most of her friends and acquaintances that she was connected with were involved in the art community, or at least some sort of creative endeavor. In her entire group of friends, she was almost the only one who knew anything about handguns, and that was courtesy of her ex-husband Bill, the cheating yuppie attorney. Gareth McFadyn being involved in some wacky authoritarian paramilitary mumbo jumbo was bad enough, but then there was all that crazy business about ‘better if you don’t know who I am’. His Real Boss, Not Donovan, was certainly famous in Intelligence and Defense Circles. Who was Gareth? Whoever he was, in Washington DC their paths would never have crossed, they didn’t travel in the same circles. She could try to see him before she left Denver. She could try to find out how he was, and reassure herself that he was going to be all right. At the same time, she would be giving him an opportunity to back out of the date gracefully, if he wanted to. He could say he’d thought better of it, that he didn’t know what he’d been thinking, injured and out of his head with pain and all, that they really weren’t suited, he was sorry, but he had second thoughts.

 

It made Kate sad to think visiting him in the hospital, would end with her being cut loose, but it was far better she get let down ‘sooner’ rather than ‘later’. It would be twice as bad to go to Washington and have him break the date there. So all she had to do was find out which hospital he was in, and go and see him. Of course, they might not let her in. He might be in surgery, or sleeping. She might have to wait. She wouldn’t be the first person to spend hours and hours waiting in a hospital chair for someone to wake up. She might fall asleep, waiting, but hospital staff were used to that. It almost sounded restful. It would save her having to find another motel. Hospitals did usually have cafeterias, even if the food was often less than stellar. It seemed like the answer to all her dilemmas. Where to find the info about which hospital he was in? Standing outside the interrogation room Kate remembered the woman Gareth had tried to put her in touch with. What if she was actually in this very building? All she had to do was call the number and find out. They had given her purse back to her, so she had her cell phone back, too. It didn’t take very long to call the number. She reached ‘Gladys Montgomery’ in the Data Retrieval Department on the second ring. The woman said she was located nearby, just down a few hallways. Kate said she had a quick question to ask and she’d be there in five minutes or less. Knowing the building closed in less than an hour, she planned to leave very ‘expeditiously’. She had no intention of being ‘detained’ a second time.

 

She moved as quickly as she could down empty corridors. Finally, she had to slow down because she was out of breath. The building was huge. Somehow, she managed to lose her way in the seemingly endless hallways and she found herself walking past a row of offices, most of them already empty and locked for the day. One exception, was a slightly larger office with Oscar Donovan’s name plate on the still open door. She had sworn up and down, to herself, that she was not going to look inside as she crept past, but the impulse to see if her passage had been noted turned her head inward, despite her better judgment. The outer office, probably the secretary’s lair, was empty, but the farther inner cubicle, Oscar Donovan’s ‘inner sanctum’, was occupied. But not by Donovan. Agent Burrows was visible through the open door, bent over looking at something on the computer monitor perched on Donovan’s desk. Even though she was moving as quietly as she could, she must have made some small noise. Burrows looked up, his glance both startled and angry, as cutting as a knife blade. Kate hurried past, grateful to reach the end of the corridor and turn the corner. After making two more wrong turns, she finally found the right hallway. All the way to her destination, Kate half expected to be arrested for something, although she wasn’t quite sure what. ‘Suspicion Of Terrorism’, maybe. When she reached the door with ‘Data Retrieval’ printed on the door in neat black block letters, she paused and took a deep breath before turning the handle.

 

Kate didn’t know what she’d expected, but it probably wasn’t Gladys, who turned out to be an almost fiftyish woman, plump but soft looking. She reminded Kate of a Persian Cat. She was wearing a suit even more ‘sensible’ than Kate’s fitted green tweed. Hers was a brown plaid, or perhaps ‘rust’ would have been more accurate, and she wore it with large black framed glasses that slid halfway down her nose, held in check by clips, with chains. Coppery hair several shades lighter and brighter than Kate’s, most likely fresh out of a dye bottle, was piled on top of her head. She looked like a somewhat frumpily dressed mystery writer. Kate sensed a close kindred spirit. The woman leaned back in her chair, causing it to creak, and smiled. Somehow, Kate was immediately less afraid she was going to be falsely arrested as a terrorist for staying in the building past curfew. It seemed like Gladys might be one of those people who made it seem like ‘home’ whenever you were with them. Kate found herself relaxing under the woman’s scrutiny, which was a welcome surprise after intensive grilling from Chief Donovan, Gillespie and Burrows.

 

“So you’re the one I’ve been hearing about. Yes, I can definitely see what he means.”

 

There was no doubt who ‘he’ was. Everybody always talked about Gareth as if there was no question the conversation could be about anyone else. And apparently, Kate was now an instant celebrity as well, although she had no idea why. Frankly, she felt felt as if she’d stepped into Wonderland. She expected a hookah-smoking caterpillar at any moment. Now if she could just avoid the ‘off with her head’ part.

 

“Should I be pleased…..or alarmed…..that people know who I am before I meet them?”

 

“In this case, ‘her reputation preceded her’ is a very good thing. He told me you might be coming, and he told me to help you if you needed help. Are you needing any help, at just this moment?”

 

“No, I’m fine. Other than a little hungry, and worried about Gareth. Agent McFadyn, I mean.”

 

“Hungry?” Ms. Montgomery frowned. “Didn’t they give you anything to eat? When was the last time you had a meal?”

 

“No, unfortunately, ‘they’, meaning Agent Gillespie, did not. I got a glass of water about one o’clock.” Kate wouldn’t have gotten a bathroom break either, except however, the ‘jail matron’ had intervened on her behalf about 3:00 pm. It had come with a high price though, the matron had accompanied her to the restroom. “The last time I had anything before that…..was about 4:00 am this morning. I had a croissant and a cup of coffee at the motel. Since then things have been…..hectic.”

 

“I’ll tell McFadyn they didn’t feed you. He won’t be pleased.”

 

“I take it the ‘Wrath of McFadyn’ is something to be avoided.”

 

“At all costs, I would say. But, until you can find something more filling…..” Gladys pulled two rather scrumptious looking cinnamon rolls out of her desk drawer. They were on a plate covered with plastic wrap, but Gladys carefully scooted one onto a smaller paper plate and handed it to Kate along with a napkin. She set the other one on her desk. Then, she walked over and poured them both a cup of coffee from a small coffee maker at the side of the room, handed one to Kate, and resumed her seat, with a certain amount of relish, Kate thought. Kate had no choice but to take a seat in the visitor’s chair, since she couldn’t eat a cinnamon roll and drink a cup of coffee while standing.

 

“Now we can gossip.” Gladys intoned. This appeared to be a prospect Gladys found very agreeable.

 

“Thank you, Ms. Montgomery. And thank you Lord, for this food.” Kate closed her eyes for a moment or two, and then started eating, slowly, and with gratitude. It was as good as it looked.

 

“Giving the Creator his due. A good way to start anything, including a meal.”

 

“I was surprised that.….Agent McFadyn seems to believe in prayer.”

 

“He’s a surprising man. Did I hear you call him Gareth? That’s interesting. His sister Allie is the only other person I know who does.”

 

“I had to pry it out of him, although he seems strangely pleased I’m using it.”

 

“He must think you’re rather special to encourage you to call him by the name his mother and sister used.”

 

“The feeling seems to be mutual. I’m way more attached to him than I have any right to be at this point. He…..” Kate paused and put her fingers up to her cheeks, which seemed to be burning. “He kissed me good-bye when he got out of the car. He made me promise to go out to lunch with him sometime. When he recovers.”

 

Gladys’ eyebrows rose a fraction. “I heard you were leaving town.”

 

“I am. But my job is in DC. He says he’s going back soon. So I suppose I’ll see him there. Although it seems to me, that he, ah…..might change his mind about all this, when he’s…..feeling more himself.”

 

“Oh, I doubt it.” Gladys shook her head. “He’s been looking for someone like you for a long time.”

 

Kate blushed. “So he was telling someone in the clouds.”

 

“Yes, well, Agent McFadyn, ‘Gareth’, has quite a lot of conversations with the Almighty, but they’re usually not audible.”

 

“That’s what I mean about him not being himself. He’s hurt pretty badly. And on top of that I was getting the feeling that he blames himself for his informant’s death.”

 

Gladys snorted. “Typical. ‘Survivor’s Guilt’. He’ll likely get over that, after a time. With God’s help and…..” she looked at Kate speculatively, “maybe a little encouragement from other quarters, perhaps. I’m glad he found you. He’s had some rather hard knocks in life. He deserves a little happiness. Are you going to see him again?”

 

“Actually, that’s why I came to you. I was hoping to visit him in the hospital, if you’ll tell me where they took him. If you know.”

 

“I do know, and I will tell you, if you insist on doing it that way. But I have an alternative. If you’ll wait a few minutes until the building shuts down for the night, we’ll both go. You can follow me and then I won’t have to give you directions. How does that sound?”

 

“Much easier than getting lost in traffic.” Kate felt a sense of relief that she wouldn’t be wandering around an unfamiliar city on her own.

 

“So are you going on the lunch date?”

 

“I promised I would. He battered me into agreeing, by using every technique under the sun, including the awful word ‘please’, and a rather piteous look. By the time he was done, I felt heartless for even considering saying ‘no’.”

 

“Pulled out all the stops, did he?”

 

“Even so, I doubt the ‘date’ will ever happen.”

 

“Why not?” Gladys seemed genuinely puzzled.

 

“I get the feeling it’s not really ‘appropriate’ for an agent to be seeing a witness, or whatever I am, ‘socially’.”

 

“I see. And what else?”

 

“He just seems terribly ‘sophisticated’, and I’m not. I nearly accused him of being the king of somewhere, though I can’t think of where it would be.”

 

“Crown prince, perhaps. And the place would be Dalriada.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“That would be western Scotland and the Isles. It no longer exists as a separate country, more a ‘state of being’. They’re transplanted Irish, but don’t ever let those folks hear you say that. Irish, with some ‘Viking’ blood, which should be quite a heady mix.”

 

Kate would never say anything against the Irish, being an ‘O’Brien’ herself, on her mother’s side. Come to think of it, there had been the phrase ‘Old Country’, a Gaelic accent, and reference to an ‘Irish Nanny’ who was Catholic, although Gareth’s family was not. Since there were both ‘Shanty Irish’ and ‘Lace Curtain Irish’, possibly the same logic applied to the Scots. Maybe Gareth’s family were ‘Lace Curtain Scots’. Certainly they were well enough off, to not only hire a nanny, but also to send Gareth to any college he chose, price no object. That implied a fair amount of bucks.

 

“You’re saying Gareth comes by his ‘aristocratic’ graces naturally. But why did you call him a ‘crown prince’, rather than a ‘king’? He isn’t either one, is he?”

 

“Well he’s not really the crown prince, that would be the eldest, and he’s not. But it’s my opinion that since he’s the one who got the old man’s ‘Never-Say-Die’ attitude, that on merit, Gareth should be the ‘true’ heir. It wouldn’t be the first time the youngest son has skipped to the head of the line. His father’s not a king, or an emperor, though some would say he thinks he’s one.”

 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Is Gareth some kind of a celebrity? I mean, the name ‘Drew McFadyn’ seems vaguely familiar, but…..”

 

Gladys manifested a disturbed look. Then she lifted both eyebrows.

 

“Gareth didn’t tell you who he is?”

 

“No.”

 

“Oh, Dear.”

 

“He actually seemed rather glad I didn’t know. So tell me, who is he? The suspense is killing me.”

 

“The name that seems so familiar to you, may be toying with the edges of your mind because it resembles his father’s name.”

 

“So who is this ‘mysterious’ father?”

 

“You’re not going to like this.” The tumblers in Kate’s mind began to spin and she knew the answer a moment before Gladys pronounced it.

 

“Andrew McFadyn.”

 

There was only one Andrew McFadyn that Kate had ever heard about. A man so fabulously above it all there could be no other McFadyn quite that famous. A mythical man Kate couldn’t possibly ever meet. A mythical man whose son Kate couldn’t possibly ever meet. A man whose son would not be an expert consultant with the Denver Office of the FBI. And a man whose son would definitely never have been standing in the middle of a Kansas field waiting for Kate Greenwood to come along and give him a lift.

 

Kate heard herself say ‘Oh My God’, even though she firmly disapproved of people who mouthed those words, meaning nothing by them. “You’re joking.” she whispered then. “He can’t be those McFadyn’s?”

 

“You must have noticed the unusual spelling on the name.”

 

“I did.” Kate felt miserable. “But I didn’t give it much thought. I would have believed a distant cousin or something, but not the man’s son. If I’d known, I never would have…..”

 

“What? Picked him up? Then he would have died and you would have had that on your conscience.”

 

“Of course I would have picked him up. But I wouldn’t have…..”

 

“Become fond of him. Let him get under your skin. Gotten so attached. Yes, well it’s too late now, isn’t it?”

 

“I guess that explains why he carries himself like some ‘prince’ from a faraway land. And why he expects everyone to do what he says. And also why they’re scared of him. I imagine he’s had every thing he wanted at the snap of a finger, since he was..… well..… forever.”

 

“The first two, possibly. But he ‘scares people’ entirely on his own, without any benefit or influence of Dear ‘Papa’, whatsoever. Although it may be just as well Gareth has an extremely stubborn streak. I hear Andrew McFadyn is a bad man to cross. If he’s that hard on strangers, I’m sure he’s even harder on his son. Gareth has to be tough as nails just to stand up to him.”

 

“They argue?”

 

Gladys nodded. “Constantly, I hear. So I take it you’re not thrilled to have a ‘luncheon date’ with one of the wonderfully wealthy?”

 

“Not especially. This will sound odd, but I wish he was poor, or at least middle class.”

 

“Has it occurred to you, that it’s just as shallow to dislike someone because they’re rich, as is to dislike them because they’re poor?”

 

“I’m definitely not ‘thrilled’. Stunned, would be more like it. If I go out with him, everyone will think I’m after his money. And I had no idea. I mean…..he has the beautiful teeth, expensive clothes and lots of confidence, so I guess I should have known, if I’d been thinking clearly…..which I wasn’t.”

 

Kate buried her face in her hands. “All I know about Andrew McFadyn is that he’s some horribly, emphasis on the ‘horribly’, rich guy, who runs a corporation somewhere, and that he has multiple millions…..”

 

“Closer to one billion.”

 

“What does he manufacture, gold?”

 

“Close enough, computer chips. He’s a Defense Contractor.”

 

“I don’t think I can do this.”

 

“What? Go out to lunch? That doesn’t seem like a particularly taxing activity. And we know the company will be good. I’d imagine the food will be, too.”

 

“Look, this doesn’t seem to be working out, so if you’d just tell him…..” Kate attempted to surge to her feet, so she could get up and run away, but her legs wouldn’t obey, seeming rather weak, despite the snack.

 

“You might as well sit it out. Maybe the situation will look more ‘doable’ in a few minutes. God didn’t bring you this far to dump you on your behind.”

 

“This wasn’t what I expected.”

 

“Life seldom is.”

 

“I had no idea.”

 

“That was clear from the sandbagged look on your face. Before you run off, I’d like to tell you a few things. While it’s true government employees run in fear at the sound of Andrew McFadyn’s name, it’s also true they treat his offspring with loathing, and I might add, ‘contempt’. If you in any way believe Gareth deserves the treatment he gets at work here, or anyplace else but his own Section for that matter, you’d be mistaken.”

 

“Section Six, you mean?”

 

“He does have his own little coterie of hero worshipers back in Washington. For some reason the people he hand-picked and trained like him, but he didn’t happen to bring any of them with him on this assignment. So he’s working pretty much ‘alone’, and mostly everybody out here in this office, hates his guts. Except for me, of course. And Thompson, and a couple of other folks who don’t play follow the leader very well.”

 

Kate was afraid she might share the prejudices of all those ‘Average Joe’ Working Class Americans, who claimed to ‘Admire’, but Secretly Hated, the ‘Very Rich’. America had it’s own little ‘Class War’ going on. The ‘upper’ class, as close as America came to having royalty, was not well thought of by working class Americans. For his entire life, Gareth had been the focus of all of that vitriol, without ever having done anything in particular to merit the scorn.

 

“I can see where his situation would be…..difficult.”

 

“If you’re going to believe everything that’s said about him, you’ll have to decide which insults to listen to. There are those who say he’s a ‘Bleeding Heart Liberal’ because he hands out his money like Soda Crackers and hangs out with the Disenfranchised Poor. Then there are others who claim he’s an ‘Arch-Conservative’. Not only is he wealthy, he has a ‘Robber Baron’ father, he’s against abortion, in favor of families staying together. Then there’s his stand on the ‘death penalty’.”

 

“Which is?”

 

“I’m not sure I’ve heard anything official. I have to think he’d be in favor of it under certain circumstances. You know, someone killed one of his friends. Treason. That sort of thing. In those cases I think he might pull the trigger himself. So what does that make him?”

 

“A Social ‘Liberal’ and a Moral ‘Conservative’? I don’t know. I have no idea what you’d call that. A Christian, maybe?” Kate smiled.

 

“In any case, he seems remarkably ‘unaffected’ for someone born into exalted circumstances.”

 

“I suppose you’re right.”

 

“His father never seemed to want him around so Gareth was raised mostly by his mother and sister. Allie is eleven years older than he is. I think the only time Gareth sees his father, is at board meetings of McFadyn Industries.”

 

“Gareth is still involved with the family business?” This was getting worse and worse.

 

“He’s a stockholder. But the FBI made him sign a ‘conflict of interest waiver’. He can’t vote his shares, except through a third party as long as he works for the FBI. I’m pretty sure his sister Allie is his proxy.”

 

“So how much stock does he own?”

 

“He told me ten percent.”

 

Kate winced. Ten percent of a billion. That had to be quite a lot. The guy wasn’t going to be hurting for new socks or underwear any time in the foreseeable future.

 

“So you’re telling me that Gareth is an extremely wealthy man in his own right.”

 

“His McFadyn Industries stock is the source of about half his wealth. But he also inherited a great deal from his mother’s family. She was related to the McBraynes, the ones who run the shipping company.”

 

Kate laughed, a little hysterically to her own ears. The day had been one wrong turn after another. She felt like she’d fallen down a rabbit hole. Just when she thought things couldn’t possibly get any stranger, they did.

 

“You’re distressed because he didn’t tell you all this himself.”

 

“I realize he didn’t actually lie about anything, he just ‘left a few things out’.”

 

“Try to imagine ‘gently’ dropping an announcement like that into the conversation. I can’t think of an easy way to do it.”

 

“No, I suppose there isn’t any way to do it, without sounding like you’re either bragging or apologizing. I can’t imagine Gareth doing either. Sometimes, he does seems to have a certain confidence, almost like he thinks he’s ‘invincible’. He’d certainly never stoop to bragging. It’s like if you brag, you’ve lost your ‘cool’. You do realize, he invited me out to lunch while people were shooting at us?”

 

“Not surprised. He was probably in something of a hurry, to get you to agree to a meeting before you found out anything more about him. Because, that’s the only way he’d ever know if you valued him for who he really is, instead of who people think he is. So what are you going to do? You can break the date, and look like a coward and welcher, or you can go through with it. I can’t see that you have any other choices. Of course you have to ask yourself, this question, is going out to lunch with Gareth McFadyn really such a terrible thing?”

 

Kate felt inclined to laugh, mostly at herself. This is pitiful, isn’t it? I meet a fantastic man, and I think up every reason in the world not to go out with him. But you have to admit there are things about him that are troublesome.”

 

“I agree I’ve probably never met anyone more eminently qualified than Gareth to drag everyone he meets along in his wake. Even though a lot of what happens around him is not his own doing, just a factor of who and what he is, it makes no difference. You won’t be around him very long before you’ll realize you’re not in charge of your own life any more.”

 

“The closer I get, the more distorted things become? Sounds like a ‘force of nature’, something like gravity.” Kate gave a weak smile and gulped. Her mouth seemed dry.

 

“You really can’t decide until you talk to him face to face. Maybe you’re both mistaken about each other. In that case, you can just ‘walk away’. Well, would you look at that time,” Gladys said, glancing up at the clock mounted on the wall, “it’s 5:03.”

 

Gladys put down her coffee cup and picked up her purse. “I’m ready to go if you are. Just remember, if God is in control, it’s going to turn out all right.”

 

Kate was trying very hard to remember God’s all-encompassing grace. She had a feeling she was going to need it.

 

It seemed to take longer than it should have to get to the parking lot. There was something about almost empty buildings that was spooky. The closer it came to shutdown, and the emptier the building became, the longer the halls seemed to get. Kate felt like a weary traveler, lost in the desert. There was nothing lonelier than a school after the students had gone home for the day. And the Federal Building was becoming an empty shell, filled with night-time ghosts. Kate had no explanation for the strange melancholy feeling that fell over her. She hoped it was only exhaustion, and worrying about Gareth. She admitted she was afraid for him. What if his injuries had been worse than they appeared? But despite her worries, Gladys made her laugh several times as they walked the empty hallways together.

 

When they reached the outer door, they separated. Kate’s vehicle was parked next to the auto shop, Ms. Montgomery’s was closer to the exit gate and she said she’d wait in her car until Kate drove up behind her. Then Gladys would lead the way to the hospital. Kate already had her keys, Gillespie had given them back when she left the interrogation room, but when she entered the shop area, she saw Agent Burrows straightening up from where he’d been crouching next to her car. It was hard to tell which of them was more startled.

 

“What are you doing here?” she blurted out, the spooky halls and Burrows blending ominously together like the remains of a bad dream half remembered.

 

“I should be the one asking that question. You should be long gone.”

 

“I’m here to pick up my car. Why are you here?”

 

“I was just looking at…..the tires. The auto shop boys said they’d put on two new tires and I was just checking to see if they kept their word. True indeed. This little rattletrap is in better shape than when you started up this morning. Courtesy of the FBI. I don’t think you ‘appreciate’ us nearly enough.” He gave the strange smile, the one with no warmth.

 

“I don’t think anyone would have done anything if Agent McFadyn hadn’t threatened Agent Donovan with bad press. It’s hard to feel grateful for forced charity.”

 

Burrows mouth twisted unpleasantly, somewhere between a sneer and a snarl of rage. “McFadyn insisted we fix your car and it’s fixed. So why don’t you just go?”

 

“I’d be happy to leave, if you don’t mind getting out of my way.”

 

“How did you get to be such ‘good buddies’ with McFadyn in such a short space of time?”

 

The sneer was back. Kate’s eyes narrowed.

 

“If by that you’re implying Agent McFadyn and I did something inappropriate, we didn’t have time. And even if we’d had that time, it still wouldn’t have happened. He was badly hurt. Too badly hurt to be interested in doing what you’re suggesting.”

 

“Then how do you explain McFadyn kissing you good-bye? The pilot says he’s almost sure he saw McFadyn plant one on you. I’d be interested to hear the story behind that.”

 

Kate just stared at weaselly man for a few moments. She realized Burrows believed the worst, and nothing was going to change his opinion.”

 

“He thought he was going to die, and so did I. I’m very grateful I was wrong.”

 

“Well by all means, don’t let me stop you from going, Mz. Greenwood. The only thing that would make me happier than for you to leave, would be if you took ‘lover-boy-goody-freaking-two-shoes’ with you. Break a leg. Bon Voyage. Don’t spend it all in one place. May you find whatever it is you’re looking for. Shangrila, Xanadu, Waco, Jonestown. As long as it’s not in my town. Ta, Ta.”

 

Burrows slapped the roof of her car and walked away. Putting down a dark fantasy of slapping him for his trouble, Kate mused to herself, ‘What a very weird and decisively irritating man.’ Kate had to wonder if he was psychotic. She unlocked her door and sat down in her car, where she discovered she was shaking. Breathe, Kate. Don’t let the ‘home team advantage’ get to you. Not everyone in the FBI was like Donovan, Gillespie or Burrows. Gareth was in the FBI, and so was Gladys. There were all kinds and varieties of people everywhere. You just had to look hard for the good ones. No use letting the tiresome office politics of the Denver FBI convince her to leave before she was ready. She wouldn’t be ready until she saw how Agent McFadyn was faring. It would be easy to just make a run for it, but Kate wasn’t going to leave until she was good and ready. She gathered herself together, started her car, and drove it closer to the exit gate. Ms. Montgomery was waiting in a medium-sized green car, a Taurus. The brake lights were lit up, meaning Gladys was already powered up and ready to move forward, all Kate had to do was pull in behind her and start driving. She was having some doubts about keeping up in rush hour Denver traffic, but she’d do her best.

 

They had to drive through a guard station on their way out. Gladys stopped and showed her passcard, and apparently explained who Kate was, to the guard’s satisfaction, because she was allowed to follow the Taurus without being stopped. Then they were out in the Denver streets, at just about the time Kate would have figured that the downtown area would have been at it’s most crowded. However, the inner metro area of Denver was already half deserted. Trying not to lose sight of Gladys’ taillights, Kate intently attempted to ignore the distraction of Denver’s skyscrapers. Since it was high summer, the evening should have been bright until at least 9 pm, but storm clouds had darkened the skies early. Kate feared being led a merry chase on an urban freeway, complete with ‘on ramps’ and ‘off ramps’ and split second decisions, but the route Gladys took wasn’t difficult and they didn’t have far to go, back down 6th and over to Colfax. St. Antony’s was ablaze with so many lights that the deepening gloom of an overcast dusk was kept at bay. It could only be a hospital, looking somehow like an earthbound aircraft carrier. The first drops of the evening rain started to pelt Kate’s windshield as she pulled into the hospital parking lot. Gladys drove past several single spaces, apparently looking for two that were next to one another. Kate had to agree. After her experience with Burrows, she had no desire to walk to her vehicle alone. Neither did she think Gladys should have to deal with the menace of the night by herself. There was no telling how late it might be before they left the hospital. Finally, Kate edged the little gray Honda in next to the Ford and turned off the ignition.

 

All the way to the hospital, Kate had been wondering about the missing evidence. The informant had said that he would be bringing some kind of evidence to his meeting with Gareth, but apparently he hadn’t been carrying whatever it was when they caught him. Agent McFadyn was also clueless to where it was. Which could mean any distinct number of things. Either the evidence had never existed, just as Donovan claimed, or it was real, but it had been lost or misdirected. If it truly existed, where was it now? A film canister dropped in the gravel turn-out where Gareth’s car had been smashed to bits? A key photo or a slip of paper, blown away in the wind? If Kestrel had been aware that he was being followed, he might have stashed it somewhere, in a hurry. Drew had specifically used the word ‘package’ not ‘evidence’, and that implied something larger. Kate got out of her car, reached across for her purse, and locked the door. She really was going to have to put everything into a more professional looking bag before she got to Washington. Who would have expected a simple road trip to turn into anything like this cosmic roller-coaster? Still, if none of this had ever happened, she wouldn’t have met Gareth. So maybe it was worth being stuck in a concrete room for three hours. The wonderfully strange Mr. McFadyn. It was clear that McFadyn had been invented by the same God who’d created giraffes and hummingbirds, blue whales and bumblebees. The God of ever present and unending impossibilities. The bumblebee didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to fly. Gareth seemed to think he was going to reform the world, singlehanded. Of course not realizing it was impossible, he just might do it. When Kate and Gladys reached the hospital’s entry area, Gladys stepped to the side and flipped open her phone to look at the screen. Then she began chuckling.

 

“It seems I’ve received my marching orders, and I have no doubt you’ll soon receive your own.”

 

Kate looked at Gladys with a puzzled frown. “I’m not quite sure what you mean.”

 

“I’ll show you.” Gladys leaned closer and turned the screen so Kate could see it.

 

gadyimfine:worrynot:katystillhere?

sendher2me:securitypriority1zerotrust.ZERO

 

“I take it you got all that?”

 

“Let’s see, he’s fine, you’re not to worry, he wants to know if I’m still here, and if I am, you’re to ‘send’ me to him, not quite sure how to take that one, makes me sound like a ‘get-well bouquet’. And as for the last bit, I’m not really sure, but unless he’s taken a sudden turn of paranoia, it sounds as if he thinks not only did somebody in the Denver office betray his meeting with Kestrel, he’s afraid we’ll get ourselves into difficulty without him to watch over us. He’s saying anyone we talk to may be the guilty party.”

 

“So now you’ll understand why I’m going to send you up to see him by yourself. You can come back and tell me how he wants to handle everything. Whatever security they have up on Gareth’s floor is probably reporting all of his visitors to someone. You’re rather harmless. They might think it’s just a ‘social call’. I’m more like an ‘Admin Assistant’. If I go to see him, he could conceivably be conducting some sort of business. My presence up there would signal that he might still be working on the case.”

 

“I swear, Gladys, you’re as paranoid as he is. I hope it isn’t contagious.”

 

“I’m afraid that it is. And you’ve already caught it, whether you know it or not. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Paranoia could save your life.”

 

“I see he puts us in the same category. Gady and Katy. I guess that means I’m starring in an episode of ‘Spies Like Us’. And I take it I’ve been recruited to join one of his ‘Master Plans’?”

 

“There’s only one Sherlock. There are lots of Watson’s. We Watson’s live only to ‘serve’. I’ll be in the hospital cafeteria if you need me.”

 

“I wish you’d come with me, I don’t see why you can’t. Are you really sure someone’s watching all that closely?”

 

Gladys sighed, as if patiently explaining something to a kid. “Well, besides the reason I already gave you, which would be sufficient for a ‘cautious’ person, I’d also like to give you two ‘lovebirds’ some privacy. Just in case he wants to say something stupid and maudlin, like ‘he can’t live without you’, for instance. Of course I know you wouldn’t say anything silly. You’d never tell him how ‘wonderful’ he is, effusively, 45 times, or how worried you’ve been 37…..”

 

“OK, I get your point.” Kate said grumpily. “You know what the terrible thing is? I’m beginning to believe these crazy stories of yours, I do feel like someone is watching me all the time. I look behind me…..”

 

“Welcome to my world. Or should I say ‘our’ world? You seem to be in it. One little lunch invitation and you’re in it up to your eyeballs. You see how much trouble a good-looking man can get you in.”

 

“I’ll have to take to take your word for the good-looking part. Gareth is trashed.”

 

Gladys sighed, sat down on one of the lobby chairs and reached for her purse. “I really shouldn’t be doing this.” She pulled out her wallet. Kate didn’t believe it. Did the man actually have a ‘fan’ club, of which Gladys was a card carrying member? Kate pictured a flashy toothed ‘smile’ photo, maybe autographed.

 

“What? You carry a picture of your boss? Or is he your boss?”

 

Gladys shook her head. “Not really. He’s an ‘External Security Analyst’ I’m supposed to ‘co-operate to the fullest possible extent’, whatever that means. No, I asked somebody to take this picture of us together, because I like him. I thought it would be good to have a picture to…..remember him by. He might not be around all that long. It would be good to say I’d known him. I’d be very proud of that, because of what he is, and what he’s done for the Bureau.”

 

She handed the digital picture to Kate. Kate was stunned. Oh sure, she’d known there was probably a good-looking guy in there somewhere. He had all the earmarks of a handsome man. Erect bearing, great bone structure, white teeth, fluffy hair. She happened to think he smelled wonderful. But as for what he actually looked like, she’d only harbored a vague idea. Now she knew. He was kind of spectacular. She did think that she’d seen him somewhere before, at least a picture of him. Maybe she’d seen a photo in a tabloid back when she’d been sixteen and he’d been raising hell at drunken Yale parties. Or maybe in a newspaper standing in the background of some beltway conclave. All she knew was that he looked familiar, as if she’d known him forever, but maybe that was only a ‘wishful heart’ that recognized its other half.

 

“He’s pretty well smashed up, you know, beat him up, and hit him in the face.”

 

Kate suddenly found herself not wanting to think about what it would feel like to have someone hit you in the face with their fist, or smash your face into the side of a car. She thought about how it had felt anyway, and her eyes unaccountably began to leak salty wetness.

 

“He is pretty cute, huh?” Gladys said hopefully, ignoring the tears streaming down Kate’s cheeks.

 

“Yeah, I guess, though the term ‘cute’ isn’t usually used to describe to large predatory animals. Anyone who thinks a tiger is ‘cute’ may end up missing a hand or a foot.” Kate laughed at herself, and wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. After she got over the first shock, Kate studied the picture more carefully. Gareth with his arm around Gladys’ plump shoulder. He had to bend down slightly, to hug her. Kate was taller than Gladys, and Gareth was taller than Kate. He did bear quite a certain resemblance to Sherlock Holmes, she realized. Not the ski jump nose, Gareth’s was much more decisive. Not the receding hairline, that obviously hadn’t visited him yet. Not the blondish eyebrows, his were more like exclamation marks. But obviously the whole tall, angular super-strong body thing, the narrow squared off face and super-smart business, that was Holmsian.

 

“How tall is he, anyway?”

 

“6’3’‘ and ¼, but who’s counting, right? And that’s barefoot. If he wears shoes, even running shoes, he’s taller. Size twelve and a half custom made running shoes, if you’re buying him shoes. But I don’t think you can afford his running shoes on your salary.”

 

Well, the ‘fan club’ would know these things. Kate realized she had no room to talk about Gladys’ preoccupation with Gareth. She’d fondled the business card obsessively as any fan would. Kate noted Gareth was wearing one of the dress shirts, but no jacket. His badge was clipped to his belt. He wasn’t wearing a weapon. She now had a feeling she was seeing him the way he would normally work. So now she had a greater understanding of why he had a love-hate relationship with his weapon. Maybe he didn’t really like carrying a gun, it just ‘came with the job’. Finally she looked at his face. She’d put that off until last. She wasn’t sure she could cope with looking at him all that well. When his hair hadn’t been cut in a while, it was not only more unruly, it was lighter, bleached by sun or chlorine, over topping a wide, high forehead. Well that figured, he had brains to spare. He had the darker slashing brows, which were quite striking against his fair hair, flaring cheekbones setting off a long angular face, a wide sardonic mouth, a long straight nose, slightly ‘uneven’, as if it had been broken once or twice. A hard and piercing unapologetic gaze that looked ready for practically anything, including war. Of course, there were the ‘eyes’, electric blue smoke. They looked like they could burn you from a mile away.

 

“Impressive. I can see why he has a fan club. I’m thinking ‘Elf Lord’.”

 

“No magic staff. No enchanted blade. No longbow. No pointed ears. But close.”

 

“He does have a curious quality, even in a static printed picture. He looks like he’s about to walk right out of the picture.”

 

“Printed medium is unable to capture the intensity. Or are you suggesting he’s coming into our reality from another dimension? Don’t go all ‘Twilight Zone’ on me girl. He’s not a ‘regular human’, but he is ‘human’. Although, having met the man, you have to believe his energy edges into the ‘incredible’ now and then. Like he was drawing on an ‘unworldly’ power.” Gladys smiled. “But then, if he’s drawing on God’s power, that is fairly ‘supernatural’, isn’t it?”

 

Kate sighed over the picture, running her fingers over the edges.

 

“You’re going to steal my picture, aren’t you?”

 

“Thinking about it.” Kate said, smiling lopsidedly.

 

“Why salivate over the picture, when you can have the real deal? I hear he’s yours for the taking. Why don’t you go and ask your ‘yuppie prince’ some leading questions? For instance, you can certainly ask him if he could be happy for any considerable length of time, with a woman like you. I think you’ll be surprised by his answer.”

 

“I’m sure he’ll say we’re compatible. Isn’t that what men always say, in the early stages? How can I possibly believe him?”

 

“If he tells you the two of you have a future together, maybe you should listen. I don’t think he’s the type to run out on his promises.” Kate didn’t really think so either. The man was rock-solid, in an annoying, uncompromising, ‘rock like’ sort of way. But Kate had no desire to chain a man like that to her side, if he would be happier elsewhere.

 

Kate looked at the picture again, one last time, to see if she’d missed anything. The two people in the picture obviously liked each other a great deal. They weren’t exactly grinning, but ‘beaming’ might have been a good way to put it. Clearly a lot of love and deep friendship, not the romantic kind, the other kind. Gladys loved him for the kind of person he was, she held him in high regard. Perhaps a little bit of hero worship. He was not too proud to let someone take their picture with him. He clearly liked being loved by his friends. Then suddenly, Kate remembered something else Gladys had said. Her face knotted in a frown, her stomach became uneasy, like the ground was shifting beneath her feet.

 

“What did you mean by Gareth ‘might not be around too long’? Do you mean he’s going back to Washington?”

 

Gladys didn’t answer the question, only shaking her head. “Very funny. I’d like to be able to say I knew him. I’m proud to have known him. Now give me my picture back.”

 

Kate then had the horrible realization of what Gladys had actually meant. She meant she feared he wouldn’t live too much longer. She believed she’d outlive Gareth, long enough to regret his passing. So she’d decided she wanted a picture of him, as a ‘keepsake’, while she could still get one. While he was still alive.

 

“Gladys.” Kate said, appalled. She had no doubt that she’d blanched white as a sheet, she could almost feel the ground coming up at her. Gladys apparently read her reaction correctly. She gave a heavy sigh and grabbed Kate’s elbow.

 

“Look, this can’t be the first time this has occurred to you. He almost didn’t make it today. There’s something about the way he conducts business that draws trouble. He just doesn’t seem to care. He’s like a chunk of glass hurtling at a stone wall, I’m sure he’ll make a dent when he hits, but he’ll shatter, just the same.” Kate could picture that, glowing shards of glass. Deep blue, she thought. That was all that would be left.

 

“OK. I get your point.” Kate settled more firmly on her feet and Gladys let go of her elbow. “Life is temporary, and some people are more temporary than others.”

 

“My picture…..?” Gladys prompted.

 

Kate sighed and handed the picture back, reluctantly.

 

“Well, what do you think of him?”

 

“He is kind of gorgeous, isn’t he?” He was a wonderful looking man, not only handsome, but kind looking. Gladys nodded, smiling almost sadly, as if Kate had never stood a chance once she met him. “Used to be devastating, and will undoubtedly make the girl’s hearts go pitter-patter again, as soon as they patch him together.”

 

“I’m finding this difficult. The whole scenario. His wealth, his power, his…..”

 

“Endangered Status?” Gladys provided helpfully. “It’s difficult to hate a man who’s so willing to give up his life for his country. But unfortunately, the ‘bad guys’ seem all too aware that once Mr. McFadyn has taken up the gauntlet, the only way to stop him, is to kill him. And they’d like to stop him. He’s making them very uncomfortable. Which brings me to the warning label on our Mr. McFadyn. Can you deal with it if something happens to him? If he came close today…..then tomorrow…..”

 

“Gladys please don’t say that.” Kate covered her eyes with her hands.

 

“If you can’t even think about it, what are you going to do if something happens to him? I don’t think you’ll ever lose him to another woman. But you might lose him in a much more final way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you don’t give your heart over, he’s well worth the risk, but you have to be prepared. He’s not immortal, even if acts like he is. Only you can figure out if you’re made of stern enough stuff to handle a man who is not only an active FBI agent, but one who hunts spies, terrorists, and rotten apples. All the time.”

 

“I suppose he does have a little bit of a target on him.”

 

“He’s very good at what he does, and he’s getting in their way. Just as he’s supposed to”

 

“So I guess you’re saying I should be proud of him instead of worrying about him.”

 

“What you have to do, is look at the world the way he sees it, and not focus on your fear of losing him.” If she walked a mile in Gareth’s shoes, would she be as fearless as he seemed to be?

 

“That sounds like it’s easier said, than done.”

 

“But he must have some faith in your ability to cope with the situation. If he thought you were a wilting flower, he wouldn’t have been so excited to find you. Besides asking me to help you, he had a few other glowing words to apply. ‘Beautiful’, ‘smart’, ‘kind’, ‘funny’ and ‘resilient’. It’s that last you should take note of.”

 

“I didn’t hear him say any of those things when he was on the phone.”

 

“Apparently, he was still coherent enough on the helicopter to borrow the medic’s phone. He also gave the dispatcher a few choice morsels. He remembered the milepost marker and they went out and searched the site. The Kansas State Police found a large amount of blood. But no body. Even so, it’s best to assume this case just amped up another notch.”

 

Kate felt as if someone had walloped her in the stomach. “That poor man,” she choked out. “his poor family.”

 

“You’re an intelligent woman, Kate, but you’re resisting recognizing the need for security. You want this romance consuming you and McFadyn to take place in a ‘nice secure world’, maybe some thing like it was back in high school. This is not that world. You know from what you saw today that this is real, and people do get killed, and rather often at that. You’re going to have to steal what pleasure you can in between the dangerous parts, and always watch your back. There’s a time and a place to relax, but this isn’t it.”

 

“We have to be wise as serpents…..well maybe a little wiser than serpents.”

 

“Exactly. Agent McFadyn relies on the judicious use of caution. We can’t treat this like a walk in the park, because it isn’t. And I’m taking his evaluation of you to be word of truth. I’m trusting you to use your common sense. He said I could trust you. He said you’d always try to do your best, even if things became…..difficult.” Kate’s eyes widened at the amount of responsibility being laid at her door.

 

“Do you disagree with his assessment of you? People pay him money to hire employees, and he has a pretty sharp eye for talent. Do you think he was wrong in your case?”

 

How was she supposed to answer that? Trick question. Kate sighed and shook her head.

 

“So. That means we can trust you. You’ll be the messenger. You’re below the radar, obviously just some ‘lovesick girl’…..”

 

Kate sighed. “I suppose I resemble that remark. I’m hardly a ‘girl’ any more, but the ‘lovesick’ part might be true. Although I don’t see how it can be love. I haven’t known him long enough to love him. It must just be some overwhelming…..infatuation.”

 

“You wish.” said Gladys, mysteriously. “You can recover from an infatuation.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody can fall in love in an hour.” Kate’s mind ran straight backwards to the first five minutes she’d known Agent McFadyn, then farther still, until she remembered the exact moment she had looked into his eyes. That would have been the first thirty seconds she knew him, the first ten seconds. That would have been, and should have been, instant, spontaneous, combustion. Kate inhaled sharply with the realization. It couldn’t be. If it wasn’t love, what was it?”

 

“That quickly, eh?” Gladys chuckled. “Well, stranger things have happened. As I was saying, an attractive woman visiting him is no big deal, the way they look at it, hardly a ripple on the pond. They’ll be sure he’s just trying to chat you into bed and they’ll most likely believe that’s all there is to it.”

 

“All right, I’ll be the ‘messenger’. Which sounds very sophisticated, but really what you mean is I’m just some glorified ‘gopher’.”

 

“And I’m some glorified ‘file clerk’ and McFadyn is some glorified computer dweebezoid. But you go on feeling sorry for yourself. Instead of considering yourself lucky to be alive, in love, and doing something fascinating, as well as patriotic. I wouldn’t want to spoil your pity party. Maybe you’ll sit by the side of the road moaning and groaning as life passes you by. Maybe that’s all you’re good at, because that’s all you’ve ever done. Or…..you could try something different.”

 

“As I was saying.” Kate fixed Gladys with a glare. “I’ll try to keep the mushy ‘love sickness’ to a minimum. I’ll consider handing him my heart on a platter. And I’ll try not to self destruct if somebody destroys him.”

 

Gladys didn’t look terribly convinced but she pasted on a cheery smile anyway. “Good. Just remember, Six Impossible things before breakfast. You can do it. I know you can.”

 

“I’m not feeling sorry for myself.” Kate resisted an urge to stamp her foot.

 

“Self-pity doesn’t become you, but I’m sure you’ll figure that out for yourself, one of these days.”

 

Gladys was actually laughing at her. The woman had a lot of nerve. “Any further instructions…..‘Field Marshal’ Montgomery?”

 

Gladys looked sympathetic, but unyielding. “Sorry to be so rough on you Kate, but I try to tell it like I see it. We’ll talk when you get back.”

 

Ms. Montgomery turned into the hospital cafeteria, and Kate continued on her way, alone. She made her way to the elevators, went up three floors, and down a very long hallway. She was about to cruise right past the nurse’s station when the nearest nurse, a pretty woman with dark hair pulled severely back, stopped her.

 

“Excuse me, Miss. You can’t go down that way. We’ve got it cordoned off, for security purposes.”

 

Kate was fairly sure she knew ‘what’, or rather ‘who’ was the source of the security issue.

 

“You’re talking about Agent McFadyn. I’m actually here to see him. He’s expecting me.”

 

The woman looked flustered. “Just a minute. Let me call down to the front desk.”

 

Kate tried to be patient, but by now the strain of the day was causing her to sway on her feet. The woman nodded several times and then looked at Kate quite directly.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Kate Greenwood.”

 

“Show me some ID.”

 

Kate reluctantly got out her wallet and flipped it open. “All right.” the nurse said, finally. “You can go ahead. But be sure and let me know on your way out. We have to keep close track of everyone entering or leaving that area.” She fixed Kate with what seemed to be a disapproving stare. Kate had a quick flicker of thought, wondering whether the nurse disapproved of anyone entering the forbidden area, or whether she disapproved of women going to see Gareth McFadyn. Running the gauntlet wasn’t quite finished however. Outside Gareth’s door, an armed guard sat on an uncomfortable looking chair, reading a magazine. He looked up when Kate approached, going from bored to displeased in half a heartbeat. He came to his feet, a disagreeable frown telling Kate her presence wasn’t exactly welcome. Undaunted, Kate reached for her purse. This time she’d be prepared, she’d have her identification ready.

 

“Just a moment, I’ve got my ID right here.”

 

“I’m afraid you’ll have to do better than that. After you tell me who you are, you’ll have to hand over the purse, and anything else you’re carrying. Kate wasn’t carrying anything else. “And then I’ll have to search you.”

 

“Wow,” Kate said, “just like in the movies. How did I get so lucky?”

 

Before either of them could make a move to resolve the issue, there was something amazingly like a bellow from inside the room. Kate now noticed the door was slightly ajar.

 

“Officer Barnhald!” The man obediently went in through the door, and closed it behind him. Less than half a minute later he came out again.

 

“He says you can go in.” The man now seemed only little disgruntled. “But I’ll keep the purse.”

 

“Fine.” Kate said, handing it over. It was a small price to pay.

 

Kate walked into the room. She was so mesmerized by the sight of the formerly handsome man whose face was now completely and utterly disfigured by the aftermath of his morning’s activities, that she failed to notice, for about thirty seconds, that there was absolutely no place to sit.

 

It was a big room, as hospital rooms go, probably at least fifteen feet on a side. There was a beautiful view of city lights out the window. There was a door presumably to a bathroom, in one corner. In that whole, and probably hideously expensive, space, the only item other than the inevitable crash cart, was Gareth’s hospital bed. There was nothing remotely resembling a chair.

 

“Welcome to my abode.” he laughed. “Don’t you just love the furniture?”

 

“Yeah, and your butler’s great too.”

 

“I told him his bedside manner needed a bit of polishing. We’ll see if he listened.”

 

“I was surprised to hear you yell at him like that. You’re usually so soft-spoken,” Kate glanced at him to see how he was going to take the rest, “even when you’re mad.”

 

“Anyone who says I’m a ‘nice guy’ is a liar, and that includes Gladys. I have my nastier side. But in Officer Barnhald’s case, he’s hard of hearing on top of being ‘dense’. So whispering is definitely out of the question.”

 

She looked at him. He was sitting up in bed, no shirt because he was wearing a sling on the left arm. His face looked like he had run full tilt into a wall. Lots of purple. Quite a few stitches. And she’d been right, his eyes were nearly swollen shut. But what remained of his eyes glinted sharply, shining, not defeated. And, oddly for a man in his situation, he was smiling.

 

“How are you?” Kate’s voice threatened to fail her.

 

“I’ve been better.”

 

“Yes, I can see that.” Kate felt the tears start to slide out the side of her eyes, despite telling herself not to cry. Her eyes weren’t listening. They were doing their own thing.

 

“Gladys said I wasn’t to get mushy. Or maybe she said I was supposed to get mushy, I’m not sure. But in any case, I seem to be getting that way.” Kate took a swipe at the traitorous eyes. Soon she was going to need a tissue.

 

“Come and sit on the bed,” he said, patting the space beside him, “since they don’t seem to have provided us with a visitor’s chair.”

 

“Dear Mr. McFadyn, I don’t think I know you that well just yet. Someday, maybe, we’ll share sheets or a toothbrush, but I’m not quite ready.”

 

“Ah, the blushing maiden.” He nodded sagely.

 

“Well, not quite. If I were a true ‘innocent’ I’d be less skeptical than I am. As it is, it’s because I’ve been burned a few times that I’m so I’m highly suspicious. I do owe you a ‘thank you’, though,” Kate’s demeanor softened, remembering all that he’d done for her. “For saving me.”

 

“Not sure who I’m supposed to have saved you from.”

 

“For starters, homicidal Kansas yokels.”

 

“Colorado yokels, as it turns out. But you’re welcome. Of course you wouldn’t have been in danger to begin with, if you’d left me beside the road like I told you to do.”

 

“What! And miss that exciting car chase?”

 

“Yes. And that no doubt exciting afternoon spent being interrogated by the local bureaucratic fiends. Gladys just texted me and told me that they kept you over three hours and didn’t bother to feed you anything. Why didn’t you contact Gladys sooner? If you’d threatened to lawyer up, I’m sure they would have let you go a lot earlier. There’s nothing like the fear of an expensive suit to hurry things up.”

 

“You also saved me from the man who stares at his fingernails, whether you know it or not. Even the mighty fearsome Gillespie is somewhat in awe of you, and he let me go sooner than he would have liked. I heard him muttering something about ‘The colossal pain from back East is going to make our lives miserable if we don’t cut her loose soon’ I assume the ‘colossal pain from back East’ would be you? Was I wrong?”

 

“Ah.” he said regretfully, running the fingers of his good hand over his eyes. “Yes, I guess that does describe me pretty well. “So, your famous intuition told you they were talking about me, did it?”

 

“Not so much. No one ever seems to talk about much of anyone except you. There’s everyone else, and then there’s ‘he said’, ‘he did’, ‘do you hear what he’s done now?’ and so forth. Pretty much if they’re talking about someone without using a name, it’s you. You or Donovan. And Donovan’s not from ‘back East’, at least at this point. So it had to be you.”

 

“I see. Process of elimination. That would be ‘logic’ then. I’m impressed. I don’t suppose ‘logic’ would also tell you that you might as well sit on the bed, since there are no chairs.”

 

“Nonsense. How do I know you didn’t pay extra for a room without chairs, just so that you could get me to sit on the bed? Gladys told me everyone would think you were trying to talk me into bed, and here you are trying to do that very thing. I am reminded of Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.”

 

“I am not that big. And really not that ‘bad’, either.”

 

“May I point out, that is exactly what the wolf would say.”

 

“So Gladys actually said everyone would think I was trying to talk you into bed?”

 

“That was supposed to be my ‘cover’. But you didn’t have to take it so literally.”

 

“Well at least come over here, closer, so I can see you. My vision used to be better than 20/20, but that was before somebody hit me in the face. Right now you’re a pleasant blur.”

 

“Obviously you’ve figured out what a sucker I am for ‘please’, now you don’t even have to say it, just act like you’re about to say it.” She wandered closer. Into the danger zone she thought.

 

She got close enough to look into his face. A mistake, as usual. She wanted to fall into the beautiful sad, hopeful eyes. How did he always manage to do that to her? Touching him would be ‘inappropriate’ in the best of times, but now it looked like wherever she touched him, she would also hurt him.

 

“Come closer.” He said it so softly, never breaking eye contact. Kate took another step. “I realize I probably smell like antiseptic and medicine, and I know that isn’t pleasant,”

 

Actually, Kate was thinking completely different thoughts. She was thinking that since the medical staff had done such an excellent job of cleaning him, he was probably just about clean enough to eat off of, a golden brown shoulder here, a golden brown throat there, a golden chin, now growing a bit of stubble, a golden hand. There was a lot of tasty bits of skin showing, she’d just have to avoid the bruised parts. Next, she realized if she wanted to kiss him when he was clean, and if she’d been willing to kiss him when he was covered in blood with a little smattering of dirt, she must be pretty much willing and eager to kiss him at anytime. This was an ‘epiphany’. But disturbing.

 

“Kate you have the oddest look on your face. I want you to know. I won’t be upset if you touch me.”

 

Kate was afraid that she might be very ‘upset’, if she touched him.

 

“I don’t think that would be, advisable.” Kate said, taking a small step backward.

 

“I won’t break, I’m not in the least bit ‘delicate’. You’re almost as squeamish as my silly sister Allie.”

 

“And what makes you think that I was thinking about…..‘touching you’, anyway?”

 

Actually she’d been thinking about eating him, which was probably a little bit worse. He wasn’t dark enough for gingerbread, maybe about the color of an almond cookie. Kate really liked almond cookies, could never get quite enough of them.

 

“I don’t know. I was feeling a bit like a piece of tuna in front of the cat. Although, it was kind of a pleasant sensation.”

 

“McFadyn, I can’t come one inch nearer to you without coming apart at the seams…..or unzipped…..or falling to pieces or…..whatever. And I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to be one bit more emotionally involved with you than I already am. Not only did I find out who you really are, and I made Gladys tell me, so don’t go blaming her, but she also told me you’re likely to end up in a body bag.”

 

“You’re certainly a ‘moody’ little thing. One minute you’re ready to eat me up and the next…..you’re coming ‘unglued’, I think that’s the term you were searching for. But it’s good to know you have something feisty to balance your ‘softer’ side.”

 

“You’re not taking me seriously”

 

“I hate to ruin your scenario, but although it’s nice that you’re worried about me, Thompson really wasn’t kidding, I’ve had sports injuries worse than this. Nothing to fret about, I’ll mend.”

 

“Don’t you dare ‘dummy up’ on me. I know how smart you really are. What I’m talking about is the fact that someone, or maybe several someones, would like to put a fat bullet in your head.”

 

Gareth stared at her silently for a few moments, the fingers of both hands rolling the edge of the bed sheet. She had no doubt that despite being drugged and injured, he then would marshal an excellent counterargument. Perhaps he shouldn’t have let it slip about being on the debate team.

 

“So I guess I can’t fool you into believing today was a fluke and this sort of thing hardly ever happens to me. Sort of a cosmic joke. A once in a lifetime ‘bad hair’ day?”

 

“No, the car window exploding kind of ruined the dream that I was living beyond the rainbow. And then when you collapsed from lack of blood, I didn’t find that too funny at all. Worrying about spies listening to every word isn’t amusing. Speaking of which, has this room been debugged?”

 

Gareth smiled. “I can see you’re going to fit right in.”

 

“Oh I’m sure I can be as fruit loop paranoid as all the rest of you. But the point isn’t whether I’d make a decent ‘operative’, the point is whether I even want to be involved in any of this. Don’t I get to choose? I feel like I’ve been drafted into an unseen army.”

 

Gareth lifted an eyebrow, and with it a row of black stitches, making him look piratical. “Maybe you have. Maybe God has chosen you to stand up and be counted, as of today. None of us really choose the situations we find ourselves in, we only choose how we act once we’re there.”

 

“Then I do have a choice.”

 

He nodded solemnly. “A very narrow one. You can stay, or you can go. If you stay, it includes all of this…..uncertainty. If you go…..I might never see you again. I likely don’t need to tell you which I’d prefer. I can’t physically stop you from leaving Denver. You can’t expect me to let go of what I feel about you without a fight. I just refuse to pretend that meeting you was nothing more than a fortuitous ‘accident’, that God handed both of us an empty promise. Finding you has meant…..achieving my heart’s desire. If you don’t feel any thing for me…..why were you crying, out there in that field, and just now? The agents who saw you crying over me thought it was ‘funny’. I thought it was wonderful. I can’t remember the last time anyone cried for me. Are you going to stand there and tell me that I mean jack squat to you?”

 

Kate wiped the back of her hand across her teary eyes. “Gladys mentioned how it’s difficult to hate a man who’s so willing to die for his country. I don’t find fault with your patriotism. But as a woman…..I’m getting the feeling you might prefer to die, and that scares the living daylights out of me. I don’t want to care about you any more than I already do.”

 

He smiled, in his ruin of a face. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to give me ‘more to live for’ then.”

 

Kate shook her head. “Your resiliency amazes me, Agent McFadyn. In your shoes I doubt if I’d be smiling for a while. And I’d like say you ‘clean up really well’, but the truth is, you look worse than you did earlier. Like the train wreck finally caught up with you.”

 

“Are you going to forgive me for not telling you about my family? I take some encouragement from the fact you haven’t already left town.”

 

“You thought I’d leave without seeing how you were? You seem to have a lot of faith in God, but not so much in me. You thought I’d just run off and just leave you?”

 

“You said it yourself, you’re scared enough to run. I knew you might…..But I was hoping you wouldn’t…..And if someone left you, which I can’t imagine, how much likelier is it someone would leave me? I actually deserve to be left.” Kate stared at him. What an odd thing to say. How could a person who had the world at their fingertips be so torn up and uncertain inside?

 

“Whatever personal demons you may have Mr. McFadyn, they sound like they’re far beyond my ability to heal. It seems to me you might consider going back to those psychiatrists of yours. Get a good one this time.”

 

“I’ve been to three good psychiatrists, and several bad ones. But there are some things I’ve never told my psychiatrists. I’ve told God, and I might tell you. But I’m far from sure that what’s wrong with me can be mended.” He’d told God, and he might tell her? That would put Kate in a rather privileged class.

 

“Remember the Arabian Nights? Scheherazade entrapped the Sultan with his own curiosity. He couldn’t bear to have her executed, until he heard the end of the story she was telling.”

 

Gareth smiled. “You think I’m ‘entrapping’ you in my story?” He seemed amused.

 

“I think you already have. I already want to find out what happens next.”

 

“Then I guess if you want to see how it turns out, you’ll have to hang around for a while.”

 

Kate sighed heavily. “I don’t see how I can.”

 

“Kate.” He pronounced her name with his distinctive deep, breathy, and resonant voice, the voice that made little chills run up the back of her neck and her breath catch in her throat. He was looking at her expectantly. Her pulse was undeniably hammering. Gareth for once looked quite happy, and distantly, Kate experienced a small thrill of power to think that she was the one who could make him happy.

 

“Tell me you didn’t enjoy it when I kissed you.”

 

“That’s not a fair test. You sort of sprung it on me. It’s not like I asked you to do it.”

 

“Then tell me you wouldn’t like me to kiss you again.”

 

“That doesn’t mean anything. So I’m attracted to you, so what?”

 

“If my being in control bothers you, I’d be happy to let you kiss me, any time you want.”

 

“Even if I am attracted to you, it’s not like it means anything. Maybe I’m attracted to practically everybody. Maybe I’m attracted to some man six times a day.”

 

“Are you?” He lifted the eyebrow, darker than sunlit brown hair, and the line of black stitches. It was a little comical, being questioned by a pirate, but his tone was serious. Why not, she’d just claimed to be a nymphomaniac. Maybe he thought she was. It wasn’t true, though. Kate was rarely attracted to anyone, and those few who did earn her interest tended to be men she regarded as ‘special’ in some way. Very few in the five years since her divorce. And no one had ever managed to make a first impression anything like the bruised and battered man sitting in front of her in the hospital bed. A twenty-first century knight. No one would ever again take hold of her imagination quite as he had.

 

“You’re not real.” Kate buried her face in her hands. “You’re a fairy tale person. I made you up.” She raised her head and he was still there, sitting up in the bed, looking at her.

 

“I don’t think this happens every day,” he said softly. “but if you’re worried about about doing the right thing, why don’t you pray, and see what God tells you to do about all of this?”

 

“I should leave Denver, and you should let me.”

 

“That sounds like Kate talking, not God.”

 

“I don’t care, it’s the only sensible thing to do.”

 

“If you think I’m going to give you up this easily, you don’t know me at all.”

 

Gareth’s voice held a low simmer of heat, which Kate had never heard from him before. Well, maybe once, when he quietly threatened Donovan. Kate reminded herself that, people rarely opposed Gareth, and there was a reason for that. He seemed to take careful note when she drew away from him. Unlike really stupid men, the kind who would have gotten angry at that point, and driven her out of the room by yelling at her, Gareth paused to consider. To him, this was probably another chess game, and he was used to winning. She knew he was still trying to figure her out.

 

“So money turns you off. And power turns you off. But I turn you on. Has it occurred to you maybe that’s because I’m not about money and power?”

 

“How could you not be?”

 

“I’m not my father.”

 

“I hope that’s true.”

 

“You know I meant what I said about wanting to start with a clean slate with you. I’m not all that surprised you’ve never heard of me, I’m only slightly famous, and that by virtue of being my father’s son. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I tell people that I’m not influenced by him, they don’t believe me. So I guess I’ll just have to convince you, by doing the right thing, for a long time. Maybe someday you’ll trust me. But in the meantime…..I need your help.”

 

So, that was the ploy, was it? Even though Kate knew Drew might be using her desire to be useful to draw her back, she instinctively moved towards him. Just because she knew he was doing it, didn’t mean it wasn’t going to work.

 

“I thought you and Gladys might be able to do something for me tomorrow.”

 

“I think I understand why you trust Gladys, but I have no idea why you would trust me.”

 

“I know for sure you’re not a foreign operative. What spy worth their chops would carry a Minnie Mouse purse?” He sighed. “If you’d been sent to seduce me, you would have fiercely kissed me back, instead of sitting there like you’d been poleaxed. If you want an explanation, it’s that I like you, which means I end up telling you a lot more than I should, more than I intend to.”

 

“I need to be headed for Washington soon, unless I’m going to call ahead and use the excuse of ‘car trouble’.”

 

“Don’t worry. I’m only going to need your help tomorrow. I’m hoping I’ll be back on my feet after that. And I’m arranging for you to fly out tomorrow evening.”

 

“I don’t see how I can be of any assistance. I’m totally out of my depth. The espionage business is something I’m not even remotely qualified for. I have no idea what you people are doing.”

 

“I realize you’re inexperienced at all of this, but Gladys is a pro, and she’ll be doing most of of what needs to be done. I don’t want either of you doing this kind of work alone. There’s no telling what you’ll be walking into. It’s a lot safer for two, than for one. I keep thinking that if I’d been with Leon Foster, he might still be alive.” Which would have made Gareth, Leon Foster’s ‘bodyguard’, as Gladys would be hers. But there was just one possibility Gareth had failed to consider. If he’d been with Leon, he might have ended up dead right alongside Leon.

 

“Tomorrow morning, I’d like the two of you to go a few places, look for the missing evidence. And someone has to go and see my informant’s wife for me…..if you’re up for that. I know its going to be unpleasant, talking to Mrs. Foster, but the sooner we find out what she knows, the more likely we are to find out what Leon was trying to pass on to me. I have to believe the evidence is still out there somewhere. If we can find it, at least my source won’t have died for nothing.”

 

“And if we find it…..?”

 

“I have some other people I can trust flying in tomorrow. You and Gladys can give it to them. The chain of evidence will be unbroken, and whatever the evidence is, it can be examined back in Washington just as easily as it could be here. And with less to worry about, security wise.”

 

“I’m thinking it might be maps and schematics of secure areas. I imagine terrorists would pay a lot for those.”

 

Gareth frowned. “OK. I’ll play along. Why do you think that?”

 

“Process of elimination. The same reason you believe someone in the Denver Office sold you out. It wasn’t Leon’s family, so…..”

 

“It was someone on our end.”

 

“And not Donovan. Much as I’d love it to be him, he seemed surprised about who you were out there to see. So unless he’s a really good actor, which he doesn’t seem to be,”

 

“Then it wasn’t him. Although he’s dense enough for intel to have been stolen from right under his nose.”

 

Someone knocked on the door. Kate moved away from Gareth with a guilty start. She hadn’t been touching him, but she’d been standing very close. A nurse came in with a tray, a little cup of water and an even smaller paper cup with pills in it.

 

“Here you go.” she said cheerfully.

 

Gareth looked at the woman suspiciously.

 

“I told them no pain pills.”

 

“You’re really should have taken some of those. You’ve just had surgery. You’d sleep much better.”

 

“Are there, or are there not, pain pills in this lot?”

 

“No.” the nurse said, smiling. “No pain pills.”

 

“Good.” he said, swallowing the pills. “So these would be antibiotics and…..”

 

“Something to help you relax. You need your rest.” She smiled pleasantly, fluffed his pillows, turned and walked out of the room.

 

“Garbage.” he said, “She snuck in some sleeping pills.”

 

“Well, you asked about ‘pain’ pills,” Kate tried not to laugh “not about ‘sleeping’ pills.”

 

“You know what this means, don’t you?”

 

“That you’ll fall sleep?”

 

“I could always stick my finger down my throat.”

 

“That would be childish. You probably need the antibiotics.”

 

“Right, then we need to talk fast.”

 

“You didn’t tell me you’d had surgery.”

 

“A muscle tore loose when I dislocated the shoulder. No big deal. They had to reattach it.”

 

“No big deal.” Kate repeated. “Why didn’t you want any pain pills?”

 

“If I’m unconscious I can’t deal with any of these problems. What to do about my informant’s death. What to do about you leaving. When I’m unconscious, I’m a big fat zero in the cosmic equation”

 

“Always on guard. Think the world can’t rotate without you. What about God? Don’t you think He’s capable of watching over you?”

 

“I just want to make sure if anybody gets in here, I’ll get a piece of them before they can do anything else to me. I’m exercising my option for ‘payback.’”

 

“Hyper-vigilant.” Kate murmured.

 

“I refuse to admit it.”

 

“So tell me about your injuries. You had a dislocated shoulder, cracked ribs, the gash on your upper arm. The cuts on your face. What else?”

 

“Cracked collarbone. Mild concussion, nothing serious, they’re not worried about me going to sleep or anything. They scanned my brain, it’s just in it’s normal mess.”

 

“Yes, I’m sure it takes a really ‘messy’ brain to get through MIT.”

 

“Various bruises and contusions. And they so graciously re-added a couple of pints of blood. I think that’s about it.”

 

“A couple of ‘pints’ of blood? No wonder you fell down. RoboCop without hydraulic fluid. How many stitches have you got?”

 

“Twelve above one eye and eight below the other eye. More than thirty on the upper arm. I don’t know what they did to my shoulder. They repaired a torn muscle back there somewhere. But I can’t see it without a mirror. Probably pasted it together with super glue. I’ve heard that’s what they do sometimes. But you should disregard a lot of what you hear. That’s what I hear.” He started laughing, then closed his eyes against the pain the laughter caused him.

 

“I think they gave you more than sleeping pills. I think they gave you ‘silly pills’.”

 

His laughter subsided into a sigh. “That’s possible. Kate, please don’t go. Don’t go to Washington, at least until I get another chance to talk to you.”

 

“I really should get on the road as soon as possible.”

 

“I can’t go to sleep if I don’t know for sure you’re coming back here tomorrow.”

 

“Oh, Yeah? Who’s gonna stop me, Mr. G’ Man? What would you do?”

 

“Hunt you down, put you in a box, and tie it up with a bow.”

 

There must have been something peculiar in the medication because Gareth’s answers were more fanciful than usual. His eyes were beginning to close, she noticed.

 

“So what are you going to do, try to stay awake until I agree? That might take all night.”

 

“I’ll go to sleep, but only if you’ll promise to come back in the morning.”

 

“OK. I promise. I’ll call my job in DC. And I’ll tell them…..I had car trouble.”

 

“What, they didn’t fix your car yet?” He looked annoyed and sleepy at the same time and tried to sit up in bed.

 

“Don’t worry, the mechanics fixed it. You can go to sleep.”

 

“You should tell your boss the truth.”

 

“Are you kidding? Tell her I was detained for questioning by the FBI? How is that going to sound?”

 

“The truth is always better.”

 

“Gareth, you’re a dreamer. Now go to sleep.”

 

He closed his eyes. “The most important thing is…..”

 

Kate leaned closer, expecting to hear something about the case. The most important thing is..…‘catching the bad guys’, ‘retrieving the evidence’, ‘vindicating Leon Foster’. She had to lean closer yet to hear, because now, not only were his eyes shut, he was mumbling a little incoherently.

 

“We’ve got to get one thing straight.”

 

“What’s that, tough guy?”

 

There was a long space while his half asleep brain tried to come up with the right answer.

 

“You can’t ever leave me.”

 

Kate suddenly wished she were an ‘ordinary’ woman, hearing such a profession from an ‘ordinary’ man. However, hearing it from someone like Gareth was just a tad bit frightening. Because there were aspects of Gareth that reminded her of the scarier types of angels. He was no one to take lightly, as Gladys had dutifully informed her. He came with a tremendous amount of baggage. Heavy stuff. It wasn’t unencumbered joy to hear that he now believed he couldn’t live without her. Flattering and inducing a touch of claustrophobia . Soon his breathing deepened. He was breathing through his mouth. His lips and his face were so swollen he couldn’t get his mouth to stay closed. Breathing through his mouth made him look much younger, rather childlike.

 

The man whose will labored to control everything, was no longer in control. He was reduced to a state of vulnerability, for once, he was like every other human being on the planet. Which made him much less forbidding than usual. More approachable. Kate crept closer, moving as silently as she could, small steps, like a mouse. Well, he’d said she could kiss him any time she wanted. He hadn’t specifically mentioned being being conscious. So she bent down and kissed him on the forehead, the only place on his face which looked like touching him wouldn’t hurt. He smiled without opening his eyes and turned slightly towards her. She kissed him once more for good measure, on the corner of his mouth, and then pulled away. For some reason, kissing Gareth made her feel warm and good.

 

“OK.” she told God, looking up at the ceiling, “I’ll come back in the morning. I’ll wait and see what all this means.” Kate stood up and looked down at Gareth, sleeping. Something very profound had just happened, but she wasn’t sure exactly what it was.

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https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06VXZL2JS

 

http://amzn.to/2mfXFk0

 

Defender Minibook Three Paperback:

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/152059898X

 

http://amzn.to/2lEYC92

 

Defender Minibook Four E-Book:

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06VXYCM3H

 

http://amzn.to/2kSvMgX

 

Defender Minibook Four Paperback:

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/152065345X

 

http://amzn.to/2m5MfA3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book One Chapter 1-2 Sampler

One lonely day in Kansas farm country, a passing college professor encounters her biggest “surprise package” ever, a too handsome, too intelligent, too faithful, battered and mangled FBI agent and his equally battered and mangled government issued car at the side of the road. Kate soon finds herself enmeshed with Agent Gareth's dark world of spies, terrorists, hackers and corrupt bureaucracies, and her planned road trip and career move ultimately derailed. However, in the middle of this unforeseen mess and intrigue, Kate and Gareth together discover their similarities, and not their starkly different class backgrounds and upbringings. Together, the unlikely pair discover a deep and lasting companionship, a binding faith in their God, a passion for fun and adventure, and more importantly than not, a burning will to survive against all odds, when the evil machinations of terrorist leader Klaus Vogle, along with bad office politics, and the unscrupulous scheming of Gareth's industrial tycoon father, Andrew McFadyn. Thus begins, the modern tale of a chivalrous knight, and his fair wise maiden. Follow agent Gareth “Dru” McFadyn and his “random” traveling companion, Kate Greenwood, on their odyssey of love, adventure, faith, morality, and patriotism. Follow them left, follow them right, follow them to heck and back, follow them to the end, and read this book. For once in your lifetime, take a risk and give it a shot, who knows, you might actually happen to like it. Defender is a gripping story that defies description and genres. This is my personal pledge for 10% of all proceeds from the sale of this book, I pledge 10% to the Janet C. Smyth Foundation Inc, with a twofold mission of funding ovarian cancer research and funding patient malpractice advocacy. Author Note: Double word errors now finally corrected (to the best of his ability), please keep looking if I missed any.

  • ISBN: 9781370169849
  • Author: Travis Salisbury
  • Published: 2017-03-18 10:05:13
  • Words: 43623
Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book One Chapter 1-2 Sampler Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book One Chapter 1-2 Sampler