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Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book Three Chapter 14-15 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 THREE

 

CHAPTER 14-15 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

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: A SHINING BLADE…..PAGE 3

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: BEVIES OF BARRISTERS, LEGIONS OF LITIGATORS…..PAGE 54

 

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: THE HIGH BLUE YONDER…..PAGE 90

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: LIGHTHOUSE AT LAND’S END…..PAGE 112

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: THE REFINER’S FIRE…..PAGE 140

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN: FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD….. PAGE 164

 

CHAPTER TWENTY: KNIGHT TAKES QUEEN…..PAGE 188

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME….. PAGE 213

 

EPILOGUE: RAINBOW’S END, THE POT OF GOLD…..PAGE 264

 

JANET’S OBITUARY…..PAGE 274

 

TRAVIS' PERSONAL PLEDGE FOR 10% OF THE PROCEEDS FROM THIS BOOK SALE, ALSO KNOWN AS TITHING:…..PAGE 278

 

STORY SYNAPSES…..PAGE 278

CHAPTER FOURTEEN:

A SHINING BLADE

 

The three of them trooped dutifully to the Aberdeen police station about ten o’clock the next morning. They’d had about six hours sleep. Everyone dragged themselves awake. Gareth had been up first, which was pretty typical, although Kate thought if she’d had a night like Gareth’s, she’d have slept about three days. Kate was the last to get up, as usual. Gladys was still drinking her tea in her robe, sitting at the table in the kitchenette. Gladys rose from the table with a smile and headed to the bathroom to get dressed, while Kate sat at the table and had her own tea and biscuits. Kate was also wearing a big fluffy robe, which she gathered about herself defensively. It didn’t seem quite fair Gareth was already dressed and waiting for them, though he didn’t say a word to hurry them along. He probably had quite a bit on his mind but it didn’t seem to be anything he wanted to share with anyone. He was not only fully dressed, but bandaged, which he’d done on his own, no longer needing their help. He was quiet and had on one of his non smiling expressions, but physically he only looked a little bit worse for wear. Gladys had then insisted on taking his temperature after the bath, and when it rose to a tenth of a degree below normal, Gladys had pronounced him ‘safe to sleep’ and toddled off to bed. Kate hadn’t had the heart to point out that Gareth always burned at a fever pitch. A tenth of a degree below anyone else’s normal was probably still a degree below ‘his’ normal. But he’d survived the night, and that was all that mattered. He was still pale, probably down a pint or two of blood. His nose, ears, and fingertips were red and chapped, like he’d received a bad windburn. In a day or two his skin might peel, but he seemed unconcerned. The abrasions, which had been more serious, had been bandaged the night before. Kate had no idea what they looked like this morning, but judging from the gash on his arm, which he’d left partially uncovered so that he could show it to the police, he was well on his way to recovery. The ripped skin was already closing on its own, the skin drawing shut. Just another example of Gareth’s ‘healing on overdrive’. If they waited a day or two more, the injury would look like something that had happened a week or two previously.

 

On this particular morning Gareth had bundled himself up in a khaki colored trench coat, which actually made him look something like a (perish the thought) spy. An under the weather spy, perhaps, but a spy nonetheless. The fact he was cold probably meant he wasn’t yet quite back to his usual self. His normal furnace wasn’t quite stoked. Somehow all three of them seemed under a pall. No one really wanted to discuss the previous night’s near disaster. Everyone wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened. They were quite silent in their taxi ride to the police station. Once they reached their destination, the three of them found themselves sitting on the police station’s hard wooden bench for a protracted period. It was taking a rather inordinately long time for anyone to come and speak to Gareth and take his statement. The three of them most likely struck the local police as your typical ‘tourists’. The police would figure she and Gareth were a couple, a little on the upscale side, but nothing too unusual. Gladys was probably an ‘aunt’, or an agent, or the business manager. The police probably thought Gareth had lost his wallet or been robbed. They were in no great hurry to deal with what they perceived to be a ‘trivial’ problem. At last Kate couldn’t stand it any more, her curiosity got the better of her.

 

“So let me get this straight,” she said. “You were in a knife fight, which you won, and then you were captured, tied up and they took you out to sea and threw you overboard.”

 

“Obviously if I’d ‘won’ the knife fight, I wouldn’t have gotten ‘captured’ as you put it, but essentially you’re correct.”

 

“So you lost the knife fight?”

 

“I didn’t exactly ‘lose’ it, either. I took two, maybe three of them out.”

 

Took them ‘out’. Not as in ‘out to lunch’, Kate gathered. She noticed Gareth didn’t quite look at her. She felt like a teacher who’d caught a student cutting class.

 

“You mean, you killed them,” she said bluntly. “How do you know for sure they’re dead?” Kate had heard of many non-fatal knife injuries.

 

“I’m pretty sure. Eighty to ninety percent. No, make that ninety-five percent.”

 

Now he didn’t sound so guilty, more coolly analytical, like he was visualizing dead bodies in his mind. But had distanced himself from the actual killing. There was only one way Kate could think of that he would be so sure his targets were dead. If he’d been trained not to ‘wound’, but to ‘kill’.

 

“Percentages? Like ‘confirmed kills’? Another gift from your friends in the SEALS, I presume. And why aren’t you sure of the third fatality?”

 

“I think I nicked an artery. It depends on how quickly they got to it whether it turned out to be fatal or not.”

 

Gareth said it like he was referring to adeptly carving a turkey. Maybe that was the way he looked at it. This time when he looked in her direction he made eye contact for a moment, but he looked bleak. As if he were hoping she’d accept him as he was, including the little foible of ‘killing people’. In self-defense she hoped. From the look of his body, she didn’t have much of any doubt his opponents had been ‘unfriendly’. Gladys jumped into the conversation, probably to break the tension.

 

“How did they get the jump on you?”

 

“They threw a cargo net over me. A nice heavy one. Didn’t see that one coming. Next time I’ll look up.” Gareth smiled his lopsided smile, the one he smiled when things weren’t really funny, but he was determined to see them that way.

 

“Who were these people?” Kate thought it would be pointless to report the attack unless Gareth had some clue as to who he had been mixing it up with.

 

“Dock workers.” he said cheerfully. “They seemed to take exception to the nature of my inquiries.”

 

“Generic dock workers, or a particular sort of dock workers?” Kate had a bit in her teeth, and was determined not to let it go. One of these days he would tell her what was actually going on. With Gareth, Kate always felt like she was playing ‘twenty questions’ and losing. He never told her any more that he absolutely had to.

 

“Very ‘generic’.” Gareth chuckled. That either meant he didn’t know their names, or it meant he had a pretty good idea who they were, but had no intention of sharing that information with ‘civilians’. Knowing Gareth, it was likely the latter.

 

“That’s all you’re going to tell us?” Kate was sure her voice squeaked with some frustration, two or three people likewise sitting on the police benches waiting, looked in her direction for a brief moment. Gareth was undaunted. He’d been questioned by experts and he wasn’t going to reveal any more than he wanted to.

 

“Well, I hope you at least got the info we came here to Scotland to get.” Kate was fuming.

 

Gareth gave her no more than a glance, nodded in such a curt way, she was unsure for a moment he’d answered in the affirmative. Kate closed her mouth. The most significant thing to happen all day, and Gareth indicated it with no more than a nod, in the middle of a crowded room. Kate glanced over at Gladys. Gladys had looked puzzled and then shrugged. Obviously, Gareth hadn’t quite taken Gladys into his confidence either, she was just as much in the dark as Kate. Equally obvious, was the fact McFadyn couldn’t tell them all that much more, until they were somewhere much more secure than the middle of a crowded police station. Finally their turn came. A pert young policewoman with dark hair quirked her finger at Gareth from across the room. Her well tailored skirted police suit made her look like a meter-maid, and she was clutching a clipboard. Gareth rose to his feet, and although he still seemed graceful to Kate, she could sense his weariness. The trench coat had come open while he leaned back against the bench, now he gathered it about him more tightly. It was chilly in the station, buildings in the British Isles seemed perpetually chill and dank. Kate told herself she should get used to Gareth looking chilled and weary from lack of blood, he apparently he experienced ‘sports injuries’ as frequently as she’d feared.

 

“What are you going to tell the police?”

 

“The same thing I told the two of you.”

 

“The abbreviated version of last night’s events?”

 

“More or less.” He smiled evasively.

 

“Isn’t there anyone around who…..” Kate swallowed, “has a high enough security clearance to hear the ‘unedited’ version? Someone who knows exactly why you’re really in this country? Someone who would understand why people might be trying to kill you? Someone who could help you?”

 

“If I told the police who is after me and why, I’d have to tell them everything. They might not agree with my ‘housecleaning’ procedures. In fact, I might find myself ‘detained’.”

 

Kate knew exactly how that felt. It wasn’t pleasant.

 

Gareth bent down and kissed the corner of her forehead, the way he did when he was serious or sad.

 

“So there’s no one here who can…..” Kate realized the word she should use was ‘debrief’, but she feared to use such a ‘loaded’ buzz word where 12 bystanders could likely hear the word that would instantly catch their attention. Much as if she’d said the word ‘spy’ in a reasonably loud voice.

 

Gareth sighed. “Someone’s supposed to be coming. We’ll see. I’m making this report more or less as a ‘courtesy’. Anytime now the local police may be discovering two or three ‘unaccounted for’ fatalities down by the waterfront, if they haven’t already. I’m just trying to make their paperwork a little easier.”

 

“You honestly expect them to believe a ‘normal’ American tourist fought and killed three armed attackers?”

 

“No, I expect them to think the thieves must have turned on each other after they nipped my wallet. Obviously I couldn’t have defended myself, I don’t have any weapons.”

 

“I see. You don’t have any weapons.”

 

“I certainly don’t now. Not that the supposed ‘victims’ of all this skullduggery are all that likely to be missed by the locals. I’m fairly sure my assailants would qualify as ‘items to be removed’ on either side of the Big Briny.”

 

“You won’t be taking up a collection for their widows and orphans, you mean. I’m sure you’ll tell the police, whatever you feel like telling them. They’ll believe your story or they won’t. I don’t imagine you’ll be telling them the complete truth any time soon.”

 

Her ineffectual complaints bounced off his tough hide and he smirked at her. Then he got off the bench to follow a policewoman who led him off down a hall filled with hard wooden cubicles, where another uniformed police officer no doubt waited to take his report. He was doing this alone, as usual. He seemed to walk most of the pathways in his life, alone. Did he ever succumb to loneliness, or was he somehow immune to that soul diminishing malady?

 

After he was out of earshot Kate turned to Gladys. “I really don’t know how he does that.”

 

“What, you mean the ‘sad, wistful, appealing as a little kid’, but ‘totally uncooperative’ thing?”

 

“No, I was thinking more of the ‘so tragic your heart aches for him ‘but ‘lethal enough to kill at a moment’s notice’ thing. You and Al both warned me, but…..”

 

“The reality surpasses your imagination?”

 

“You know Gladys, you’re the one who said he was just this ‘quiet professor guy’ you’ve known for years…..”

 

Gladys’ blue-gray eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth. “I never said he was ‘quiet’, but the rest of it’s true.”

 

“And I suppose the ‘triathlon training’ is just another ‘cover story’.”

 

“Oh, he’s been in a few. But does Gareth really seem like the sort of man who’d care if he wins races?”

 

Kate evinced a puzzled frown. Gladys was right of course. Gareth had been competitive with Donovan, and with his father, two men who Kate had observed trying to take him down a few notches. But as to the general run of humanity, he couldn’t seem to care less who ‘won’ anything. Which meant he wasn’t most people’s idea of a ‘competitive’ person. It was hard to imagine him spending a lot of time trying to win an event just for the sake of ‘winning’. But it was equally hard to imagine him killing anyone. And apparently he had. More than once.

 

“It’s hard for you to understand how the same man who’s ‘kind’ to you, could be deadly to someone else. But the medieval knights were exactly like that, weren’t they? Kind and courteous to their friends, defending the weak, protecting the widows and orphans, but terminally deadly to their enemies? In which category does Gareth not qualify?” With a sinking feeling Kate realized the manner of man Gladys had just described was precisely the masculine ideal of the chivalric middle ages. And Gareth matched the ideal almost perfectly.

 

“There is no predator on earth as dangerous as a human being, my dear. Top of the food chain.”

 

“I can accept that. But in Gareth that potential seems more highly developed. He seems worse that way than most people.”

 

“Way worse.” Gladys chuckled.

 

“The distance between his potential for good, and his potential for evil is.…. extreme.”

 

“Some people believe demons are merely angels who chose bad leadership. Angels who ‘fell’. Which would imply that every entity incorporates an equal capacity for good and for evil. However ‘Good’ Gareth is, he could be equally ‘Bad’. It’s his choice of leadership that makes the difference.”

 

“Yes, even Al is grateful he’s on our team, instead of playing for the other guys.”

 

“Unfortunately, the law of cosmic balance also seems to decree since Gareth is such a very capable ‘Good Guy’ he may draw to him a very capable ‘Bad Guy’, ‘equal and opposite’, you see. In fact, that’s what seems to have happened.”

 

“Ah yes, physics. Gareth is fond of invoking the laws of physics. For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.”

 

“True in physics and true in the spiritual realm as well.”

 

“But if good and evil are always in balance, what’s the use of fighting? Everything stays the same.”

 

Gladys turned to give Kate a particularly ‘Yoda’ look. “If you believe that.….do you really suppose if the ‘Good Guys’ stopped fighting we’d continue to have a ‘lovely and peaceful world’?”

 

“I suppose, everything we have, is bought with a price. I take it you’re not worried about Gareth getting pulled over into the ‘Dark’ side?”

 

“I don’t think he’s going to ‘fall’, no. Heroes generally get stronger as they get older, not weaker. It’s when they’re young that they’re vulnerable. Critical parents. Smashed dreams. Broken love affairs. Bad choices. Guilt. Anger. I thought Gareth was well past all that, but perhaps you know something I don’t.”

 

“I think he’s gotten past his worst temptations. Not necessarily the guilt. I wish I thought he was past his worst rage. I’m afraid that his anger will consume him. Plus I’m beginning to think he enjoys his ‘adrenaline lifestyle’.”

 

“It’s not revenge that consumes him, it’s clearing the pieces off the other side of the board. He wants to see empty space, ‘no threat’, and he’s fully willing and able to spend his own substance in order to accomplish that. He might be misguided, or used by others, but as to his own sentiments, I think they’re undeniably ‘noble’. He’s trying to protect those weaker than he is, and to make the world a safer place.”

 

“One man can’t do that.”

 

“It’s not me you have to convince, it’s him. He feels compelled to defeat chaos, in order to achieve peace and stability. He thinks its his ‘duty’. Although I’m sure there’s a part of him that would rather be in front of a computer at MIT. Is that where you wish he was? Somewhere safe? Then who do you suppose would go after Vogle? No, it’s quite clear he’s had some outside training in this area. McFadyn is not a civilian contractor. He’s very definitely military grade. You should probably judge him by those standards and not ‘suburban’ guidelines.”

 

“I’m not sure I can deal with this. His split personality, ‘dual nature’, whatever.”

 

“He is sort of wonderful in a horrible way, or maybe horrible in a wonderful way. I gather it’s disturbing you quite a lot.”

 

Kate lowered her voice to something just above a whisper. “Of course it is. Do you realize he’s admitted that he killed two people, or maybe three, just last night? He’s not sorry. We had breakfast with him this morning. We had breakfast with someone who killed people last night, and this morning doesn’t seem all that bothered by it.”

 

Gladys seemed amused. “You think he should show ‘repentance’ by skipping breakfast?”

 

Kate rubbed her forehead with her hands. “I don’t know. If it was me I’d have a hard time eating breakfast.”

 

“And you might also hesitate to kill someone, and they might kill you while you were hesitating. Now you can see why they don’t send someone with your ‘sensibilities’ to take down an enemy encampment. You would agonize over the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of every death, and sometimes there’s no time for conscience seeking in the midst of a battle. I think you’re still expecting Gareth to be ‘warm and fuzzy’. He’s anything but.”

 

No, Gareth wasn’t ‘warm and fuzzy’, Kate supposed ‘cold steel’ never was. She, like most Americans, had gotten used to a world where battles were fought ‘far away’, the critical details were ‘sanitized for public consumption’, and soldiers were ‘hometown boys’ who never did more than pass out gum. The reality was that America also possessed and commanded a ‘professional’ military who seemed somehow ‘invisible’. No one really wanted to acknowledge that the government paid large sums of money to a certain cadre of soldiers, those who were particularly well-trained for wiping out large numbers of enemies. Their job was to kill enemy humans. They were kept on an ‘on-call’ status, just in case the government decided that it had some ‘enemies’ that needed ‘killing’. Essentially quite the same function as Gareth. Also like Gareth, while wishing their professional killers didn’t exist, the country nevertheless depended upon them, to be both available…..and efficient. Inexplicably, the public was even ‘proud’ of it’s invisible soldiers. The elite military units were always the stuff of legend, and compared from country to country, much as if there were some sort of ‘Olympics Of Professional Killing’ and medals would be awarded. Americans were always sure ‘ours’ were in every way as good as ‘theirs’, and maybe even a little better. Maybe even as good as the Israelis, the Brits, and the Aussies. Yes, everyone was ‘proud’, but yet no one wanted to know exactly what sort of activities these ‘elite’ units engaged in. Certainly they didn’t want to know the nitty-gritty of how they accomplished their tasks. Disconnect.

 

Kate knew she was just as much of a hypocrite as everyone else. If someone had come up to her and said the words ‘killing people’, she would have answered ‘bad’ without hesitation. If that same person had said ‘enemies gone’, she would answered ‘good’, with equal facility. She might even have said ‘great’. Some enemies would not ‘go away’ unless you killed them. That was where people like Gareth came in. That was just exactly where he came in. No wonder Al and Gareth thought civilian thinking to be ‘naïve’. The professional elite military and the general public lived in completely different worlds. Night And Day. So she then decided that what she should do, was imagine that Gareth was wearing a military uniform of some sort. The soldiers who wore uniforms were the overt military, and Gareth was the covert, but he was ‘military’ even so. When she judged his actions in that light, he didn’t look so bad. He now ‘reacquired’ some of his ‘knightly luster’. Now she understood just why Gladys had found it so amusing when Donovan tried to intimidate Gareth. Gareth was no ordinary ‘paper pusher’. Donovan had been very blissfully unaware that the man he was provoking was more than capable of destroying him on the spot.

 

“Gareth once told me he wasn’t ‘nice’.”

 

“He isn’t. He’s idealistic, he’s caring, and he’s ‘sincere’ in a twisted sort of way, or at least he tries to be. I’m sure he would rather tell the truth in some situations where he’s not supposed to. He isn’t ‘nice’ in the car-pool, soccer mom sense of the word. He’s also not the ‘stone cold killer’ you’re you’re beginning to think he is. If he was, do you think he’d care so much about you and Al?”

 

What Gladys said made sense. A sociopath might calmly watch his compatriots die, faintly amused perhaps, but basically unmoved. Gareth waiting for Al in the hospital had not been ‘unmoved’. He’d been the very antithesis of ‘coldly amused’. ‘Torn up’, Kate would have said, or ‘devastated’.

 

“As further reassurance I would add, Gareth has a very active and somewhat relentless conscience. You know that. So stop hounding yourself about this. Do not confuse the ‘Good Guys’ with the ‘Bad Guys’.”

 

“All right. Then tell me this. Gareth supposedly works for the FBI.”

 

“After a fashion.”

 

“Does he also work for the CIA?”

 

Gladys stared at her for a while, eyes round, eyebrows lifted.

 

“That’s not the sort of thing he would tell me. I will point out a couple of things. Technically, he isn’t a ‘spy’. He’s a spy ‘hunter’, or what people in government call ‘counter-intelligence’. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse. I’m thinking maybe, worse. Secondly, since Raymond Carlisle is his boss, and since he’s the liaison between the two agencies, I imagine he could send Gareth in either direction without violating anyone’s job description. ‘Re-purpose’ him, so to speak.”

 

“You’re saying Raymond Carlisle could ‘lend’ Gareth to the CIA?”

 

“Just being neighborly.”

 

“I guess that would explain why a ‘disgraced’ FBI agent happens to be running around Europe, cleaning up what appear to be ‘international’ security issues. Of course I realize, we’re not really engaged in anything important. Seeing as how we’re just on vacation.”

 

“Right,” Gladys said, “best you remember that. Of course, I haven’t told you anything, because I don’t know anything.”

 

“Which is what you’d say, even if you did know something.”

 

“Especially then.”

 

“Right.”

 

“It’s good to see you’re catching on.” Gladys said, with a smile reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat.

 

It only took Gareth roughly half an hour to convey to the constable whatever condensed version of the previous nights events he’d previously decided upon. When he was finished, he wandered back in their general direction, his hands in the pockets of the trench coat. The buoyant ‘almost smile’ had then returned to his face and his energy level was visibly rising. Weirdly, Kate could almost see him ‘healing’ as he moved towards them. Kate was profoundly pleased, but as always, ‘mystified’ by his rapid recovery.

 

“Is it my imagination,” Kate turned to Gladys, “or is he actually more healed up than he was half an hour ago?”

 

“Watch closely, and you might be almost fast enough to catch God making adjustments.”

 

“Well, I guess if Gareth could be saved from being thrown overboard tied up, and recovered from being almost dead last night, healing him up super fast this morning would be no big deal. How do you think he got loose, anyway?”

 

“I expect he sawed most of the way through the ropes with the blades, and then when they threw him over, he managed to break the ropes the rest of the way through with the strength in his arms and legs. At least that’s what I would have done. Except my arms and legs aren’t as strong as his. So I might not have gotten loose.”

 

“Tearing loose must have been painful.”

 

“You bet. Dragging rough rope across raw skin, and then applying just enough pressure against the rope to break it, while the rope is still on the raw spot. That’s probably why he didn’t have the energy to fight with you last night. That, or losing a quart or so of blood. But I don’t think you can count on getting off that easy in the future. He looks more chipper already. Just give him three days or so, and he’ll be back to his old feisty, impossible self.”

 

“Thanks for pointing out what a wimp I am. What you mean is that he’ll be back to chewing me up and spitting me out in no time. Even so, I’m grateful he’s going to be all right.”

 

“It’s always good to notice miracles. You have your splashy miracles, like people surviving getting thrown overboard, miles out. Then you have your slow-acting miracles, like people healing, flowers growing, stubborn people changing their minds. We might have to invent a whole new category for your Mr. McFadyn. How many people could have take a beating like the one he got in Kansas, and then get up and almost run out of the hospital two nights later? We can’t call it ‘instant healing’, but ‘almost instant healing’ wouldn’t be too far off the mark.”

 

“Now that you mention it, he did seem to heal up from that business in Kansas awfully fast. His bruises disappeared in less than a week. And his shoulder was healed in about two. That’s not quite normal is it?” She wasn’t about to tell Gladys that in less than a week, he’d been picking her up off the couch, with the simplicity that one might scoop up a stack of newspapers.

 

“Since the healing isn’t ‘instant’, but only happens at a greatly accelerated rate, it slips right past most people. It’s almost like God doesn’t want anyone to notice.”

 

Gareth drifted back into the waiting room just then. “Notice what?” His eyelids were at half-mast, he was undoubtedly trying to figure out what they’d been talking about. “All right, what are you two up to? You have that conspiratorial gleam in your eyes.”

 

“We were just saying God takes very good care of his troops.”

 

“You sure that’s all? Somehow I think there might have been a little bit more to it than that.”

 

“You aren’t grateful for everything God’s done for you?”

 

“Of course I am. He’s done a lot for me so far. He might even do a little more. I do have some faith. But so far, I only have one foot out of the boat. Congratulate me when I’m actually walking on the water. Now that would be faith.” Meaning he was considering doing something even riskier and more dangerous in the very near future.

 

“How did the deposition go?”

 

“Boring and predictable. But illuminating.”

 

“How can something be both boring and illuminating, enlighten us?” Gladys said.

 

“Well the procedure was boring, because I’ve been through it a hundred times. Boring questions are just as tedious in Scotland as they are in the States. But I did pick up an interesting bit of information, or maybe I should say ‘lack of information’. There weren’t any bodies. If we hadn’t reported this, the authorities would have had no idea that anything unusual had gone down last night. I had to show them the cut on my arm for them to believe I was injured, or that there had even been a fight.”

 

The outer door to the police station opened. Apparently it had turned blustery outside. Wind and rain blew in the door. Another man blew in as well, also wearing a trench coat, this time black. Everyone in the station turned around to look at him, the silver haired Chief Inspector from ‘An Outside Agency’ was striking, and you knew he was very super important, just from looking at him. He immediately spotted Gareth, and Agent McFadyn acknowledged him with eye contact and a nod. They both seemed to have expected one another. Gareth got to his feet, pulled out the case Kate remembered as holding his badge, and flashed it briefly in the direction of the Inspector. Mutual acknowledgments having been taken care of without a word being spoken, they both headed towards the rear of the building, and presumably a quieter space to share information.

 

Gladys exhaled slowly. “This is going to take a lot longer. He’s going to tell that gentleman considerably more than he told the beat cops. We might was well go and get some lunch.”

 

“Gareth still has his badge? I thought he was in trouble.”

 

Gladys smiled. “What can I tell you? Perhaps he’s not in as much trouble as he appears to be.”

 

After eating their own lunch, salad, hot soup, and crusty bread, they ordered some food to go for Gareth. Kate ordered him two sandwiches, some crunchy vegetables instead of chips, since he was such a health fanatic, and a thermos of coffee. Then she went back and got him fruit juice and a blueberry muffin, while Gladys laughed at her.

 

“I take it you’ve decided to feed him despite his ‘uncivilized’ ways.”

 

Kate sighed. “Sometimes Gladys, I think this is all Divine Retribution just for me. Ever since I was a little girl I vividly dreamed of ‘shining knights’. Well, guess what, the real knights of legend, killed people, but I never really considered that. These days I think about that a lot.”

 

“Be careful what you ask for…..” Gladys smiled.

 

“I’ve seen more blood since I met him, a lot of it his, than I’ve seen in most of the rest of my life.”

 

“The blood, sweat, and tears of a warrior. A magical mixture if there ever was one. But probably ‘messier’ than you’d counted on, and more ‘real’. I’d say your fantasy has come to life in a big way. Next thing you know, you’ll be having a unicorn lay it’s head in your lap.”

 

“I don’t particularly want to be on the ‘front lines’ of this little war, but I seem to be. Things keep reminding me. You know, almost ‘near-death’ experiences, the ‘near death’ experiences of close associates. That’s why my knees always seem to be shaking.”

 

“Just remember they’re near-death experiences. A miss is as good as a mile. I for one, believe the Man Upstairs has a lot to do with turning direct hits into near misses.”

 

“You think we can get Gareth to go and see a doctor?”

 

“He doesn’t like admitting there’s anything wrong with him. But even he, could do with a course of antibiotics. You could always offer to kiss him if he’ll agree to get medical attention.”

 

“You honestly think he’s the type of person who responds to bribes?”

 

“That type of bribe, I think he just might.”

 

Gareth arrived exactly on cue. “You guys are talking about me again, aren’t you? Can’t you talk about something else, the weather, the stock market, baseball scores, Euro-Trash Rock Bands, almost anything…..”

 

“It’s getting rather nasty out.” Gladys chimed in helpfully. They had folded up their umbrellas after lunch, but ragged clouds still raced across the sky. “I’m thinking if we’re going to the west coast, it might be better to go by train than by plane.”

 

“What do you think, Kate? Would you like to go by train?” He put his hands on her shoulders, which immediately made thinking much more difficult.

 

“I guess we’d see more of the country. We’re now on the ‘fun’ part of the trip, right?”

 

“The rest of this trip is supposed to be fun, yes.”

 

“Can you tell us what you found out last night?”

 

Gareth sighed, broke eye contact, let go of her shoulders and turned away. Which meant he was likely going to conceal something.

 

“Did you perchance, find any evidence of our odious bird, Herr Vogle?”

 

All of them looked guiltily over their shoulders, to see if anyone was close enough to be listening. No one was.

 

“No. But we’ve tied Burrows to Sinclair. There are bank withdrawals here that match deposits made by Burrows and Nigel Carpenter in the States. Sinclair was wining and dining Carpenter in Aberdeen within the last year. Burrows and Sinclair were here two years ago. So it seems Carpenter is the more recent ‘convert’. The sad thing is, Anthony Sinclair is the only one who flew in and out on a jet. There are no records of Rudy Burrows entering or leaving this country, or of Carpenter leaving it. Therefore, we can assume they didn’t use any standard form of transport. And yet, both of them seem to have traveled in and out of this country with ease. I have a theory that they’re using fishing boats to ferry them out to international waters and then catching rides on the bigger ships, especially the oil tankers.”

 

“These creeps can go all the way to the US?” Gladys sounded alarmed.

 

“This has probably been going for a long time, months if not years. Our sea borders, Norway’s, Canada’s, and Scotland’s, are all permeable as sieves. Thousands upon thousands of miles of unguarded coastline. I’m not discounting their Navies and our Coast Guard. I’m sure they do a good job of monitoring the big ships. If someone takes a launch, or a rowboat for that matter, from a big ship to the coast, there’s no way it will show up on radar. There limitless numbers of places someone can be put ashore. Now, as for the fishing boats…..” Gareth shook his head like the situation was hopeless. “There is no border patrol in the world that’s efficient enough to check every fishing boat every time it comes in from the open sea.”

 

“And meantime, they can live in their own little colony on one of the tanker’s I suppose.” Gladys sounded disgusted.

 

“Frankly, I think that’s where Vogle is, out on one of the tankers in the North Sea. I believe he seldom comes ashore, and that’s why no one’s ever been able to find him.”

 

“What makes you think he’s based out at sea, rather than somewhere on land?” Gladys’ eyebrows arched a fraction.

 

“He’s never in one spot for more than a few days at a time. Not enough time to catch him. He makes pit stops in Germany now and then, maybe to touch base with his old running partners. He was seen in Copenhagen a year and a half ago, Stockholm a year ago and here in Aberdeen eight months ago. Someone matching his description was seen on one of the North Sea oil rigs no more than four months ago. However, if we were to draw lines between all the places he’s been seen.….”

 

“They would cross out in the middle of the ocean somewhere.” Kate finished.

 

“That’s where I think he is, out there somewhere.” Gareth nodded towards the harbor and the North Sea. “With the right equipment, you can use a computer just about anywhere, including on the high seas, and I think Vogle is taking advantage of our inability to monitor all that space. The oceans cover close to three quarters of the globe, and no one can see him out there. He’s only vulnerable when he comes ashore.”

 

“Can’t they search the ships?” Kate knew she was being overoptimistic, but it was in her nature to always hope for the best.

 

Gareth shook his head. “Customs searches these ships when they come into port, but the examination is really very cursory. There are a hundred places for a man to hide on a ship. You’d have to know exactly which ship, and you would then have to, literally, ‘tear it to pieces’, especially if, as has to be the case, the person is hiding with the help of the crew. I have no doubt the crews of these ships are well bribed to cover for their ‘extra’ passengers. Unfortunately for us, the money issue just isn’t really a problem for some of these terrorist organizations. Many terrorists are extremely well-funded. Herr Vogle would be right at the top of that list, the “best-funded terrorist group” list, just as he’s at the top of many others.”

 

“So where is Waldo now, do you think?” Gladys gave Gareth another one of her quizzical looks.

 

“We only have two possible ways of tracing him. If we could break his encryption we could find out where he’s going, and be there to ‘intercept’ him.”

 

“What’s the other way? And why do I think I’m going to like this one even less?” Gladys wore a grim smile.

 

“Weevil’s been trying to pin down which ship the messages are coming from. He can follow the back trace as far as Stockholm, and then he loses it. I told Stanley to help him. Luckily with Weevil’s inventiveness and Stan’s rather sweeping insight, they may yet track down the source of the signal.”

 

“And then?” Gladys demanded.

 

Gareth sighed, having been cornered. “We take down the ship. At sea.”

 

“I knew I wasn’t going to like this.” Gladys sounded personally affronted.

 

“It would have to be a joint operation, of course. The Chief Inspector put me in touch with a Commander Coberly of the British Royal Navy.”

 

“And I suppose they’d expect you, to go along.”

 

“Having instigated the investigation, I hardly think I could back out at that point.”

 

“I really wish there was another way.” Gladys sounded disappointed.

 

“So do I,” Gareth said, “there are so many ways this could go wrong.”

 

“Sounds kind of dangerous,” Gladys said, “unless you like that sort of thing.”

 

He shrugged. “Not particularly.”

 

“Which ‘not particularly’? You don’t particularly like it, or it’s not particularly dangerous?”

 

“Either.” he said smiling sideways, and all three of them knew he was lying.

 

Having listened to this back and forth banter with both dismay and disbelief, Kate now realized that the sort of operation they were describing would not only be dangerous, but was also rife with the possibility of becoming an ‘international incident’ of rather truly staggering proportions…..if it ever became public. She supposed it would be suppressed, or passed off as a ‘Naval Exercise’? She was also then led to an inescapable conclusion. Gareth wasn’t really a ‘computer security specialist’. He was a counter-intelligence agent. What was it Gladys called him? Ah yes, a ‘spy hunter’. The gulls wheeled overhead making a sad and narrow sound, and the day seemed colder than it should have been. For a moment Kate was aware of the dankness of the air, and the sour salt smell, and everything seemed heavy and hopeless.

 

Then she looked straight at Gareth. He was getting wrinkles in his forehead from worrying about various things. The first thing that crossed her mind, was to reach out and smooth away his worry with her fingertips. ‘Be Healed’, she thought. They said you should ‘pray without ceasing’. They never said most of your prayers couldn’t be about one person. Whenever she looked upon him, Kate was reminded that Gareth clearly had God’s favor. God had undoubtedly gifted Gareth with everything he needed to solve the ‘Vogle’ problem. These thoughts lifted her spirits considerably. It was quite difficult to stay depressed when you knew you were standing next to one of God’s champions. She wasn’t very comfortable saying any of that stuff out loud. So she merely smiled quietly to herself, amused at how protective she felt towards Gareth, and then even more amused at the irony that he so little needed her ‘protection’. For once Gareth didn’t ‘quiz’ her about the series of expressions that chased one another across her face, he was too busy conversing with Gladys, and for that, she gave thanks.

 

“And of course. I’m not supposed to tell either of you any of this.”

 

“I realize all this info is on a ‘need to know’ basis.” Gladys sounded bored and annoyed. “But we really do need to know. If you were to disappear again, in a more permanent way, it would be nice to know which direction to send the ‘clean-up crew’.”

 

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. I am the clean-up crew. Nobody’s going to clean up my messes. Or look for me either, if it comes to that.” Gareth was picking up the lilt, Kate heard an echo of a ‘coombs ta thaht’. She smiled and shook her head, but Gladys’ next words removed all thoughts of smiling.

 

“Well one thing’s for sure, if you were out there…..” Gladys nodded towards the harbor, “there’d be no point in looking for a body. Too much empty space.” Without really meaning to, all three of them glanced towards the harbor, and beyond. The police station and the restaurant where they’d eaten lunch, were several blocks inland from the docks, but uphill, and the rising ground gave a view of the ocean between the buildings closer to the shore. Just a patch of blue at the end of every street, but the North Sea was out there, just waiting.

 

Gladys and Gareth looked away quickly, but Kate continued to stare. Gareth had already experienced one near fatal encounter with the cold waters of the deep blue, who was to say he’d survive another? There was only so much even an ‘excellent swimmer’ could do against overwhelming odds. Vogle probably knew so much about Gareth that he would’ve known a two mile swim was not beyond his abilities, apparently however, his lackeys didn’t know quite so much about their foe. Next time…..Vogle would have told his cronies how they’d wasted their efforts trying to dispose of Gareth. He’d probably direct them to take Gareth much farther out next time. Next time Gareth’s executioners would probably drop him twenty miles out. It was only the dumb luck of the ‘fishermen’s’ impatience to get back to port that had saved Gareth this time. That, and perhaps ‘Divine Intervention’. No one sane could count on luck like that every time. Kate shuddered. Then she jerked her concentration back to the conversation.

 

“I still say we need to know what’s going on. How do you expect me to protect Kate, never mind my own derriere, unless I know just what sort of hornet’s nest you’ve stirred up.”

 

Gareth looked sheepish, pressed one large hand against the back of his neck and stared down at the paving. “The thing is, Carlisle let me do this any way I want, since it was my idea to come over here. But I didn’t actually tell him I was bringing the two of you.”

 

“I begin to see the problem,” Gladys sounded both alarmed and amused. “He didn’t specifically forbid you to bring us, but you didn’t ask his permission. That explains why you told me to take some vacation time and not tell anybody where I was going. This whole expedition is ‘under the radar’.”

 

“Well it doesn’t entirely explain why I brought you. I brought you so Kate would have somebody with her of course, but I also brought you to get you out from under Oscar Donovan’s thumb. He knows you were helping me, and I don’t trust him not to retaliate. I don’t know what form it would take, your tires flat, your cat tarred and feathered, your name and address found in the pocket of a corpse. But I’m pretty sure he’d think of something. I’m hoping you won’t have to go back until he’s gone. If you’re not there, he won’t be tempted to express his ‘displeasure’. He has a habit of punishing those close to me, since he can’t get at me directly. I don’t want that to happen to you.”

 

“Concern noted, and appreciated. But I’m tougher than I look, and I don’t look all that tender. So just what have you gotten us into?” Gladys could be implacable,once set in motion.

 

Gareth sighed. “You’re right, of course. I certainly owe both of you some kind of an explanation. I can’t drag you all over Scotland without telling you why. But I’m not going to go into much detail.”

 

“And I assume you told the ‘expanded version’ of the tale to the Chief Inspector? So he, at least, will know where to send searchers, or ‘retribution’, if something happens and you disappear?” Gladys seemed satisfied. “Did he believe when you said you were attacked and retaliated with deadly force? Even without the corpses to corroborate you statement?”

 

“He took a look at my arm, and he doesn’t have a problem with me claiming ‘self-defense’. But he said it would be just as well if I didn’t, how did he put it, ‘Get into any more scrapes’ while I was in Scotland.”

 

“Well I think the boys here in Britain like their paperwork more than we do in the States, but maybe not so much as all that. Every time you create an ‘incident’, they have to fill out everything in triplicate. It’s no wonder he wants you to ‘cool your jets’.”

 

“From now on it’s strictly recreation.”

 

“Well, that’s good then. Kate has a little plan for getting you to the doctor.”

 

Kate blushed. “That was your idea, Gladys, not mine.”

 

“And a fine one, I thought. I was trying to get Kate to ‘persuade’ you to seek medical attention for the arm and the rest of your scrapes and bruises.”

 

“Not necessary, I’m doing fine on my own.” He peeled back his sleeve and the bandage to let them see. The wound, though still angry looking, seemed half healed.

 

“Fine. And what are we going to do if you keel over from an infection? It’s not like we could carry you around with us. Last time I looked, you won’t fit in my purse.”

 

“That’s unkind. I’m not ‘too big’. I’m exactly the right size for ..…whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. And I’m fine. Really.”

 

“I told you so Kate. It’s time for Plan B. Time to don the sexy underwear.”

 

“What?!?” Kate said, at just about the same time Gareth said, “This sounds interesting.”

 

“This has escalated,” Kate said, “last time I was just supposed to kiss him.”

 

“I have no idea what plots the two of you have been hatching, but it sounds as if you aren’t going to let go of this without a struggle.”

 

“Correct.” Gladys said.

 

“Ditto.” said Kate.

 

Kate could have sworn she heard Gareth growl. Then he said, “All right. I don’t think this is necessary. But if it will make the two of you settle down, I’ll have someone take a look at the injury.”

 

They were lucky to find a doctor who was willing to see Gareth on short notice. He walked all of them back to an examination area. Where a normal person would have hopped up on the table, Gareth, perched on the corner, one long leg reaching to the floor, and the other kicking absently in space like a nervous cat’s tail. He was ready to roll, as usual. There was no way he was going to take both feet off the ground and give someone else dominion over his physical self. She remembered he didn’t much like being sedated, either. She had a bet going with herself he wouldn’t lie down, even if asked.

 

The doctor took a look at the wound.

 

“Where did you say you got this injury, down on the docks? That’s not the cleanest place, I’m thinking. I should give you an antibiotic shot as well as dressing the wound.”

 

Gareth gave one of his smaller sighs and began rolling up his sleeve.

 

“No, no, you mistake me. I didn’t mean in the arm, I meant in the…..uh…..hip. Of course I’d have to ask the ladies to leave.”

 

“No, I’m afraid you’re the one’s who’s mistaken Doctor. If you were to give me a shot in the haunch, you’d have to beat these ladies off with a stick. They’re my biggest fans. They’d probably want to stay and take pictures.”

 

The Doctor glanced at all three of them as if he couldn’t quite believe it, and if he did, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. Gladys was smiling like an angel with horns, and Kate was caught somewhere between amusement and dismay.

 

“Fans, eh? What is it that you do, Mr. McFadyn?”

 

“He’s my.….landlord.” Gladys smiled wanly. Not exactly accurate, but indicative of the awe in which she seemed to hold him.

 

“He’s my…..” Kate looked at Gareth, and Gareth looked back, with raised eyebrows.

 

“Knight in Shining Armor.” Kate finished deftly.

 

“Exactly.” Gareth agreed, as if it had been his idea. To quell any potential further arguments he got up off the exam table, unbuttoned his outer shirt and pulled it off. There was no way to roll the sleeve on a dress shirt high enough to get at the area the medical profession liked to punch holes in.

 

“All right. I guess I could give the shot in the upper arm at that.” the Doctor finally agreed. “You seem to have a fair amount of muscle there, do you lift weights?”

 

There was a momentary silence as all three people other than the Doctor considered all the things Gareth might do to stay in shape.

 

“Now and then. And swimming.” Gareth said.

 

“Lots of swimming.” Gladys intoned.

 

“Lots and lots of swimming. Sometimes miles of it.” Kate added helpfully.

 

They both looked at her, Gareth warningly, Gladys with amusement.

 

“Probably lots of sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, jumping out of airplanes, fifty mile hikes carrying a fifty pound pack, obstacle courses…..” Kate muttered under her breath. She really thought he deserved the ribbing since he was so damnably secretive.

 

“Oh, are you in the military Mr. McFadyn?”

 

“He’s in something like the ‘National Guard’ where they just call you up when they need you.” Kate thought it was a perfectly viable explanation. How was the doctor to know there was no such agency in the US? Even so, Gareth gave her an annoyed look before answering.

 

“Not at this time. Right now, I’m on ‘vacation’.”

 

Yeah, like anyone believed that. How many people got in knife fights on the docks on their vacation? Almost zero, that’s how many.

 

“You just do a lot of working out, I see. Good to keep in shape as we get older. I wish half my patients looked as fit as you. Low body fat. You must be an endurance athlete.”

 

He dabbed disinfectant on Gareth’s arm and jabbed him, Kate looked away. Then the doctor cleaned and disinfected the wound. In the process he seemed to notice the abrasions on Gareth’s wrists for the first time.”

 

“You never really answered the question about your line of work, Mr. McFadyn. How did you say you got these injuries? It appears you’ve been restrained, rather brutally I’d say.”

 

Gareth hesitated before answering. “I got on the wrong side of some rednecks down on the docks.”

 

“Have you reported this to the authorities?”

 

“I reported the incident to the local police. They said they’d ‘look into it’. I guess we’ll see.”

 

This time, the pause was on the doctor’s side. He looked at Gareth a lot more appraisingly than he had at first glance. He was clearly re-evaluating his patient’s ‘civilian’ status, because Gareth wasn’t reacting to being mugged like a ‘normal tourist’ would have. There were no complaints, no outrage, no fear. Not even any surprise. He sounded like a man who’d almost expected to be attacked. Which was, of course, the truth. But the net result of Gareth’s ‘disclosure’ was that the doctor ceased pressing for more information. Maybe on some level he sensed Gareth wasn’t really a man you wanted to ‘press’.

 

“I could have dealt with the abrasions myself, but the ladies thought the gash needed stitches.”

 

The Doctor lifted Gareth’s forearm to take a closer look. “Might have done when this first happened. But this is half healed. When did you say you got this injury, two, three, days ago? I can give you a hairline scar if I close it up a bit with a few butterfly bandages, but otherwise I’d say you’re good to go.”

 

The Doctor pulled the wound more tightly shut using half a dozen bandages. None of them bothered to correct the physicians impression that Gareth’s injury was an old one. Sometimes the truth was stranger than fiction. Gareth put his shirt back on, paid the doctor and they left.

 

“For a few moments there, I thought we were going to see far more of you that we had any intention of seeing.” Gladys said. “A need to know basis that’s probably far more than we need to know about you, Agent McFadyn. Not that I would have been totally adverse, mind you, but your friend Kate here, has a terrible tendency to blush when anything like that is mentioned, let alone comes to pass.”

 

Gareth responded by looking sideways and smiling. Kate responded by turning a ruddy shade of pink.

 

“I don’t know what to say.” Gareth said. “I guess CYA just about covers it. Or maybe that should be CYP. But ‘Cover Your Posterior’ just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.”

 

They took the train to Inverness. Once they arrived, everyone went shopping for souvenirs, Kate and Gladys went one way, Gareth another. Before he left he gave Gladys one of those peculiar looks that Kate was pretty sure meant ‘look after Kate while I’m gone’. Kate was getting rather royally tired of being treated like a china doll, although she would have been the first to admit Gladys knew a lot more about toting a gun than she did. What was so unfair about the situation, was that while any one of the three of them would have verbally acknowledged they were far safer in a group, Gareth had still thought it was quite all right for him to wander around solo. If she’d been a hired assassin assigned to kill him, she would have waited until he was alone. Yet, there he went. He expected her to stick with Gladys for safety’s sake, which seemed a little unfair. He’d then handed Kate a pocket full of traveler’s cheques before he had disappeared, and she decided to spend some of them on him, since she’d missed his birthday. She and Gladys were strolling past the shop windows. Gladys now and then checked in the window reflections to see if they were being followed.

 

“How likely do you think it is that someone is going to retaliate for Gareth’s…..um….. ‘removals’?”

 

Gladys retreated into a thoughtful look for a moment or two. “I’d say fifty-fifty. But he should be pretty safe in downtown Inverness in broad daylight. Why are you asking about this now?”

 

“I’m not entirely comfortable with Gareth going off by himself. He may be a ‘one man army’ and all, but when he’s alone, he’s an easier target. I think they might go after him, at the first opportunity.”

 

“Assuming they know where we are, and I’m assuming they do, you could be right. We’re going to some rather lonely country on the West Coast. I think he’s planning on taking the Ferry over to Mull so that he can show you Lochbuie, you know the MacLeans of Lochbuie who absorbed the Clan MacFadzean and all.”

 

“MacFadzean? Is that an old spelling of the name?”

 

“I believe so.”

 

“And they got absorbed by the MacLeans you say?”

 

“Yeah, they got taken over, lock stock and barrel, set as a ‘subsidiary clan’ and ‘poof’ first thing you know, no more ‘MacFadzeans on the clan map. You know, kind of like when a nationally known brand takes over some smaller rival’s company and conveniently ‘replaces’ the rival’s name and logo with their own. The people may still be there, but the name has changed. I’m surprised there are any McFadyn’s left at all.”

 

“It could explain why Andrew McFadyn is so intent on plastering his name all over everything in the universe.”

 

“Including his own son.”

 

“I hear when Gareth was young, his father didn’t want to claim him.”

 

“But now that he’s turned into such a ‘braw laddie’, Old Andrew wishes he had.”

 

“Is that why we’re going out there, so Gareth can ‘clue me in’ to the family history?”

 

“I suspect it’s because it’s some of the most gorgeous God created country you’ll ever see, at least in my opinion. Before you leave Scotland you must see at least one rill, one moor, one loch, and a couple of picturesquely named over sized hills masquerading as Scots mountains. And the crags and headlands along the coast. It’s a rough and beautiful country, something like someone we know.”

 

“So…..History and sightseeing, and…..”

 

“And I happen to know for a fact, though I’m not really supposed to mention it, that he’s planning on renting a castle to take you on a sunset picnic.”

 

“He’s what?!”

 

“Well it probably helps his mother’s father was MacKenzie. The MacCrae’s have always held Eilean Donan for the MacKenzies. And since Gareth meets the two prerequisite conditions, large amounts of American Green Stuff and a MacKenzie Forbearer, the Clan MacCrae were only too happy to lend the castle to the ‘Crazy Rich American Tourist’ for a romantic evening, in exchange for a ‘wee bit o cash’ The public tours are long over for the day by the time the sun goes down. Up here, so far North, it stays light well into evening, for at least a few more weeks.”

 

“But the money…..”

 

Gladys shook her head. “I have a feeling that in addition to the rental fee Gareth had to post a huge bond against misadventure, his or anyone else’s, but you know Gareth. If he wants something, money is really no object.”

 

“That’s well and good I suppose. I can see that they’d be ‘happy’ he’s a MacKenzie on his mother’s father’s side, but surely they aren’t so thrilled that his father’s mother was a MacGregor. I hear the MacGregor’s are held in ill repute.”

 

“It’s very few Highland families, that can’t overlook a bit of cattle thievery in someone’s lineage, or sheep stealing, fratricide, or murdering entire rival clans by burning down the church or house that they’ve taken refuge in. There are all kinds of Highlanders you know, fey MacPhee’s, Lordly MacNeil’s and MacLachlan’s, Campbell’s who weren’t as bad as they were said to be, but perhaps not as good, as they’d like to believe. There are clans who always made the ‘right’ political move, and clans who always seemed to choose the ‘wrong side’, though they may be admired for those ‘wrong’ choices to this day. There was the pirate Urquhart. And there was that Uisdean Hucheon Morrison fellow. The one known for several famous deeds. Sleeping with other men’s wives, which caused a minor war of succession when it was discovered the McLeod heir was not a McLeod. Morrison is also famous for swimming three miles across the ocean after being wounded in a battle. Oh, and kidnapping people.”

 

“I see. So this swimming in the ocean thing…..”

 

“It’s harder to swim on the North Sea side of Scotland than in the Western Isles, because the water’s colder. No Gulf Stream. Which means McFadyn is at least up to the standard of the forebears.”

 

“What’s with all the swimming, island hopping, ‘piracy’ and so forth? What were these people doing in the ocean? I thought they were ‘Highlanders’, ‘Mountain People’.”

 

“Well you see that’s kind of a misnomer. The Picts were here first, the Blue People. Andrew McFadyn’s got a little of that going on as well, with the MacNachten’s, but essentially Dalriada, the promontories in Scotland that reach out toward Ireland, were once invaded by Irish Sea Raiders. That’s where the Celts in Scotland came from. Irish. Mixed with some Viking, of course.”

 

“Naturally. Those Vikings got around. But I don’t see anything particularly ‘Lordly’ about ‘Sea Raiders’. Sea Raiders are just ‘pirates’ by another name, right?”

 

“Well not exactly, there’s fine distinction. Pirates take your stuff, and leave. Sea Raiders take your stuff, and you, and move into your house with you, if you’re still alive.”

 

Kate chuckled. “I’ll be sure and only deal with Pirates, then. At least they’ll sail away.”

 

“I’m afraid you might be out of luck there. You seem to have got yourself one of the ‘moves in with you’ sort. As for having ‘Lordly’ status, reputedly the MacNeils and MacLachlan’s were were related to the Irish Kings, but the Irish Kings were…..”

 

“Let me guess. ‘Sea Raiders’.”

 

“I think back in the day, whoever stole the most ‘stuff’ for the tribe got promoted. Promoted once, you became clan chief. Promoted again you might become.….”

 

“King? So the king was essentially the ‘Master Thief’? In an economy based on ‘stealing’, I guess I can understand why the one who stole the most would be ‘admired above all’. But you must be exaggerating, Gladys. What you’re describing sounds more like the Vikings.”

 

“I don’t think they behaved much differently.”

 

Kate suddenly remembered her ballroom ‘difficulties’ with the two McFadyn’s, Andrew Senior and Andrew Junior. She was now grateful the whole thing hadn’t happened a thousand years or so earlier. Back then, the same scene would have involved Claymores being drawn, Gareth raising his usual fuss, and then being hauled away to be beheaded by his father’s castle guards. Kate would been ‘invited’ to join Andrew McFadyn’s ‘harem’, and no one would have thought any of those doings much out of the ordinary. It gave being ‘afraid to meet the in-laws’ an entirely more sinister meaning.

 

Kate cleared her throat nervously. “I gather his mother’s people were of a different sort.”

 

“You catch on quickly. There were different sorts of clans. The ones out in the Isles were ‘Rebels’ for the longest time, you might say it was ‘in the blood’. Or at least it seemed to be. But on his mother Bethany’s side, Gareth is not just a MacKenzie, he’s got MacKintoshe’s, MacKinnon’s, MacClennan’s, MacDonnell’s, MacNabb’s, Matheson’s, Keith’s and Cameron’s. But the capper is, his mother was related to the MacBrayne’s, the shipping ones, and they own half of Scotland. Remember however, that the clans in ‘good standing’ got that way by kissing up to someone, and your admiration for them may be somewhat tempered.”

 

“Oh, I’ll make sure my admiration is ‘well-tempered’. I don’t understand how such a small country can have such a complex cultural pattern.”

 

“Multiple invasions. Some of the ‘Scots’ aren’t even Scottish. The much-reviled Campbell’s were Britons, the Wallace’s were ‘Welsh’, ‘Waleis’, get it? The Sutherland’s were Flemish, also known as Belgian, and the Stewart’s, the ones who caused all the trouble, were originally Norman. As were the Montgomery’s, I might add.”

 

“You’re joking. You’re not Scottish?”

 

Gladys shook her head. “No, sorry to say, DeMontgomerie, and that’s the truth of it.”

 

“Gladys, I don’t see how you keep track of all this history and lineage stuff.”

 

Gladys sighed a heavy sigh. “Why do you think I’m in research? I’m good at looking stuff up and remembering little bits of it, enough to find it again when someone else wants to look at it. If I’d had my ‘game’ more together, in another life, could have competed on Jeopardy. In fact, I’m so good at it, they decided never to give me a field position.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. We all are what we are. Maybe I was right where I was supposed to be. Which reminds me. What are you going to buy the man who has everything, or would, if he felt like buying it himself?”

 

“I was thinking of a shirt, something wonderful in silk.”

 

Gladys raised an eyebrow. “I can see where you’d like the feel of that. And where he might, as well. But is it really all that practical? I mean, he’s likely to go chasing some miscreant down a hill and take a roll in the mud, or decide to jump in the bay again and come out all covered with tar and seaweed. You know how he is.”

 

“I know,” Kate said. “but if I see him wearing something I gave him just once, it will have been worth it.”

 

The castle was every bit as beautiful as the pictures Kate had seen, but in three dimensions it was overwhelming. Eilean Donan Castle was much bigger than Kate had expected, golden tinged with rose, set against the dark trees of the headland across the firth, surrounded by midnight blue waters shimmed with turquoise. It was definitely something out of a fairy tale, and there she was, with him. Gareth was wearing the shirt, tucked into his unusually casual dark slacks, loose enough to sit on the ground Kate hoped, or they’d never be able to carry off the ‘picnic’ theme. His smile, for once, seemed relaxed. The shirt fit him beautifully, white silk that rippled in the wind. Not a style he probably would have picked for himself, but oddly, it suited him. His hair had started to grow out since he’d had it cut, his hair ruffled in the wind as well. His expression was serene as he studied the sky to the west. Their sunset would be coming soon. Kate was gratified. They finally seemed to be enjoying their holiday. She’d worn a summery looking dress with narrow straps, pale blue sprinkled with small white daisies. It swept all the way to her ankles, loose enough to sit on a quilt. She hoped it looked casual and romantic, in case the elaborate staging presaged an interesting proposal by her ever inventive escort. His pockets didn’t seem all that lumpy, but if he was clever, he had hidden the ring box somewhere else. In the picnic basket? In the trunk? A light breeze had sprung up as the sun had sunk toward the horizon, and Kate was now wishing she’d brought more than a white cardigan to cover her bare shoulders. It was late in the summer and the Northern climes cooled quickly.

 

“What do you think?” Gareth surveyed their surroundings and took a deep breath. He might never have admitted it, but she could tell how proud he was to be a Scot.

 

“Incredible. There are really no words to describe this. And the company I’m keeping is equally glorious. You’re the only man I can imagine who’d rent a castle for a picnic. It takes the unique combination of a great imagination and lots and lots of bucks. I don’t know anyone else qualified.”

 

He shrugged, like it was no big deal. Well to him, it wasn’t. Kate knew better than to ask him how much arranging this grand scenario had set him back financially. Obviously he could afford it, whatever it cost. To him, an extra few thousand dollars was no more than ‘pocket change’. And just as clearly, he thought spending that amount of money would make him happier for one day of his life. Most likely, he had thought he wasn’t going to live much longer, and since he had no heirs, there was little point in retaining his wealth. Like a lottery winner who’d been told he had only a year to live, wealth became meaningless, to be spent on a whim. Money meant nothing, time, on the other hand, was precious. Time was everything.

 

After a glorious trip down Loch Ness by rail (no humps spotted) Gladys had remained at their small hotel in Plockton, circumspectly withdrawing to give Kate time alone with Gareth. Gladys said she was going to enjoy the evening by herself, catching a classic Sherlock Holmes flick on the telly, with a bit of popcorn on the side. Being alone with Gareth should have been Kate’s fondest desire, but she felt strangely uneasy. She could think of any number of reasons for her discomfort. By now she was used to having Gladys along, not only as a companion, but as a buffer between Gareth’s desires and her own. Alone with Gareth, she found herself silent all too often, thinking about him. When she was silent, he would know she was thinking about him. It was embarrassing. Her fears of feeling as if she was unworthy, and her sense of unreality would come back to haunt her. She was also haunted hard by the sense this unreal and wonderful world was all too fragile, that all of her happiness could be snatched away in a moment if Drew were to be killed. The very qualities which drew Kate to him, made Gareth ‘unable’ to abandon a quest, once begun. Meanwhile, his wilder and untamed side threw caution to the winds, refusing to let a hostile reality limit his enjoyment of life. Kate, more cautious by nature, was keenly aware this isolated location was an ideal spot for Gareth’s enemies to launch an attack, the perfect site for an ambush. The main road was conveniently nearby, making for an easy getaway, and the sun would soon be setting. It wasn’t exactly what Kate would consider a ‘secure’ situation.

 

“I meant to thank you for the shirt. It isn’t quite what I would have picked for myself, but it’s interesting that you see me wearing something like this. Though I suppose I should have known, kind of ‘medieval’, isn’t it?”

 

“Maybe something a little later? 1720 to 1850? Authentic Medieval would probably have you in scratchy homespun, or at best linen, Lord or no. Silk had to wait for Marco Polo. But, ‘old’, I agree. What’s the matter? Are you feeling like an ‘antique’, Prof?” Kate laughed delightedly.

 

“No, I’m feeling quite spry for my age. Would you care to come closer and check out my vital signs, heart rate, respiration, so forth? Could be a little elevated, looking at you over there.”

 

“Frankly, I think I’m much safer on this side of the quilt. I’ll just have to take your word for it that you’re just ‘brimming with health’ over there. And as for the shirt, Gladys seemed to think it might not last too long in that ‘pristine’ condition. Something about your extracurricular activities.”

 

“Ah, that.” He turned away, giving Kate an excellent view of his elegantly muscled back as he pretended to stretch. It appeared he was going to ignore her comment completely.

 

Kate frowned. She would get no better chance. No Gladys to call her off. Nothing to distract them. Time for a ‘private’ conversation, before they ever sat down to dine. She really hated to ruin the atmosphere, but long before she answered a certain question she thought he might ask, she needed an answer to a question of her own. If Gareth worked primarily for the CIA, she thought that he should tell her. That maybe he should have told her ‘early on’. She thought she deserved to know the answer before she committed the rest of her life to him. She knew if she was facing him head on she would be fooled by his eyes. She always promptly fell straight into the eyes and missed whatever else the rest of his body language would have told her. Not that looking at his back was such a bad idea in any case. Since he was a swimmer he had a beautiful back, naturally. He looked very strong, his back was flat and hard and tapered from shoulders wider than most to a narrow waist. Not only strength, but the ability to twist his body this way and that. A weapon wielder if she’d ever seen one, and of course she had, on Al’s pirated martial arts tape. Nearly every weapon under the sun, according to Al. Of course that was probably an exaggeration, coming as it did from a charter member of the ‘fan club’. It couldn’t possibly be true.

 

“You never told me…..” she began, addressing his back. “Those years when you were at MIT, how old did you say you were when you started teaching?”

 

“Twenty four. Why?”

 

“And you were thirty when Carlisle tapped you to start Section.”

 

“Yes. What about it?”

 

“I know my math skills aren’t up to yours, but I can subtract. The information I read about you online said you’d only taught at MIT four years. What were you doing for the other two years?”

 

Then, Kate saw the ‘flinch’ she’d been expecting. For half a second, he looked like someone had stabbed him with an icy needle. Every muscle in his body went rigid, but only for a brief instant. That was quickly replaced by an almost sloppy posture that was so ‘Un-Gareth’ as to be ludicrous. He was pretending to be relaxed and working at it just a little too hard. He knew she was watching him, and he knew she was sharp about detecting lies when she was looking for them.

 

“I took a couple of leaves of absence, when I had those personal problems I told you about.”

 

He turned to face her then, and fixed her with a lofty and remote look. Well, what had she expected? She had attacked him where he lived. Not that he hadn’t given a solid perfectly plausible explanation for the time frame. But Kate wasn’t buying it. Workaholic Gareth would never have taken two years to get back on his feet. He was more the type to keep on working while he hurt inside. Or to have done something equally improbable, to any mind save one like Gareth’s. Something much like sharpening up his commando skills for a couple of years. What was that gobbledygook Al had fed her about doing undercover work for the FBI? Kate had no doubt that he’d been doing ‘some undercover’ work, but she doubted it had been for the FBI. So she had her ‘answer’. It wasn’t the one she’d wanted, nor had he ‘given’ it to her, but she was fairly sure of her conclusion.

 

“Why are you asking about this now?” The question was delivered in a decidedly ‘cool’ tone.

 

“Oh I just wondered.” She was pretty sure he knew she’d caught him in a lie. Just a little ‘concealment’ from his way of thinking. But Kate felt a little ‘betrayed’. Why couldn’t he just tell her, straight out? Then she realized he’d probably never tell her the whole truth. Most likely he felt very ‘prohibited’ from doing so. But it meant she’d always be in the dark. He was far better at concealing things, than she was at finding them out.

 

So now how to salvage the picnic. Did she even want to? She looked at him, standing there all arrogant, proud and lonely, with the castle behind him. How could she possibly say ‘no’ to such a strong someone with such personality? Where would she ever find his like again? She wouldn’t of course. Yet, if that had been all there was to him, ‘a strong, proud man’, Kate thought she had enough pride of her own to have refused him. It was on some deeper level, that he had insinuated himself into her being, a vulnerable part of him that sang to her inner heart. Kate Greenwood wouldn’t have found it all that difficult to turn down any ordinary ‘rich, good-looking guy’, but she was going to find it very difficult indeed to turn down Gareth McFadyn. As she’d explained to him before, the ‘pity’ card always won. Kate hated to make him sad. She sighed.

 

“Look, I’m sorry. I’ve probably ruined the picnic by asking about things you don’t want to talk about.”

 

“You have the right to ask anything you want to ask.”

 

“Ach, dew aye now? I think ye’ll be a wee bit soory ye opened that dooor.”

 

“Kate, I wish I could tell you what you want to know…..”

 

“But you can’t.”

 

He raked his fingers through his hair, agitated. “I wish I could tell you more, but I’ve probably already crossed a few lines I shouldn’t have, because I wanted you to understand what was going on.”

 

“I have a theory about this trip.”

 

“Oh?”

 

Kate could tell from his tone, Gareth was somewhat ‘un-enthused’ about listening to her ‘theories’. “I have a feeling you’re trying to show me what you are, without having to sit down and tell me. I think you wonder if I can handle the unvarnished truth.”

 

“And what was the result of my so-called ‘experiment’? Are you getting used to my bloodthirstier side? Could I truly ‘cut loose’ without frightening you? I’m far from sure of that.”

 

“I can’t promise I’ll never be scared of you again. Although it isn’t really you, it’s what you represent. The power of life and death. That’s a frightening thing. Al once said you carry your own ‘darkness’ with you. But as I pointed out to him, you’re also full of ‘light’. As long as you keep asking God to fill you, He will, like a Holy Chalice.”

 

“So now I’m the Grail, am I?” Actually, Kate could picture him like that, hands raised to the sky asking to be filled with God’s Holy Light, the Heavenly Spirit.

 

“As long as you stay open, and keep asking. I’ve seen you change when you’re communing with God, there’s a bit of a ‘glow’ about you. I know if you keep asking God for Power and guidance, He’ll keep you on track and make you ‘strong’ as well. Ask, and ye shall receive.”

 

Gareth stared at her for a long time, silently. Possibly longer than he had since the first day he met her.

 

“You’re right, there is a countermeasure to the poison in this world. The Light is stronger than the Darkness.”

 

“You should know.”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

“Everyone I’ve spoken to says you’re one of the good guys. Unequivocally.”

 

“Yeah, well, what do they know. The fan club.”

 

“They know. They say I shouldn’t question it so much. It just…..being kept in the dark, not knowing what you do, it’s hard. I’m afraid it will keep us from ever being….. close.”

 

“Kate…..”

 

“I don’t mean to make you choose between love and duty, I don’t. But I guess that’s what I’m doing. So if you’ll forgive me for making things awkward between us, can we start over?” Gareth actually had the audacity to smile at her peacemaking efforts, as if he hadn’t been all that badly offended.

 

“So how do you propose we begin this rapprochement?”

 

“Perhaps lighten the atmosphere. It’s grown rather heavy of late. I was thinking that I’d like to see you in a kilt.”

 

“No you wouldn’t. Gladys was right. If I wore the ‘authentic’ underwear, you might see far more than my legs if the North wind blew.”

 

“Ah, I see. Or rather, I don’t. Surely you’re not ashamed of the legs? I’ve seen you without your shirt often enough, but I’ve never seen the legs. Maybe you’ve got wee, skinny little legs. Or some thing.”

 

“Hardly. If I was afraid of someone seeing my legs I would never have engaged in competition swimming, where, as you may have guessed, the competitors wear next to nothing.”

 

“Couldn’t prove it by me. As far as I can tell, you go swimming in your clothes. Probably dark slacks and a white dress shirt. With a tie.”

 

“It’s difficult to satisfy you, wench. But if you really want me to take off all my clothes…..”

 

“Never mind, I’ve had second thoughts. You’re fine as you are.”

 

“I knew it. ‘Chicken’.”

 

“Yup, that’s me. Bock. Bock. Kate the Chickenhearted. Definitely a coward when it comes to getting too close to you.”

 

“And why is that?”

 

“Just as you surmised, nearness to you has a deleterious effect on my equilibrium.”

 

“Well we can’t have you getting dizzy. Perhaps you should sit down, maybe on my lap.”

 

Kate took a deep breath. “Now that would make me worse than dizzy, I think.”

 

“I see. Then I guess we’ll just have to make the best of it and settle for a meal. Care to dine, My Lady?”

 

She dropped him a low curtsy, pulling her full skirt out to the sides. “I daresay we should, Sir Knight, lest the full moon find us in this same spot, still playing silly games.”

 

“Yes, that reminds me. Knights, Castles, Swords. I have something I want to show you in the trunk. I picked it up in Inverness the other day while you and Gladys were buying this shirt.” Kate was thinking he might have hidden a ring in the trunk along with the picnic basket, so she followed him with some trepidation.

 

She might have been expecting a ring, but what she got was a sword. Gareth pulled a long and narrow blanket wrapped length out of the rental car’s boot. When he unfolded the blanket, he uncovered what Kate took to be some type of a longsword. The blade was two hands width shorter than it’s bigger cousins, the giant Claymores. It was narrower. It looked very long and sleek, like a leaf-bladed spear that had been drawn out to sword length. There was a spine like a backbone down the middle of the blade, lending it strength, adding weight to cut deeper. The sword somehow reminded Kate of a serpent. It looked extremely sharp, like a three foot double sided razor blade. In the setting sun, Kate could see gems winking on a hilt that was long enough to have space for a two-handed grip, even hands of Gareth’s size. It was still in the shadows cast by the car’s trunk lid, but she could see that it was quite beautiful, in a deadly sort of way. Rather like Gareth. Kate shuddered. Probably it was the cool air of the sea touching her shoulders.

 

“Are those real gems?”

 

Kate was thinking ‘king’s ransom’ and not to be carried in the trunk of a car, or maybe that Gareth had picked up one of the National Treasures of Scotland or England, like other people went shopping at flea markets and garage sales. Trust him not to do anything by halves.

 

“Yes, but not ‘gem’ quality. And the blade’s a replica. It didn’t cost me anything near what an antique of this quality would have. This is just a toy, really. But it is a pretty one. I believe they call it ‘a hand a half sword’, so it can be held with one hand, if you’ve strong enough arms, I suppose. But it weighs no more than a few pounds.”

 

“No problem for you then, you Gaels seem to wield those things like they were toothpicks.”

 

“Not true.” he laughed.

 

“Well it’s the most beautiful deadly thing I’ve seen all day. Except for you of course.”

 

“Was that a joke, or a cleverly disguised compliment?” He was trying not to laugh, but his mouth was twisting. “Because I have to say, as compliments go, that one’s double-edged.” He started to slide the blade back into the trunk.

 

Kate had just time to see something out of the corner of her eye, and gasp an indrawn breath that apparently telegraphed a warning to Gareth. Suddenly, a lot of things happened at once. In that brief flash of vision Kate could see three figures standing no more than a step or two behind them, and she had the impression the men were holding weapons. In the blink of an eye, Gareth shoved her sideways, perhaps a little too enthusiastically, and with a primal roar pulled up the sword from the trunk in a two handed grip. Kate staggered sideways, almost losing her balance, and Gareth stepped between her and the armed men. He took one deep step, and turned his body, the sword sweeping outwards in a circular arc. Four inches of the blade’s tip sliced through the front of an assailant’s neck, the back swing clipped the wrist of another, and then he stepped forward into a deep lunge that pierced the body of the third man. The sword appeared to have a life of its own, sweeping to and fro, impaling, without thought or mercy. It happened so quickly, that Kate’s mind couldn’t catch up with what her eyes had seen. And through it all, the would-be attackers stood stock still in disbelief, too stunned to move, un-reactive. To their downfall.

 

A fourth man, standing farther away, was holding a strange looking weapon, with a recurved hook on the forward end, and a long wooden handle. Kate realized it was a gaff hook, of the sort used to muscle the bodies of the larger fish up onto the deck of a fishing boat’s deck. He stepped forward and took a swing at Gareth. It was a rather large error in judgment, and his last. By now Gareth, was holding the sword in his right hand, and he shunted the hook aside one-handed and to the left, stepping closer to his opponent, which was probably not what the man had expected. Gareth’s very strong and ‘favored’ left hand wrapped itself lightning-like around the handle, above the hook. Kate expected to see him disarm his attacker by pulling the weapon from the man’s grasp, as she’d once seen him do with a staff on the now ‘ancient seeming’ video tape. But instead, his iron grip gave the weapon a sharp and decisive pull, yanking his attacker towards him. Too late, the man realized he should have let go of the handle. But his own strength left him clinging to his now useless weapon as Gareth used it to pull him onto the bright tip of the sword. He sank to his knees with a groan and then slowly fell forward onto his face.

 

A fifth man was standing even farther away, and it seemed to be…..Burrows. A look of horror crossed his face for a moment, to see all of his ‘compatriots’ down on the ground, bleeding or dead. He started to reach inside his suit jacket, where he likely had a weapon of his own. But glancing at Gareth’s stormy face, he thought better of the decision, and took off running towards the castle’s entrance. Smart move, Kate thought, as Gareth undoubtedly would have thrown something at him, the gaff hook ‘spear’ probably, and was almost certain to have hit Burrows, ruining his ‘aim’. Then Gareth would have closed with him and..…as the saying went, it would have been ‘all over’. Burrows was very smart to run away. But it also seemed like he might be a coward.

 

Gareth turned back towards her, and Kate got her first look at what his enemies had been seeing. The blood had ‘painted’ him. Completely covered him with a heavy red mist. His face, his hair, his eyebrows, and of course, the previously white shirt. Well, she’d answered the question of whether Gareth would use a sword if he had one. If he possessed a sword, he’d use it. She didn’t see how she could ever have doubted it. Gareth had the grace of a dancer and the strength of a lion. It was a combination uniquely suited to swordplay. He was ten percent bigger than any dancer she’d ever seen, and much considerably more lethal, but she should never have have questioned that he’d be ‘very good’ at this. And how had she ever thought he needed ‘protection’? It was the terrorists and hitmen who needed protection, not that Kate would have been inclined to grant them mercy. The apparition of an ‘Ancient Sea Lord’ with a sword in his hands had been too much for their limited minds to encompass, a mental gridlock, and their confusion had been their undoing.

 

As to the shirt, the one she’d spent so long picking out because she’d thought he would look so ‘romantic’ in it, he didn’t look so idyllic now, she might just as well have put him in wool or linen, or whatever the crusaders had worn. All silk was good for when it was soaked with blood was clinging tightly, like a second skin molded to his muscular frame. Still, Kate far preferred Gareth ‘alive and messy’, to Gareth ‘dead and tidy’. And if they’d shot him, the shirt would have had holes in it anyway, not to mention his blood all over..… Kate didn’t want to think about that. Then the ‘bad guys’ would have killed her, of course. No, Gareth had definitely done the right thing by killing them. It was just that it was all so…..brutal. She felt herself on the edge of hysteria.

 

“Kate,” Gareth said, taking a good look at her, “sit down. You look as if you’re going to keel over.” As if he didn’t have enough problems to deal with. No, she couldn’t faint.

 

“I told Gladys if I could see you in that shirt even once, I’d be satisfied. And it seems I’ve gotten my wish. You’re going to wear it exactly once. I suppose it could have been worse. A medieval woman would have made a much greater commitment of time by sewing the shirt. I can see now that those medieval guys must have been murder on their clothing.” She laughed tonelessly, thinking thinking all the while that it wasn’t really funny at all, that she was just hysterical. She’d finally been driven round the bend by circumstance. Here she was surrounded by a real scene which could only have come from one of William Shakespeare’s bloodier dramas, and all she could do was to engage in meaningless chatter. People had died here. She needed to come to grips with the appalling reality.

 

“Please Kate, sit down, before you fall down.”

 

She wrapped the sweater around her shoulders, and walked a few steps to sit on the edge of the low stone wall that encircled the parking area. She realized that she herself had not been ‘unmarked’ by the encounter. She had a fine sheen of of blood down the left side of her face, the only part of her body which hadn’t been shielded by Gareth standing directly in front of her. Kate glanced at the bodies. The sword had done its work well, but not with cinematic flair. The ‘beheaded’ man’s head wasn’t rolling about, it was still attached to the body by what remained of the neck vertebrae, it was just that the throat was missing. And the same was true of the wounded hand, which was still attached by a bit of muscle and skin, bleeding profusely. The man was sitting on the ground, apparently terrified, with good cause, of the blood soaked, sword-wielding Banshee Lord that stood before him. He rapidly scrabbled backwards on the pavement, leaving a blood trail. For his part, Gareth stood over him like some giant cat, watching over a wounded rat, that was trying to make its escape. Blood still dripped from the tip of the lowered blade he held in his hand. Kate supposed in the ‘olden days’ a warrior would have cleaned his blade on a cloth, the grass, or his enemy’s coat. But these were not those days. This was now a real ‘crime scene’ and Gareth was not supposed to do away with any ‘evidence’. So Kate supposed that for the time being, the blood would just have to keep on dripping. She suddenly realized that the reason she was having a great trouble trying to keep from retching, was because the very air smelled like blood, warm, dank, metallic. Oppressive.

 

With a groan, she looked away from the scene before her, as if she could make it go away by not looking at it. Her mind was erroneously telling her that a reality she failed to acknowledge would somehow cease to exist. If only that were true! But when she looked again, the pools of blood on the pavement still remained. Gareth walked to the still open trunk and pulled out the cloth in which the sword had been wrapped. Then he stalked over to the man with the severed hand, the only one of the attackers still living, The unpleasant looking fellow remained suitably cowed and edged still farther away. Kate couldn’t blame him, she herself would have been duly intimidated, by the sight of a warrior painted in blood and still carrying a weapon. Gareth put the sword down out of the man’s reach, and bound up the wound, wearing a sardonic smile as he did so. He walked back to the trunk again and pulled out the quilt that was to have been their ‘picnic’ surface. This he threw over one of the bodies, which seemed pointless at first glance, since there were three of them and he could only cover one. Kate noticed however, that it was the nearly beheaded corpse that he chose, far the most garish looking, on account of the great pool of blood, and the glassily staring eyes. Then he walked back to the open trunk a third time, pulled out a cell phone and made a call, which lasted no more than a couple of minutes. Kate’s mind was so numb that she didn’t really hear what he said. Lastly, he gathered up the three weapons from the fallen dead, checked each weapon in turn, and brought two of the three guns back to Kate, pressing a 9mm into her nerveless right hand, and gently placing a little .32 ACP on her lap. He kept the .357 for himself.

 

“Not much firepower, but it should be enough to keep one wounded moron at bay. I needn’t tell you, if he moves, shoot him. I’m sure he understands. The police should be here in a short while, though with the roads in Scotland as they are, it’s hard to tell just when that might be. In case that Burrows fellow should circle back, I need you to stay sharp. No woolgathering. Now I’m going after him.” He turned, and moving like a giant panther on the hunt, he stalked off towards Eilean Donan. The highest battlements of the castle now bathed in the bloody glow of sunset, the lower reaches covered with the gloom of twilight. Kate looked down and saw the bloody sword was laid at her feet. A chill sank into her bones.

 

When Gareth returned from the castle ramparts, he was empty handed and wore a bleak expression. Burrows, it seemed, had disappeared again, like some recurrent ghost, now you see him, now you don’t.

 

“There was a rope ladder hanging out of one of the tower windows on one of the castle’s back walls. He must have had a boat stashed at the bottom of it. By now he’s on the other side of the firth. And after that, who knows…..”

 

She could tell some part of him regretted his decision to respond to the situation so ‘rationally’. He had followed proper procedure, first dealing with the wounded, then securing the crime scene and alerting the authorities. Although Kate noticed, he hadn’t ‘waited for backup’. He didn’t seem to do that often, very much a solo act. He was probably wishing that he’d followed his first instinct, running Burrows down with sword in hand and eliminating that particular menace on a permanent basis. The way Gareth looked at things, his hesitation had allowed Burrows to escape. Now Burrows might ambush them at some future date, like a bloated corpse waiting to pop to the surface when least expected. And Gareth felt ‘responsible’, just like he always did. It took the best part of an hour for the Scottish constables to appear, and twenty more minutes after that for an ambulance and a coroner’s wagon. During that time Kate had probably not spoken more than six words to Gareth. Well, perhaps twenty. He’d asked her if he’d hurt her when he pushed her out of the way. When she’d answered with a negative shake of the head, he had salvaged a thermos of coffee from their ill-omened picnic and placed a cup of warm coffee in her hands. But he said very little. Instead, he had spent the time watching his prisoner, cat watching rat. Gareth, perched on the wall beside her, regarded miscreant calmly, while the man visibly trembled under his scrutiny. Gareth was unmoved, by anything approaching pity.

 

When the authorities eventually did show up, Kate considered how Gareth must appear to those who hadn’t witnessed the debacle firsthand. His face and his shirt were painted red. Fortunately his pants were too dark to visibly record the effects of arterial blood spray, but she was sure his face and the shirt were more than enough to impress them. Even as the light faded to a dull glow on the western horizon, Gareth lit by flashlight was no friendlier sight. The whites of his eyes, always more apparent and visible than most other people’s, surrounded the smoky orbs of his eyes, but the eyes themselves were set in a red mask. The blood on the shirt was turning dark as it dried, but here and there the spatters of the bright red of wet blood still showed. The old tribes had tattooed themselves blue, but Kate had to say that ‘Red’ was a far more forbidding look. The Gaels would have dubbed him a ‘Redshirt’ for sure. ‘Aye, his shirt’s always red wi’ blud. E’n it’s seldom his oon.’ She noted that he took care to set all the weapons on the ground, as the police approached them. Then, Kate watched while Gareth tried to hand off the sword to the evidence man who was standing next to the officer with the notebook. Gareth had wrapped the fingers of his right hand around the blade, slightly below the hilt. He held out the sword with the blade pointing downwards. Held that way, the blade resembled a cross. But Kate wasn’t reminded of God, but instead, the red age of the Crusades. The works of Man, seemed bloodier than the works of God. The evidence technician made an attempt to pick up the sword with a cloth in his hand. Possibly he didn’t know how slippery the hilt was, or how heavy the sword, or maybe his hand just wasn’t as strong as Gareth’s. In any case the tech lost control, and let it slip while he was lifting it. Gareth had to make a quick reinforcing grab with his left hand, or his right would have been sliced to the bone by the sliding blade.

 

“Watch it there, man.”

 

“Ach, it is a wee bit slippery e’en it?”

 

“Be careful. We don’t want you mixing your blood with that black lot.”

 

Next time the young man used both hands and a bit of clean cloth to lift the blade. After a time, the ambulance showed up, bundled up the injured man into the back and after more time, then wheeled away again. Kate noticed that the ambulance crew had taken the precaution of handcuffing his usable hand to the ambulance wall. Wise Decision. Not taking any chances with the fellow, apparently. While they were still loading him, the coroner’s van appeared. The driver and two ‘loaders’ waited patiently while the police technicians finished taking pictures. By now it was full on dark, and the flashes stung at Kate’s eyes. The dour looking fellow who took the initial report, seemed neither shocked or impressed by Gareth’s colorful methods of execution. But the other half dozen men and one woman who showed up on the scene seemed rather excited, the Scots loving and owning their bloody history as they did. Gareth had just added to it. Probably no one had killed anyone with a sword at Eilean Donan Castle for at least a couple of centuries. This was definitely going to go on the news. And probably be added to the guidebook. Gareth had surrendered the sword, probably for all time. The chances were good he wouldn’t be getting it back. It would be ‘evidence’ for a while, and then someone would almost certainly want to put it in a special case with an inscription.

 

Kate listened while Gareth recounted their tale, endlessly it seemed, but she made little effort to listen to the exact details, since she’d experienced them for herself. Then it was her turn. Gareth’s statement was read to her and she was asked if it was complete and accurate. She noticed that Gareth had made one curious misstatement. He claimed that an ‘unknown’ fifth assailant had run off and he had pursued the man. Of course both she and Gareth knew exactly who the fifth man had been, but for some reason Gareth didn’t want to share Burrows’ name to the Scots authorities, at least the low level ones. The police said they’d search the far side of the firth for the fifth man, but didn’t hold out too much hope he’d be found with no more than a general description. Of course Kate had cause to believe the police would have had little luck finding Burrows even had they known his identity. The man had the elusive reflexes of an endangered weasel. The police directed them to Kyle of Lochalsh rather than Plockton. Gareth was allowed to drive there on his own, but a police vehicle ‘accompanied’ them. There they repeated their stories for a second set of scribes, Kate by now so tired she wasn’t sure if she was making any sense.

 

Then they finally decided to let Gareth leave. The wisdom seemed to be that if all the weapons, including the sword, had been confiscated, that Gareth was as ‘dis-empowered’ and ‘safe’ as he was likely to get. Still, Kate had the feeling they were a bit worried to leave someone like Gareth running around loose, even unarmed. If they had only known. Gareth was the sort who could kill someone with a pencil, or a butter knife, and she was equally sure completely ‘unarmed’ would have posed little to no difficulty for him. But as a result of police reluctance to release them, it was almost 2 in the morning by the time they got back to Plockton. Kate accepted a belated hug from Gareth who dragged wearily off to next room down the hallway. Kate then knocked quietly on the door of the room she shared with Gladys. Gladys, apparently still awake, flung open the door rather quickly.

 

“How was the evening…..” Then she saw Kate’s dress. Her mouth fell open in shock and dismay.

 

Kate had made a passable attempt at cleaning her face in the police department bathroom, but she had been unable to do anything about her dress, at all.

 

“It’s all right. It’s not his blood, it’s theirs.”

 

“Well, Praise for that, then.”

 

“May I come in?” Kate said patiently, since Gladys was still blocking the doorway.

 

“Oh, of course, of course, yes.” Gladys said, backing out of the way. “What was I thinking, you must be worn out.” Kate recounted the evening’s events yet one more time for the benefit of Gladys, and then she crawled off to bed.

 

The next day dawned far sooner than necessary, at least in Kate’s opinion. The dress was beyond salvageability, not as badly stained as Gareth’s shirt had been, but it would always be a stark reminder of the previous evening’s unhappy outcome, and nothing she would relish wearing too much, so it hardly seemed worth the effort to clean it. She now remembered how different her attitude had been when it had been Gareth’s very own blood that stained the green tweed suit. She would have worn a trace of his blood willingly, but the thought of being cased in a nameless, headless enemy’s bloody remains seemed far more chilling and ugly. Fortunately, human skin washed clean fairly well, and a bath made Kate feel almost back to her old self. Gareth was due to meet with the Chief Inspector, back at Kyle of Lochalsh at 1 pm. Kate and Gladys had decided to accompany him, as much from fear of being alone as from curiosity. Well, perhaps Kate was ‘afraid to be alone’, and Miss Gladys was ‘curious’. The Chief Inspector would have come sooner, but he had to come all the way from Inverness. He would also be bringing two uniformed officers to take charge of the prisoner. Potential terrorists were well beyond the scope of the local police.

 

At least the delay, gave them time for an unhurried brunch, at about eleven o’clock. Gladys spent the time spreading excellent preserves on her toast, and talking about the usual meaningless bric-a-brac, trying to distract them, no doubt. Meanwhile Gareth had more closely resembled a tightly wound spring, staring moodily off into space, managing somehow to look calm and worried simultaneously, perhaps like a rat terrier would look when about to go after the Chief Rat. Very ‘purposeful’. Kate had thought Gareth would most likely tell the Chief Inspector about sighting Burrows. The Bureau had a full dossier on Burrows by now, which they could share with whatever agency the ‘Chief Inspector’ represented. Kate had a feeling that it was either MI-5, or whatever group represented the equivalent of ‘Homeland Security’ in Great Britain. By now, she also knew she wasn’t supposed to speak out loud any of her conjectures who the Chief Inspector might really be. Therefore she wasn’t talking very much. It stood to reason that if you didn’t say anything, you couldn’t say the wrong thing.

 

“So,” Gladys said finally, “how do you think this is all going to play out?”

 

“I’ve had word from the police this morning. The medical people successfully reattached our felon’s hand. It won’t work quite as well, but it won’t fall off. Interestingly, the man’s known for rigging car bombs.”

 

“Probably not so well, now that he has a bum hand.”

 

“Perhaps not.”

 

“Guess it’s not just the Irish who like to blow things up.”

 

Gareth shrugged. “Can’t prove that by this one. His last name’s ‘O’Shea’.”

 

“Oops, ethnic blunder. You think he’s your Washington bomber?”

 

“I don’t know. We can hope. At least this one will be locked up for a good long while.”

 

“And the others?”

 

“The man with the missing head was wanted for manslaughter. He killed another drunk with a broken bottle in a bar fight. But his weapon of preference was a double edged blade. He was suspected of having slit the throat of at least two, possibly three down-and-outers, who were hanging around in bad neighborhoods.”

 

“Glad to hear that you’re clearing the police blotters for them. His MO matches Foster’s cause of death.”

 

“Yes, I noticed that, with some sense of satisfaction.”

 

“That leaves two.”

 

“The man with the marlin spike was a local thug. Not a murderer per se, but the kind of guy you hire if you want someone beaten to a pulp. He was known to beat all three of his wives, and half of his eight children, having put two of the wives and one of the children into the hospital.”

 

“And the other man?”

 

“Ah, yes. The mysterious third gunman, the one who was carrying the little .32. There is some evidence that he was a Scots hacker, who went by the name ‘Burningbrook’ which would be very appropriate. His real name as it turns out, was ‘Braeburn’.”

 

“Just a hacker, not a killer?” Gladys seemed quite puzzled. “What was he doing with that crew then?”

 

“Patience, O Eternal Ferreter of Truth. They say that several months ago he had some beef with his elderly landlady. There was no one in the building but the two of them, but they were heard arguing by neighbors. After a while, one of the neighbors noticed a certain smell. On investigation, the police found the landlady, dead in her favorite chair. They estimate she’d been there about a month. And she had three .32 caliber slugs in her chest. Braeburn was missing. The police have been looking for him ever since. It seems I found him for them.”

 

“So they’re all dead, and you’re alive, and that’s good.” Gladys sounded satisfied. She and Gareth had carried on this whole lively conversation in low but still clearly audible voices, discussing murder and death in the same tone that other people would typically discuss weather, sports, or the stock market. None of the other patrons of the dining room paid the slightest attention. Unbelievable.

 

“And what’s the word on Burrows?”

 

“Apparently he rappelled down the castle’s outside wall from one of the top floor windows, and then decamped across the firth by rowboat. A local man, the likely owner of the boat , was found nearby, dead by garrote. We’ll have to remember that particular little trick of Burrows, for future reference.”

 

“Considering the dark nature of your opponents, I think you’ll turn out to be something of a local hero. Of course, you being of ‘Scots’ blood just puts the capper on it.”

 

Gareth shook his head. “I doubt I’m going to be able to play the ‘innocent tourist’ for long.”

 

To someone more knowledgeable than Kate had been the day she first saw him in Kansas, Gareth looked neither innocent, nor much like a tourist. He looked like a man who could chew nails, as in the kind that were used to frame houses together, not the kind that grow on one’s fingers. Add to that the fact that he could sling Gaelic with the best of them, and he more or less blended right in with the locals. Or at least, he seemed like he could have walked out of one of the ‘darker’ pages of their ‘not so distant’ past. He probably would have gotten elected Chief, if not for ‘stealing’, then for ‘killing’. It made sense to elevate your best killers, lest they turn on you. An elite killer, would probably become either the Chief or an outlaw. People would never be ‘comfortable’ around Gareth for too long. As soon as they discovered what he was, a certain ‘distance’ ensued. Kate certainly understood, she she had trouble overcoming that gap herself. So, she had herself a warrior. Huh. But, sad to say, despite the accolades, ‘warriors’ made people uncomfortable. Less than two hours later, the two women found themselves again sitting on an uncomfortable police station bench waiting for Gareth.

 

“Does some part of this feel familiar to you, as in ‘deja vu all over again’?” Kate turned her head sideways to look at Gladys.

 

“I have to admit, police station waiting rooms are not quite what I had in mind when Gareth mentioned ‘Sightseeing In Scotland’.” Gladys drawled.

 

“There is a certain repetitive quality.….like a bad dream.”

 

It was this pronouncement that ushered in the Chief Inspector, who they’d all been waiting for. As he entered the station he didn’t immediately see Gareth, because Gareth was at that moment closeted with the police yet again, this time looking at photos of suspects who might be Burrows, but probably wouldn’t be, since Burrows had been in the US for twenty years. Having claimed the fifth assailant was unknown to him Gareth was bound to go through the patently useless ‘identification’ process as a gesture of co-operation. The Senior Inspector made as if to brush right past Kate and Gladys, but then seemed to think better of his brusqueness. He stopped to chat as if they were all ‘civilized’ folks.

 

“Good Morning, Ladies.”

 

“Good Morning.” They both intoned. Gladys added a head nod.

 

“I fear we didn’t have time for introductions during the last time we met. I am….. Chief Inspector Alasdair Moncreiffe.” He proffered his hand. Gladys rose, gave his hand a little squeeze and sat back down. Kate did the same. They both gave him their names.

 

“I hear we’ve had another spot of difficulty.”

 

“Just a tad.” Kate said, trying not to roll her eyes. Sarcasm would not be appreciated.

 

“Your friend is a dangerous man, at least dangerous to certain types, it seems.” The inspector chuckled.

 

“Yes, we know.” Gladys said dryly. “We’ve spoken to him about matters of etiquette. No doubt your countrymen could defend themselves in a much more ‘dignified’ manner. I’ve told Mr. McFadyn to sit quietly in a chair with his hands folded. But when someone tries to kill him, he tends to become ‘agitated’.”

 

“Certainly, we owe him a debt of gratitude, for making ‘defending our coastlines’ a bit easier. I’m only chagrined our own forces didn’t apprehend these vermin, before they ever encountered…..your friend.”

 

“I’m surprised you don’t claim Mr. McFadyn’s activities a a national legacy. Considering his lineage, he’s a clansman through and through, no matter where he was born.”

 

“An ‘Honorary Highlander?”

 

“Perhaps he’s a ‘mighty Gael’, sent forward from the distant past, to set things right in the present.”

 

“A rather fanciful interpretation. But true, I fear, in a way, for all of that.”

 

Kate suddenly remembered a vision driving into Kansas. A ‘tornado’ tearing up her life and setting her somewhere new. A mighty Gale. Or…..a mighty Gael. Her active subconscious had an extremely wry sense of humor. Gareth had certainly overturned every expectation she’d ever had about living a peaceful and uneventful life. She only hoped the part about ‘setting her down somewhere new’ was also true. Mr. Tornado. Yes, that described him quite well.

 

“A big wind,” Kate laughed, “I’ve never heard Gareth described quite that way, but he definitely blows ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ sometimes.”

 

“Not ‘G-a-l-e’ you silly chit,” Gladys growled “‘G-a-e-l’ as in the ‘distant forbears’ of this misty drama. You have to admit, they wouldn’t have found what Gareth did with the sword to be all that unusual.”

 

“Well, I told the lad to stay out of trouble, but I didn’t expect him to be set upon. You were there too, I hear.” the Inspector said, looking down at Kate in a kindly manner. “Kind of ruins a romantic evening, eh?”

 

Before Kate could frame a suitable reply, Gareth emerged from one of the rooms down the hallway. He turned and gave the Chief Inspector a significant look, and the silver haired Moncreiffe brushed past them like a dark wind hurrying towards its destiny.

 

“Are all the spies in all the countries like that? I mean, there’s just something so similar about them, ‘melodramatic’. Or maybe there’s no ‘melo’ about it. Maybe they’re just plain ‘dramatic’.”

 

“Only the upper echelons, dear. And keep your voice down.”

 

“I will. And for the record, I do know how to spell ‘Gael’. How does that song go, ‘I ain’t quite as dumb as I seem’?”

 

“I knew you were pulling my leg. Didn’t doubt you for a moment. He didn’t get around to it, did he?”

 

“If by ‘he’ you mean Gareth, and you’re asking me if he got around to handing me a small, lumpy box, then the answer would be ‘no’. I was just beginning to wonder where he had it stashed when all the fireworks broke loose.”

 

“Unfortunate timing, all the way around.”

 

“I’m glad those men won’t be hurting anyone else. But it’s hard to watch people die, even bad people.”

 

“Huh,” Gladys whuffed. “Now you know why McFadyn’s getting wrinkles in his forehead. It’s not from computer programs gone astray. Moncreiffe is one, you know.”

 

Kate knew that by now she should have gotten used to Gladys’ changing course at the drop of a hat, but she didn’t quite follow where the conversation had gone.

 

“Is one what, Gladys?”

 

“A real card-carrying ‘House of Lords’, ‘Laird’, that’s what. ‘Lord Alasdair Moncreiffe.’ I looked him up on my phone.” Gladys could do amazing things with her phone.

 

“Sounds French, actually.”

 

“Yup. One of the transplanted Normans who took over the country for the English King. I’m sure there’s Scots blood in the family by now though.” She grinned. “That’s what happens when you hang around too long.”

 

“I know I should be impressed, and maybe chagrined as well, because I didn’t bow, scrape or call him Yer Grace, or Yer Lordship or whatever. But you have to know I’m biased. I find Gareth way more impressive than any rinky-dink ‘Lord’.”

 

“Ex-nay on the inky-dink ray. They take that stuff verra’ seriously around here. Gareth wouldn’t be a Laird unless about seventeen other people died first, including his older brother.”

 

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. But I wasn’t talking about ‘titles’, I was talking about people.”

 

“I guess I see what you mean. The old silver haired guy is kind of a dogfox, but Gareth is much better looking. Of course the young ones usually are.”

 

“That isn’t what I meant, either.”

 

“Oh, really? You honestly expect me to believe you don’t think Gareth is the best thing you ever laid eyes on?” Gladys accompanied the query with a throaty chuckle.

 

Kate felt the rosy glow beginning to suffuse her body.

 

“Well, I……”

 

Gladys, the sly one, had boxed Kate into a corner. Again. Kate noticed that after Lord Alasdair’s ‘conference’ with Gareth, the police treated Gareth quite differently than they had on the previous evening. They now looked at him with some measure of respect. Mixed with caution, fear, and a bit of loathing. Like they’d picked up a garter snake and ended up holding a cobra. It was decided by all concerned that the the three of them should soon depart from Scotland as quickly as possible, before anything else ‘untoward’ happened, before the forces of evil, or the forces of Vogle, could regroup and make another attempt. In short, before all hell broke loose, as if it hadn’t already. They wouldn’t be going on to the island of Mull as planned, or checking out the sound of Lochbuie, where Clan MacFadzean had formerly dwelt. They would be leaving Scotland, in something of a rush, possibly under a bit of a cloud. They might not be welcome in Scotland too much longer, despite the fact Scotland had a few less vermin running loose in it than they had the day before. Gareth was proving to be quite the effective ‘Rat-Catcher’. Kate seemed to remember a fairy tale about the Pied Piper. Sometimes everyone agreed an ‘exterminator’ was exactly what the situation required, and yet, no one was quite comfortable with an exterminator hanging about. It was simpler if after he killed the rats the Piper just ‘went away’, without being paid. The Scots, while grateful for Gareth’s ‘services’, were hoping that he’d go away quietly. Like people everywhere, they wanted to pretend as if none of it had ever happened. They’d probably continue to hold their heads firmly in the sand, at least until the next time they had a ‘rat problem’. Perhaps the old barbarian strains hadn’t utterly died out of Scotland’s Isles and Promontories after all. Gareth was a ‘Native Son’, and, it seemed, quite the talented ‘Painter’. But like most of those wild ‘Old Gaels’, he used a very ‘limited’ color palette. He painted only in Red.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN:

BEVIES OF BARRISTERS, LEGIONS OF LITIGATORS

 

The next morning, the Chief Inspector had someone drive them to Glasgow. In Glasgow they boarded one of the ‘big’ jets to New York. When they stepped off the plane it was early evening in New York. Gareth was in his shirtsleeves, rolled up, his tie loosened, and his hair, as usual, rumpled. He looked relaxed, but tired. As they walked forward into the terminal, Kate’s first clue that trouble was up was a guarded look that flickered ever so briefly across Gareth’s face, a certain narrowing of the eyes, a hardening of the line of his mouth. When she looked up Kate saw uniformed patrolmen were waiting for them, or rather for Gareth. Kate and Gladys were briskly pulled aside by airport security, and could only stand helplessly by while he was arrested. He looked amused and skeptical as the police moved in on him, sparing Gladys a resigned smile and a raised brow that seemed to indicate he was not surprised. Then he flashed Gladys what Kate took to be the ‘V’ for victory sign. Now, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Kate saw that there were four arresting officers, instead of the usual two or three. Two of the officers approached Gareth from the rear, while two others ‘kept him occupied’ by approaching him from the front. Clearly the police weren’t taking any chances on such a ‘potentially dangerous perpetrator’ bolting or overcoming the two officers in front of him. She noted the two who were approaching from the rear had their hands on their weapons. It appeared they’d been ‘warned’ that the man they were taking into custody might resist arrest. Kate mentally dismissed their ‘precautionary measures’.

 

Possessing the skills he did, there was fair chance Gareth could have escaped into the crowd. At least he could have, if he’d truly been a ‘super dangerous felon’, who didn’t give two whits about the surrounding members of the general public. The officers wouldn’t have had time to get their weapons clear of their holsters, or line up a shot before Gareth would have been neck deep in civilians. He was quite fast when motivated, or so she would swear, having seen him at Eilean Donan, moving quickly on his feet, while hefting a sizable sword, and of course on the phantom video. The police would have been in for quite the wild footrace. They probably had never encountered, in their careers such an elusive broken field runner, nor one, counting the aikido, quite so talented at ‘breaking free’ when cornered. However, Gareth put up no resistance, at all, nodding with fatalistic elan as they read him his rights, and compliantly placing his hands behind his back, so that he could be peaceably handcuffed. Then the officers hauled him away and pushed him into a patrol car. Just about the time he was three quarters of the way into the vehicle, meaning his face was still visible to a pointed camera, a photographers flash went off. So someone had tipped off the press as well. Airport security took Kate and Gladys to separate rooms where more police officers waited to question each of them, separately. No doubt, the authorities were checking to see if Kate and Gladys would contradict each other about what had happened in Scotland. Kate recounted the events as best she could remember them, and after about twenty minutes she was released. She joined Gladys who was already waiting outside in the hallway. Gladys hadn’t been physically present at the ‘massacre’ in Scotland, so her ‘eyewitness account’ had been considerably shorter than Kate’s. They were obviously being ‘detained’ because of the crazy events at Eilean Donan castle. But Kate was bewildered as to why Gareth had been arrested in the US, when he’d already been cleared by the authorities in Scotland.

 

“What is this about?” she queried Gladys.

 

“Someone ‘anonymously’ alerted the Port of New York authorities that ‘Gareth McFadyn’ on flight 374 had committed a ‘murder’ on foreign soil. It was further stated he fled to the US, while still wanted for questioning overseas. Therefore, he has been summarily charged with ‘unlawful flight to avoid prosecution’.”

 

“Someone? As in ‘someone’ we know? That would be a short list at the moment. I don’t see how Burrows could be back in the country yet, although I wouldn’t put it past him to come.”

 

“I’d vote for someone more highly placed.”

 

“As in an attorney who recently insisted Gareth would ‘shortly be needing legal representation’?”

 

“That would be my guess.”

 

“So now what are we supposed to do?”

 

“Well, he told me more or less, when he held up his hand.”

 

Gareth had hands that were exceptionally expressive, besides being strong. They seemed to be quite talented at killing, he waved them about while ‘lecturing’, used them to softly caress, and in this case, engaged in a complex symbology that constituted a secret language that Kate was not privy to. Apparently the ‘V’ sign had some significance to Gladys.

 

“The ‘V’? I don’t see how hoping for victory gives you the slightest clue what to do now.”

 

“It wasn’t a symbol, it was a number. He was telling me to call both of his usual attorneys, not just the one who handles criminal matters. So I have to make one phone call to Boston, and one to Chicago. Oh, and one to Carlisle, of course.”

 

“So obviously he knew this was going to happen.”

 

“Not precisely this. Let’s just say he knew there was a ‘fair possibility’ there’d be trouble of some kind.”

 

“I don’t see how the authorities can do this. He’s already been ‘cleared’ in Scotland, or he would never have been allowed to leave in the first place. But why didn’t he say something? Well I guess he did say something to you, he just didn’t say anything to me.”

 

Kate stared off into space feeling disconsolate, because he didn’t trust her as much as he trusted Gladys. She shouldn’t have been so surprised by Gareth’s arrest. In truth she’d half expected they’d get into hot water when they returned to the US. Even with Gareth’s ‘better than good’ connections, no one was exactly going to overlook the garish killing in Scotland. One which had probably made a small news blurb everywhere, even if Gareth were listed as an ‘unidentified American tourist’. Humans loved to gossip, and this was a story eminently qualified to be repeated over and over. Twisted slightly with every telling of it. She could see the article now, ‘Would-be thieves’ had the tables turned on them in a ‘big’ way, when they tried to relieve an unnamed tourist of the souvenir he’d recently purchased. The ‘tourist’ mowed them down with a replica sword, leaving three men very dead and one gravely wounded. As they say, ‘crime doesn’t pay’. Gladys could see she was feeling left out, and uncharacteristically hurried to explain.

 

“He didn’t want you to have to worry about something like this, unless it actually happened.”

 

“Why am I not consoled by that knowledge?” Kate said, bitterly. “What a lovely ‘homecoming prize’ for Gareth, spending the night in jail. And you and I get to spend the night in the ‘congenial’ airport hotel. Can’t Mr. Carlisle do something about this?”

 

Gladys shook her head. “Unfortunately, the arrest occurred so late in the day that no one who can clear this up will be available until tomorrow, our time. Time Zones and whatnot. The ‘All Clear’ has to come from Scotland. Carlisle would look like a horse’s rear, if he cut his ‘fair-haired boy’ loose on only his own say so. Not that he couldn’t do it, mind you, it just wouldn’t ‘look right’ and I don’t think Gareth expects it.”

 

The whole thing was so backwards, when it was Sinclair who should be having to explain himself. Kate couldn’t believe Carlisle would throw Gareth to the wolves, or even let his chief investigator’s abilities be seriously curtailed. And yet, that was exactly what seemed to be happening. The investigation had reached a critical stage. Gareth was too essential, surely Carlisle would protect him. But perhaps Raymond Carlisle could not intervene too directly, even to save his favorite ‘troubleshooter’.

 

“This is so unbelievable. Anthony Sinclair’s going to get away with this. Sinclair is ‘neck-deep’ in this conspiracy, possibly even the one who’s pulling the strings for Vogle. And yet he’s accusing Gareth. The irony isn’t lost on me.”

 

“Never fear. He’ll get what’s coming to him eventually. He’s taking quite a risk to call so much attention to himself. By instigating the charges against Gareth, he’s very much in the public eye. It’s going to make it very difficult to escape the country undetected when he’s found out. Which he will be. Because the forensic accountants are breathing down his neck as we speak.”

 

Kate wondered how Carlisle was going to re-act to what was happening to his younger protégé. Both Gareth and his ‘mentor’ seemed aware more accusations were likely to be leveled. She’d heard such legal activity labeled ‘nuisance suits’. Supposedly they were illegal, but by the time such suits were stopped, the damage was generally already done. Gareth was unlikely to countersue, for what they called defamation of character, he would learn to live gracefully with the professional ‘black eye’. If it were anyone else, besides him, Kate would’ve said his career was ‘ruined’, in tatters. But with Gareth…..it was hard to tell. Carlisle was undoubtedly aware Sinclair was behind all this turmoil, but apparently he and Gareth were both content to let this play out as it would. So far, it didn’t look as if Carlisle would lift even a finger to alleviate what was happening to Gareth. Of course Kate realized there might be something going on behind the scenes. That seemed frequently to be the case. Gladys called Chicago on her cell. It made sense to call Gareth’s criminal attorney first, since the trip from Chicago would take longer. Gladys ended up leaving a message at the man’s office, but apparently there was some sort of code word included in the message that would cause it to be forwarded ‘post haste’. Next she called Boston.

 

This time she’d no sooner left a message saying ‘Drew McFadyn’ needed advice on some ‘pressing issues’ than the phone rang back. The man on the other end promised to be on a plane early the next morning. Gladys took a deep breath and picked up the motel phone to call Raymond Carlisle. A ‘land line’ naturally, since cell traffic wasn’t ‘secure’. From what Kate overheard, Carlisle was already aware of the situation. Kate heard Gladys mention Sinclair’s name. Which meant the bogus ‘anonymous tip’ had probably come from Sinclair. But she also heard Gladys mumbling something about how she ‘understood that they didn’t have enough evidence on Sinclair to arrest him yet’. It seemed the government’s prosecutors were waiting to confirm the tenuous link between Sinclair and Vogle. Only by establishing a unquestioned chain of command between Vogle and his lackeys would they be able to prove Vogle was responsible for Foster’s death and for the assault that so badly maimed Al. Unless they could make a strong case Vogle had been the one giving the orders, no one could move against him. Without sufficient proof to implicate him, Vogle could let the ‘lower echelons’ take the fall for him, and skate away a free man. The unfairness of the situation grated on Kate. There was silence after the call to Carlisle, and finally Kate found the motionless air unbearable.

 

“Now what are we supposed to do? I feel so powerless. There’s nothing I can do to help Gareth with this situation.”

 

“You could pray.” Gladys smiled.

 

“I could.” Kate said, vowing to pray more and worry less.

 

“And as for how we handle this, now we go to the motel restaurant before it stops serving, order some flat and tasteless food and, pretend we like it. Then come back here and act like we’re going to get a good night’s rest. And in the morning we deal with the rest of this mess. Unless you have a better idea?” Kate didn’t.

 

When she crawled between the cold sheets that night, Kate prayed that the truth would be revealed. And while she was at it, she prayed Gareth would remain safe in jail. ‘Law enforcement types’ sometimes mysteriously turned up ‘dead’ when incarcerated. Their fellow prisoners sometimes took a ‘dislike’ to them. Kate was banking on the quiet fact that Gareth was a ‘very high profile’ prisoner. Hopefully, it would be extremely embarrassing to most any authority to have such a prisoner turn up dead in your jail. When she finally slept, Kate slept like the dead. She almost felt like she was dead. Life had taken a very bad turn.

 

Legal difficulty number one was cleared up early in the morning. Gareth somehow or another got himself released, and took a taxi to the airport’s hotel. He was waiting for them in the lobby when they came downstairs at about six thirty. He was still wearing the same shirt he’d worn on the plane and Kate knew it probably bothered him to show up looking like that, because he changed his clothes, a lot. He also didn’t look like he’d gotten any sleep, which wasn’t surprising. He looked discouraged. Gareth without his courage, without his boldness and irrepressible confidence, just didn’t seem like himself.

 

“How are you?” she asked, certain the answer couldn’t be good.

 

“I’ve been better.” he said, but then he smiled, and the world suddenly looked a little better.

 

“God was with you.”

 

“He was, and is, and will be.”

 

“So what’s on tap for this morning?” Gladys, the ever practical, immediately got down to business.

 

Gareth sighed, and slowly sifted his fingers through the back of his hair, further disarranging it. “I don’t think we should take another commercial flight at this point, since the same scenario we faced last night is likely to be waiting for us when we touch down in Washington. I’ve decided to whistle up the company jet plus a crew, so we can control the exit strategy a little more closely. But you ladies are not ‘compelled’ to travel with me. You can return on a commercial flight, if you’d prefer.”

 

Kate shrugged.

 

Gladys said “Might as well see this thing through, ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’.”

 

“Are you sure? You’re headed back to Denver in a few days anyway. You could just get a head start.”

 

Gladys shook her head, in a negatory fashion. “Hey, we’ve got a little ‘team spirit’ thing going on here. We don’t want to mess with that.”

 

“You don’t get ‘demerits’ for ‘abandoning’ me, Gladys. I’ll survive, with or without your support.”

 

“Don’t say that. I’ll feel emotionally crushed and begin to pout. I need to fell needed.”

 

Kate laughed.

 

“So breakfast then?” Gareth had not yet experienced the airport restaurant’s food.

 

Kate and Gladys exchanged a look and barely avoided groaning, having sampled the restaurant’s fare the night before. Of course, Kate would have been the first to admit any food would have tasted like cardboard when she was worried about Gareth. Although as it had turned out, she had worried needlessly, he’d been fine all along.

 

“That bad, eh? Well, we can’t go too far wrong with toast and coffee. And after being locked up for a night, I for one, am ‘famished’.”

 

They made their ‘coffee’ last an inordinate amount of time. The restaurant had a good view of the airport runway and they watched small, medium, and large jets, mixed with lighter weight private aircraft take off and land for over an hour. About eight o’clock Gareth dabbed his chin with one of the restaurant’s napkins and said, “There it is.”

 

He hadn’t believed their warnings about the restaurant’s food and had followed his ‘toast and coffee’ with something more substantial, a plate full of scrambled eggs. He later admitted the eggs weren’t ‘all that terribly great’, but then proceeded to point out that any day a person was alive was by definition a ‘good’ day, and further insisted any food eaten as a ‘free’ man tasted better than similar fare consumed while incarcerated. There wasn’t much to argue with that sentiment. Possibly, Gareth McFadyn was less cynical than he sometimes seemed. His ‘positive’ expectations, seemed to come true at least as often as his ‘negative’ expectations. Maybe that’s what prayer was, a positive expectation made manifest. Maybe God was still teaching Gareth to see things in a new light. Despite trying to copy Gareth’s hard-won optimism, Kate wasn’t quite expecting what she saw when she looked out on the runway. Hearing Gareth’s jumping loud exclamation, she’d assumed he meant the plane had finally arrived. Vainly, she now examined the new incoming arrivals. She was looking for a small executive jet, the type frequently used by the wealthy when they didn’t want to be tied to a commercial airline’s flight schedule. She didn’t find what she was looking for. Instead, right before her eyes, was a medium-sized commuter jet, the sort that seated twenty to forty passengers. The plane was white, with only three large red letters near the tail. Well, two large letters and a smaller one. Large ‘M’, small ‘c’, large ‘F’.

 

Kate turned to Gareth in a mild state of disbelief.

 

“How many of these planes did you say your Dad’s company owns?”

 

“Our company. Six. Which is why I can ‘borrow’ one for a day or two without causing too much chaos. There are others.”

 

“What in the world do you use six jets for?”

 

“Well you remember when we went to that party up at my father’s, Allie said my older brother David couldn’t attend, because he was away on business in Southeast Asia, right?”

 

“Right.”

 

“More like overseeing ‘sweatshops’ in my opinion, but we won’t even go there. Too many skeletons in the family closet. Anyway, that was a ‘legitimate’ use of one of the company’s jets. Last spring Allie and Jonathan took one to Australia because Jonathan is considering starting a hotel chain Down Under. Since it wasn’t strictly ‘McFadyn Industries’ business, Jonathan reimbursed the company. In effect he ‘rented’ the jet from his father-in-law’s company.”

 

“And you have to do that, too?”

 

“Yeah, and I can’t afford to do it too often. This is the second time this year.”

 

“I can’t believe you have to pay your own father.”

 

Gareth grinned. “I pay the ‘stockholders’. And I’m a stockholder.”

 

“There’s a little more to it than that. I heard you were buying up the public issue stock.”

 

“Whenever I can. And then ‘redistributing’ it to people I think should have it, like Elyse Foster. Maybe the crew at Section. A few others.”

 

“So eventually, if you and your sister and the public issue people all voted one direction, you could ‘outvote’ your father, even if your brother sided with him.”

 

“You’re perceptive, as usual. Hopefully it won’t come to that. But at least it’s getting set up in such a way that even if all of ‘the McFadyn’s’ dropped dead, there would still be someone competent to take charge of the company. Incidentally, speaking of voting, you wouldn’t believe the hassle the three of us had with Dad over the company logo on the planes.”

 

“With his ego, I suppose he was going for something a lot more…..overt.”

 

“You could say that. He wanted it to say ‘McFadyn Industries’ clear down the side, in letters about twice that high. Sort of a ‘flying advertisement’. Subtlety is not his strong point. No Ma’am. All three of us voted the other way for once, and since the public wasn’t involved, it was a standoff. Eventually he caved in, but he wasn’t happy about it. Although I must say, he’d have precedent from the other side of the family to justify his attitude. Did you catch the size of the typeface on the side of the MacBrayne ships?”

 

Kate nodded. “The letters must be ten feet high on the sides of the bigger ships. You can probably see them from a couple of miles away.”

 

Gareth shook his head. “You can probably see them from space.”

 

“Well at any rate, if you’re related to them, I’m surprised your ego isn’t more out of line than it is.”

 

“Thanks. I think.”

 

Gareth stood up and stretched, but before he could reach for his wallet, their waitress appeared. Possibly he just ‘looked’ like he’d be a ‘big tipper’, or else the nervous looking young woman had radar.

 

“Is everything OK, Sir?”

 

“The service was great.” Gareth said smiling, throwing a couple of his extra fifties on the table.

 

Kate noticed he didn’t mention the food. But maybe if he left a big enough tip, they didn’t really care how well he liked it. It was tempting to think they could walk to the plane, it had looked close enough from the restaurant. But they and their luggage took a taxi and went the long way round, passing through a chain link fence by way of several security gates. They were dropped at the front door of the terminal, like any common tourists. Then, instead of proceeding inside to go through security, Gareth pulled their luggage cart around the outside of the building and they moved out directly onto the black tarmac. The infamous ‘McF’ jet had drawn up to a smaller hangar at the side of the main terminal. They were in for a long walk, but there was no ‘security check’. In fact, a man wearing one of those bright reflective vests of airport staff saw where they were headed, and actually waved them on.

 

Kate shook her head. “No wading through airport security.”

 

“If you’re coming on this flight, you’re coming at your own risk. There may be terrorists on board.” Gareth grinned sideways, “I can pretty much guarantee that there’s going to be one ‘counter-terrorist’ on board.”

 

“That would be you.” Kate smiled.

 

“It would. At least I hope you still count me among the counter-force, and not the terrorists.”

 

Kate immediately felt put on the spot. She knew she should reassure him, that what he wanted to hear was that she supported him wholeheartedly and without question, but truthfully…..she wondered sometimes if he was so different than the people he pursued, even if his motives were better. She tried to change the subject.

 

“When are these ‘friends’ of yours showing up?”

 

His smile died, replaced by one of those ‘remote’ looks. Obviously he sensed her lingering doubts and the thought pained him. “They should be along any time. I thought we could wait for them on the plane where we’d be more comfortable.”

 

Once Kate was inside the jet, she could see what he meant by ‘comfortable’. The inside of the plane wasn’t laid out in row seating, but was instead a large open ‘lounge’ area, with an office, a galley, and sleeping quarters beyond it. According to Gareth, there were two computers in each of the two offices.

 

“I guess if your brother goes to Bangkok, he doesn’t have to check into a hotel. He’d do just fine if he decided to stay on the plane.”

 

“That’s the idea. Lose a little money here, save a little money there. Plus, it makes for a fast getaway. Just in case there’s a coup d’etat by an unfriendly military junta, or some other unforeseen little glitch in the works.” Gareth was still putting on the act of tour guide, witty, charming, but unless it was only in Kate’s imagination, his expansive mood had been diminished by her lack of enthusiasm. Somewhere out there Kate was sure,was a woman who would have adjusted to being a ‘spy-hunter’s’ girlfriend with much more alacrity. If only she were that person.

 

“So what’s the range on this thing?” Trust Gladys to bring them back to earth.

 

“Can’t cross the Pacific without refueling, but pretty much anywhere. Why Gladys, were you planning on taking a little ‘round the world’ junket?”

 

“Just wondering.” Gladys chuckled. “But those computers you mentioned sound like exactly what I was looking for. I’ve been thinking of doing a little ‘search’ into Anthony Sinclair’s background. If he’s as full of vitriol as you say he is, there must be a reason. Maybe we’re missing something. How much do you know about him, anyway?”

 

Gareth shrugged. “Not that much, really. He’s the son of, an old acquaintance of, my father’s. Maybe that’s where you should look, the past. I haven’t met the man more than a half dozen times in my whole life. I have no true idea what might have caused him to take such a sudden and violent dislike to me. Since I have a firm distrust of co-incidence, I have to wonder if the ‘dislike’ was there all along and I just failed to notice it.”

 

Gladys nodded. “You won’t mind if I use the computers then.”

 

“Not a bit. Knock yourself out.”

 

Gladys might have been most impressed by the availability of research terminals, but Kate was more interested in the fairly large luxurious seating area, which didn’t have a ‘seatbelt’ in sight. When Gareth guessed what she was searching for, he first looked amused, but then set her straight.

 

“The seat belts are there all right, but they’re hidden. We test them out on crash dummies ahead of time. So I can vouch for this craft having having all the proper safety equipment. As for being safe in a crash..…well…..there’s something inherently a little ‘unsafe’ about plane crashes in general.”

 

“You noticed that, did you?” Kate laughed.

 

“We might be better off jumping. We’ve got parachutes. Ten of them. We’re only supposed to have nine people on board today, but if we had more passengers, I’d make sure we had more chutes.”

 

“Provided we had enough warning.” Gladys intoned. “Most crashes occur on takeoff and landing, and your chutes wouldn’t do much good then. But if we were in the air…..Yes, well that’s a comfort.”

 

Kate fixed Gareth with a certain look. “I take it you’ve jumped.”

 

“I have. Nothing to it. You step out on air and…..you fall. If you’re lucky, you don’t land too badly.”

 

Kate shook her head and sat down. “Somehow, the things you say are ‘easy’ don’t seem quite so easy to everyone else.”

 

“It takes no talent whatsoever to fall. Anyone can do it. I’ll be back shortly, I have to change for the meeting.”

 

He left the lounge area for the dressing room and returned about eight minutes later, refreshed, invigorated, apparently shaved, and of course, totally redressed. She didn’t quite know how he did it, it would have taken her at least twenty minutes to have achieved a similar transformation, without the shaving. Actually, she doubted she could have done it at all, considering the sort of night he’d had. If she’d been in his shoes, Kate thought she’d be nursing a headache and look like death warmed over. As it was, although she had chosen to wear a conservative dark gray pantsuit with a frilly white blouse, pearl earrings, and had put her hair up in a knot, Gareth still made her feel ‘under-dressed’. She probably looked like his personal secretary, or maybe an ‘administrative assistant’. A ‘girlfriend’ would have looked far different, she should have worn a short racy red dress perhaps, with red heels to match, lots of gold jewelry, big hair? Kate wasn’t even sure she’d merit being considered a co-equal ‘business associate’. In that case she should probably have opted for a short skirted black suit, stockings, very high heels and pearls around her neck. This was extremely ‘elevated’ company after all, not a PTA meeting. More of the ‘Fortune 500’ people. Here she was, out of her element, hopelessly and perpetually ‘casual’. Even so, Gareth smiled at her as if he thought she looked fine. Which was very confusing, because Kate didn’t feel ‘sufficient’ for the task at hand. Not in her wardrobe, or for that matter, in any other area. Gladys drifted back into the lounge.

 

“Did you finish your research?”

 

“I’m waiting on a callback on some data I requested. I see Mr. Quick Change has managed to re-invent himself. Primed for battle, I’d say. At least the boardroom variety.”

 

“He certainly doesn’t look like a man who overnighted in a rather uncomfortable jail cell. I have no idea how he does it, I can only say that I’ve seen him do it before. He has clothes stashed everywhere. I wish I were so organized.”

 

“No you don’t.” Gladys said. “Then you’d be him. And I hear that’s a drag.”

 

Gareth threw himself down on the couch facing them, where he could see Kate clearly, but wouldn’t be tempted to touch her. He leaned forward with his hands clasped together staring quietly at the floor in front of his feet. Kate wondered if he might perhaps be praying. He seemed quite relaxed, but then he did this sort of thing all the time. There were four crew members on the plane. A pilot, a co-pilot, a chef, and a flight coordinator, who, she guessed, made sure the cargo was loaded, the doors were properly closed, all the external aspects of the craft, like landing gear and flaps, were squared away. According to Gladys, that crewman also had enough skills as an electrician to check some of the internal circuitry, should anything appear questionable. It didn’t take long for their first ‘guest’ to arrive. Coming through the open hatchway, a man with the same approximate coloring as David McFadyn, lank blond hair and hazel eyes, smaller boned than Gareth, and maybe two inches shorter. An amiable expression, and a look that said he was smart as a whip, he was probably about the same age as Gareth, but only the beginnings of wrinkles around his eyes gave away his age. Otherwise, he would have seemed a bit younger than Gareth. But then, maybe he didn’t have the ‘weight of the world’ resting on his shoulders. He was wearing light khaki slacks, a light blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a maroon tie. Ivy League, casual. He seemed very bright and he smiled a lot, at least he smiled when the three of them rose to their feet to greet him. When he looked at Gareth however, his face grew more troubled.

 

“This is Eric Bloomfield. He’s an old ‘tennis buddy’ of mine from Yale. He’s also a top-flight civil litigator. ‘Welcome Aboard’, literally.”

 

They all sat back down.

 

“He says ‘tennis buddy’ like we were ‘equals’. When did I ever beat you?”

 

Gareth put his hand on the back of his neck and looked sheepishly down at the floor. “Surely, I dropped the ball once or twice.”

 

“Missed serves don’t count. Because when you did connect, it was pretty much unreturnable. I always thought you should have gone pro.”

 

“Too inconsistent. And I had no time.”

 

“The only thing I ever beat this boy at, was ‘Scrabble’. I felt pretty darn good about that too. Until I heard from somebody else that the little ear jack he was wearing during the game wasn’t feeding him music like I’d thought. No, the ‘Wonder Boy’ here was listening to a chess game played by two Russian Grand Masters, and visualizing every last single move, of course. He wasn’t paying the slightest attention to the scrabble game. Which totally explains why when I had told Drew I’d won, he said, “Yeah, whatever”, and then he lurched to his feet in that way that he does where he kind of throws everything in the room backwards, and he left. After he left, this dweeby guy turned to me and said. “Dude, don’t you know, Scrabble bores McFadyn senseless. He must really like you to have agreed to play with you.” I believed what the Dweeb said. So when you left Yale, I figured it was because you were ‘bored’. I think the whole place kind of ‘bored you senseless’.”

 

Ah, the chess games. Gareth probably spoke Russian. Kate nodded. Yes, ‘Drew’ had been a Wonder Boy all right. A very tempting sort of conscript for an intelligence agency.

 

“Well the course work was repetitive. I’d already been through most of it a couple of times.”

 

“I’d heard that. I know you started college a year ahead of everyone else. I heard a rumor that you could have started college at 15. And then I heard another rumor that you could have started at 12. I didn’t believe that one at all. Is there any truth to any of that?”

 

“At 12, I would have been a lot less bored with the coursework. On the other hand, the girls would have been way too old for me. I would have found that boring. As it was, they were ripe for the picking. I’m kind of glad I waited until I was seventeen to go to college.”

 

“So why did you leave Yale?”

 

“I guess I just wanted to do something ‘real’ for a change.”

 

Which would cover being a law clerk in Boston. Or training with the CIA. So now had he finally gotten enough ‘adrenaline’ into his life? Or maybe a little too much, when they started shooting his friends?

 

“I haven’t really heard from you in six years. Not since you came to the wedding six years ago when Gillian and I got married. No more than Christmas cards, anyway. Did you know, we’ve got three kids now, instead of the two you knew about.”

 

“When?”

 

“Last April. Her name’s Megan. So what’s up? I know you wouldn’t call unless it was serious.”

 

“Well so far I’ve ‘only’ been arrested for ‘murdering’ someone I killed, but didn’t murder. I had to post a huge bond to get out of jail on that charge, because the authorities were also told I was a ‘flight risk’. Which sounds fairly reasonable when you realize I’d just come back from overseas. I know you don’t normally handle criminal matters, and Webb’s coming for that. If we end up in court, I thought he could handle it. But I may have a couple of items which will be right up your alley. I may get slammed with a ‘wrongful death’ and a ‘wrongful termination’ suit, almost the instant we’re back in DC.”

 

“And how would you know all of that? Not that you might not have ways of knowing things that I know nothing about, of course.” Bloomfield was obviously trying to understand Gareth’s line of thinking, but he looked mystified, as if he thought his former friend might have gone a bit bonkers during the time since he’d last seen him. Well, they did say ‘genius’ and ‘insanity’ walked hand in hand.

 

“I know it because I’m being hounded by a goblin attorney who’s decided that I’m his personal shishkebab. If I was him, and I wanted to hassle me, thereby making my job ‘impossible’ instead of just ‘difficult’, that’s what I’d do. I’d plaster me with every ‘nuisance suit’ under the sun, and hope maybe something stuck. Or I would, if I wasn’t worried about getting sued for ‘harassment’, because I was planning on leaving the country.”

 

“Assuming you’re right, how do you want me to handle the cases?”

 

“You can move to dismiss the ‘wrongful termination’ on the basis there was ‘no due cause’ for the termination. I’ll see that you get a copy of the specific personnel file in question, ‘Oscar Donovan’. As to the other suit, that situation is a bit more complex. You can move to dismiss on the basis that the man who died, died during the commission of a crime. They will argue the second vehicle could have been full of harmless tourists who happened to be closely following the crime vehicle, at 10 pm Sunday night, on a country road. Very extremely unlikely, and a judge worth his salt will probably see that. You can counter with a list of the occupants of the second vehicle, all felons, all known associates of the three in the lead vehicle. At which point I’d be very surprised if the judge didn’t conclude our ‘harmless victim’ was killed while assisting the occupants of the first vehicle, all known felons. If they were accomplices in crime, they were criminals, and not subject to the usual ‘protection’ of the law. Whoever the interested parties in this suit are, they’ve probably been encouraged to sue by Sinclair, and I would like you to threaten to countersue for harassment, unless they withdraw their suit on their own. Hopefully, if Sinclair has ‘persuaded’ them to sue, we can persuade them to ‘cease and desist’. I’d also like you to please resist all attempts to attach my father’s assets in these two suits, or any others that may be brought against me in the near future. There’s enough bad blood between me and the ‘Old Man’ without him thinking my ‘work related activities’ are going to lose him a bunch of his precious green.”

 

“I see. Is that all? You sure you don’t want me to write an encyclopedia or two while I’m at it?”

 

“Don’t worry. I know you can handle it. And I’m sure there’ll be plenty for Warner as well, if he ever gets here.”

 

As if on cue, another form darkened the doorway, but this gentleman leaned his weight against the doorway and took a look inside before entering.

 

“That’s OK Warner,” Eric jibed “you do have the right McFadyn jet. Come in.”

 

A dark haired man in an impeccable navy blue suit sidled carefully through the doorway. He was a little older than Gareth and Eric Bloomfield, but not by much. He wasn’t quite as tall as Gareth, but barrel chested and big shouldered. His eyes were such a deep and dark brown they looked black. Kate was reminded of a slightly younger version of Perry Mason. He looked to be about forty, there was a light dusting of silver in his otherwise almost black hair, worn very short. He looked like a fighter, dressed for battle.

 

“Finding the correct ‘McF’ jet is a concern. I could have stumbled in on David, or Alexandra, or Andrew himself. No telling which McFadyn you’ll find on a McFadyn plane, after all. It looks as if all of you are having a bit of a party in here. Can anyone join in, or is this by invitation only?”

 

“Well, you were invited, by that lady over there.” Gareth gestured towards Gladys “On my behalf. But if you’re going to be difficult Webb, you may have to find your own corporate jet to party on.”

 

“No sense of humor and argumentative as ever, I see. What sort of trouble have you gotten yourself into this time, Drew?”

 

Everyone stood to be introduced.

 

“Ladies, this is William Webb Warner, ‘The Third’, right? Otherwise known as ‘w, w, w, double slash attorney, dot, com. The ‘double slash’ means he’s vicious, ‘twice’.”

 

“That is a very old joke. Back from the college days.”

 

“It still works for me.” Gareth laughed. “And for everybody’s information he is not an ‘old school buddy’ like Eric here. No, he is the ‘older’, and might I say ‘highly successful’ brother of one of my old school chums.”

 

Kate then suddenly remembered where she’d heard the name before. He was a ‘Chicago Attorney’ after all. He had been defending some semi-famous Chicago entertainer on a ‘manslaughter’ charge. Kate thought the man had gotten off, but she couldn’t quite remember. But having met the attorney, she found no reason to doubt the man had been acquitted.

 

“‘Highly Successful’ might be putting it a bit strongly, Drew. Let’s just say if Eric here is the ‘ferret’, then I’m the ‘bulldog’. Lots of teeth, and a strong desire to prevail.”

 

He laughed, and Kate actually got little shivers running down her neck. ‘Determined’, she thought, would be an understatement.

 

“I must say I enjoyed playing chess with you Drew, back in the day. When my little brother told me he knew someone who could beat the pants off me, I didn’t take him seriously. But I should have. I only beat you a few times. But I did beat you.”

 

“Yes, you did.”

 

“But no better than one time in three. Maybe not that.”

 

“One time in three. That’s pretty good, actually.”

 

“Easier to say when you’re on the winning side of that equation.”

 

Kate was reminded of Gareth and his ‘strategic losing’ policy. Had most of the losses to Warner been ‘staged’, so as not to ‘offend’ his older opponent? Kate thought William Webb Warner the III had his own doubts on that issue. But no one would ever know for sure, except Gareth, and Gareth wasn’t telling.

 

“Can we sit?” Having exposed the fact that he had lost battles to Gareth in the past, Warner seemed uncomfortable. Maybe he was unsure what he could do to help someone who never seemed to need any assistance.

 

“We can.” Gareth said, playing the ‘genial host’ and trying to put everyone at ease. He flung himself down on the seat in his usual ‘graceful sprawl’, and everyone else followed his lead in a more ‘leisurely’ fashion.

 

“I notice you didn’t answer the question about how much trouble you’re in.”

 

“You see, that’s the thing,” Gareth handled his chin thoughtfully. “I’m not sure.”

 

“You’re not sure what you’ve done? That’s a novel defense.”

 

“Well ‘murder’ for starters, although the authorities in question chose not to charge me. I suppose they could be persuaded to ‘reconsider’. The incident in question happened over in Scotland. If they did decide to charge me, I could be extradited. I believe we do have official extradition agreements with the government of Great Britain. However, I’d prefer not to be taken overseas at this time, as I’m in the middle of a few things.”

 

“I see. So you want me to fight the extradition, if it comes to that.”

 

“Yes, although I don’t think it will. There’s a certain Chief Inspector I’d like you to contact. He might be able to shed some light on the situation for you. Although he might not be as forthcoming as you’d wish, I’m sure he’ll explain things, after a fashion.”

 

“May I ask what happened? Unless you’d prefer not to say anything in front of…..” Warner looked at the other faces in the cabin.

 

Gareth laughed. “We have no secrets here.” he paused as if reflecting. “Well not that one anyway. Kate was there when it happened.” Gareth then turned to look at Eric Bloomfield. “She was also with me when I lit up those two van loads of terrorists Eric, if you need to talk to her.”

 

Kate, suddenly the center of attention in that august conclave, smiled wanly. She very curious how Gareth was going to explain what had happened back in Scotland. His attitude seemed somewhere between grave and amused. He took a deep breath.

 

“It so happens, I cut off someone’s head with a sword. Although not quite ‘off’, three quarters, maybe four fifths I’d say. Yes, that’s about right.”

 

Warner, shocked to silence for a few seconds, then tried to make a joke.

 

“I had no idea you had this other side to your nature, Drew. If I’d known what you were truly capable of, I don’t think I would have quibbled about losing a few chess matches to you.”

 

“It was ‘self-defense’, Mr. Warner. They had guns pointed at us.” Kate spoke out in Gareth’s defense, despite her intent to remain silent.

 

“I see.” Warner said. “And how did you get into this ‘situation’ in Scotland?”

 

Gareth smiled one of his enigmatic smiles. “We were on vacation.”

 

Warner raised a dubious eyebrow. “No, really, we were. ‘Officially’.”

 

“And unofficially?”

 

“There might be a little bit more to it than that. Which is why you should talk to the Chief Inspector.”

 

“All right then, ‘murder’, which may have been self-defense.” Warner sighed with resignation, “What else?”

 

“A couple of things. Maybe ‘excessive use of force’, in this country, not in Scotland.”

 

“Those two van loads of terrorists you mentioned?”

 

“Yes, although I don’t quite see how ‘excessive’ figures into it. They’d be just as dead if I’d shot them one at a time. And I would have.”

 

“Agent McFadyn may be to modest to mention this, Mr. Warner.” Gladys said dryly, “but at odds of one against five in Scotland, and one against seven or more in that ‘van incident’, the authorities in both countries had no trouble deciding to let Agent Drew McFadyn walk. These charges have been brought by an outside source to prevent Agent McFadyn from finishing his investigation.”

 

“So, Drew. It seems you’ve been rather busy. You always were a physical sort, but the last I heard of you, you were teaching ‘Computer Science’ at MIT. Not the most likely candidate to go running around committing heinous crimes of one sort or another. How did an academic like you get involved in goings on as messy as all this?”

 

“Just lucky, I guess. A case we’re working on edged over into…..‘espionage’.”

 

“Our people started getting killed before theirs did.” Gladys said. “Agent McFadyn didn’t initiate this activity.”

 

“Is that so, Drew? These people are coming after you. Can’t the authorities do something?”

 

“Like what? A twenty-four hour a day guard? I refuse to be shackled like that. The moment I pull into a defensive shell, I’ve lost any effectiveness I might have as an investigator. I might as well go for a long vacation in Tahiti.”

 

“I gather taking a sabbatical is out of the question.”

 

“The man we’re after killed someone I liked and respected, and crippled my sparring partner. His cronies put a bomb under the seat of my car and Kate had the bad fortune to sit down in my place. She could have been killed.”

 

“So I take it that would be a ‘no’.”

 

“Until we get this bozo, leaving the field of battle is off the table.”

 

“I see. A little more serious than chess. I hope you know what you’re doing, but I’ll defer to your judgment in that area. I have to say though, it sounds as if your ‘defense’ might get into some classified areas.”

 

“Yes,” Gareth smiled, “that could happen.”

 

“You almost seem to be enjoying this.”

 

“I dropped out of Yale to do something real. This is as ‘real’ as it gets. I’m not happy about what’s happened, but I’m going to enjoy putting a stop to it, yes.”

 

Warner looked at Gareth and shook his head. Then he looked down at floor and sighed heavily.

 

“You don’t ask much, do you?”

 

“As to money,” Gareth said, by way of answer. “You’re welcome to as much of my money as you need, keeping in mind, most of my assets are not liquid. But my father’s money is off the table. The last thing I want, is for my father to have to bail me out of some jam. Are we clear on that? No one contacts my father, no matter how any of this turns out.” There were nods of assent, everyone seeming a little cowed, even though Gareth hadn’t raised his voice. He had that effect on people, even high fallutin’ Yale-y attorneys.

 

“If I understand you correctly, you believe you’ll be charged with something beyond the killing in Scotland, and beyond whatever you’ve done here to be charged with ‘excessive force’. What else have you done that you consider ‘actionable’?”

 

“I didn’t do anything I consider ‘actionable’. If I thought it was unlawful, I wouldn’t have done it. But my opinion doesn’t matter. It’s whatever the New York State Attorney General ultimately wants to pursue, and unfortunately, the press has a say in what is considered important enough to prosecute. With my name, and the spectacular nature of the charges, I’d say there’s a ‘high probability’ they’ll elect to prosecute.”

 

“You believe that you’ll be charged.”

 

“Almost certain of it. And when I tell you what I think the charge will be, you may change your mind about representing me. I don’t know for sure, but I do have a best guess. Right off the top of my head, I’d say treason.”

 

Sometimes, Gareth had a way of slam dunking a conversation.

 

“I see. What are you supposed to have done?”

 

“Oh there’s no question that I did it. The FBI is after me for taking this one here.” he gestured in Kate’s general direction “into a secure facility. It was for her own safety, but that’s not going to come up. What is going to come up is that she’s my ‘paramour’.”

 

Warner turned slowly in Kate’s direction. “Are you his lover, Miss Greenwood?”

 

“I…..um. We’ve kissed, that’s all.”

 

“You seem like the sort who could pass a lie detector on that issue, but I don’t suppose it will help much. Unfortunately, people would rather believe what they want to believe than what’s true. Sometimes it helps my clients, but in this case…..” Warner shook his head.

 

Gareth apparently thought the discussion had gone far enough in that direction, so he took charge of it again. “The question of whether Miss Greenwood and I are lovers is a moot one. As far as the FBI is concerned, the issue is, whether or not I took an officially ‘not vetted’ civilian with negligible security clearance into a ‘Secure Facility’. It wouldn’t matter if the civilian were my uncle from Amarillo, Texas or a hooker from Atlantic City. Although I admit, certain elements of the press would probably prefer the hooker, since it would make a much ‘juicier’ story for them to sell papers with. As to my ‘guilt’ on that particular issue, the answer is that I’m undeniably guilty. I’m prepared to resign over this, but unfortunately that isn’t going to make the problem go away. My resignation may satisfy the FBI, but I’m fairly certain I’m also going to be charged with ‘treason’, for revealing classified material.”

 

“To Miss Greenwood.”

 

“Yes. Probably.”

 

“And did you reveal classified information to her?”

 

“Let me put it this way. Miss Greenwood has been at my elbow during a number of frank discussions between me and certain members of my staff. At the very least, she knows the names and identities of key staff at Section Six. She’s also aware of many of the details of our current case.”

 

“But in your judgment she’s not a security risk.”

 

“Knowing who my Boss is, don’t you suppose Miss Greenwood’s background has been checked rather thoroughly? She has been ‘vetted’, but only unofficially. Regrettably, she still has no security clearance.”

 

“You aren’t concerned with what she knows?”

 

“She’s involved in the case. I’m not concerned with the threat Miss Greenwood poses to National Security. I am concerned with the threat our current case poses to her health and well-being.”

 

“If you’re going to plead guilty to all of this, I don’t see how I can help you.”

 

“I want you to buy me as much time as you can. We’re building a case against the man who has brought most of these charges.”

 

“You seem remarkably ‘unworried’ for a man who thinks he’s going to be charged with treason. It’s a capital offense, or had you forgotten? Admittedly this doesn’t sound like anything that would warrant the death penalty, but you shouldn’t trivialize…..”

 

“I won’t be found guilty of treason.”

 

“You’re sure of that?”

 

“Incompetence, perhaps. Poor judgment. It will be plea bargained downwards to public humiliation. And as as Andrew McFadyn’s son, I’m already used to a certain amount of that.”

 

“If things go your way it could happen that way, but it’s far from certain.”

 

“In order to convict me of treason, they would have to prove I deliberately revealed sensitive material to a possible foreign agent. Whatever was revealed was inadvertent. And as to Kate being a foreign agent…..” Gareth smiled.

 

Webb looked questioningly at Kate. “Pardon me for saying so, but I don’t understand why you trust this young woman so implicitly. As I understand it, you’ve only known her for a few weeks. That fact is bound to come up in testimony.”

 

“Knowing your predilections, or lack of them, you’re not going to like this Webb, nor will you necessarily believe me. But Kate and I share certain beliefs. And I know that if she and I pray to the same God, she is not a spy.”

 

“I see. She can’t be a spy because she says she’s a Christian.”

 

“No, I trust her because I believe she’s a Christian, not because she says she’s a Christian.”

 

“I can’t defend you on that basis.”

 

“I didn’t ask you to. This is for your ears only. By way of explanation.”

 

“Then how will you plead?”

 

“Not guilty. I’m going to make them prove every bit of it. We’re playing for time. My agency is attempting to follow the money trail from Sinclair, back to the terrorist who sits at the top of this dung heap. I think they’re close to making their case. Unfortunately, they’re not going to be ready to arrest Sinclair until after I get pilloried in the press, but those are the breaks, and I’m prepared to go through with it.”

 

“You said you were going to resign?”

 

“I will, but not before I’m found guilty. I have to pretend I’m ‘fighting to save my career’ or the hearing will be called off. Then Sinclair would likely ‘vanish’.”

 

“You don’t care about staying with the FBI?”

 

Gareth smiled. “You think I’m worried about my government pension?”

 

“Ah…..I guess not. Now that I think about it, you might not be eligible for a government pension anyway, on account of your…..financial situation.”

 

“You think?” Gareth laughed, sounding tired, but looking like he didn’t have a care in the world.

 

Warner shook his head. “I don’t know Drew, you worry me. Clients who think their case is going to be a ‘slam dunk’ always worry me.”

 

“What you don’t understand, Mr. Warner,” Kate said, “is that Agent McFadyn nearly always has something going on behind the scenes, usually something that’s going to throw the situation in his favor. I heard this from someone who knows Mr. McFadyn very well, who assured me that this is almost always the case. He said that Gareth rarely puts all his cards on the table for the rest of us to view. Maybe Mr. McFadyn’s optimism is justified.”

 

“‘Gareth’ is it? I always wondered what the ‘G’ stood for. Is she right Drew? Do you have ‘resources’ the rest of us know nothing about?”

 

“I might.” Gareth said. His relaxed sprawl on the bench seat displayed no sign of inner tension, a faint smile drew his mouth upwards at the corners. “It’s possible I might have something like that going on. Yes.”

 

A brief taxi turned the plane, and then it plane lifted off for the short flight to Washington DC. As soon as it was safe to walk, Kate wandered back to the plane’s second office. Gladys sat in front of the computer screen, the search already in progress. She held up a finger to forestall any questions Kate might have. So Kate had waited patiently while Gladys talked to the ‘friend’ who worked at an ‘unnamed’ agency. Anthony Sinclair’s name had been run through a search engine, along with Gareth’s to see if the two men’s pathways might crossed at some time in the past. A few minutes later the ‘friend’ called back with the results. At first glance there was no reason for Anthony Sinclair to want Gareth McFadyn ‘dead’ or ‘out of commission’. They hadn’t engaged in any mutual business deals or social engagements. They had few if any acquaintances in common, save for Andrew McFadyn himself. It had been a long shot anyway. Anthony Sinclair wasn’t really what one would call Gareth’s contemporary, he was closer in age to David McFadyn, actually a few years older, 53. But because of Gareth being a ‘late life’ child, his father and Sinclair’s father had been nearly the same age. Sinclair’s father Robert, however, was long dead. Gladys mulled all this data carefully. Kate could almost hear her brain hum.

 

“What do you think?”

 

Kate shrugged. “I don’t know. Try the parents, maybe.”

 

“That’s kind of what I was thinking.” Gladys called her ‘friend’ back.

 

“I’m playing a hunch Lucille. This time check Andrew McFadyn and Robert Sinclair. Yeah, we’ll wait.”

 

Gladys thrummed her fingernails for about eight minutes. She was nervous because they were running out of time before the plane landed, but she was also excited to see if her ‘hunch’ would pan out. ‘Lucille’ called her back. Kate had no idea if ‘Lucille’ was even a woman. There was every possibility that her contact was male, despite the moniker.

 

“Yeah? I see.” There was a long pause while she listened. “OK Thanks.”

 

Turning to Kate she said, “Bingo. We have motive. Come with me while I go tell McFadyn. And Warner might as well hear it now, as well. I don’t have time to repeat this story several times before we land. If they didn’t put these bloody planes in holding patterns we’d be in DC already.”

 

Gladys marched back to the main cabin area. She caught Gareth’s eye by lifting a finger. He paused in his recitation, apparently he was almost finished in any case, he was in the process of recounting his arrest in New York.

 

“I hate to interrupt,” Gladys said, when she had Gareth’s attention. “but I have some information one or both of you may need. Young Mr. McFadyn here, has been rather mystified as to why Anthony Sinclair would have it ‘in for him’, when to his knowledge, his path and Anthony Sinclair’s have never crossed to any great extent. But what we have going on here is a ‘generational curse’. About forty years ago, Andrew McFadyn pulled the rug out from under Robert Sinclair’s business. They were both competing for the same equipment for a stamp mill and Andrew McFadyn put in the higher bid. As a result, Robert Sinclair’s business failed. Kaput. Robert Sinclair then took what little money was left to the family and decamped to Europe, leaving the family destitute. Shortly thereafter, Robert died, it’s believed by suicide, although the details are unclear and sketchy. What is known for sure is that Sinclair’s mother, sister and himself, having once been wealthy, were now reduced to an abject state of poverty. The way things were headed, Sinclair would have been unable to attend college. His mother’s brother stepped in and paid for Sinclair’s law degree. But the cost he exacted for his ‘financial aid’ was steep. Anthony Sinclair spent the next fifteen years working for a man he detested, taking care of the cases his uncle didn’t feel like attending to, which was most of the total cases. Basically, he did all of the work, and got none of the credit. Sinclair has never married. His mother and sister both died many years ago, before Sinclair saw any great success. But the uncle who he bitterly detested, died only two years ago. But instead of feeling blessed that he no longer had to deal with the man, Anthony Sinclair seems to have taken it as personal license, to finally get his revenge. It’s possible, he blames his entire rotten life on Andrew McFadyn’s ambition. And it must have grated more than a little to see Gareth raised in the ‘lap of luxury’ and attending private schools, because Sinclair had none of that.”

 

Gareth stared at Gladys for a few seconds and then blinked. “Gladys, you’ve outdone yourself, I’m stunned.”

 

“I would guess he’s hated your family for a long time. And since he can’t get to your old man, he’s going to do the next best thing and take out the apple of his eye.”

 

“I only wish that were true. But I’ll admit, it’s a lot easier to destroy me than it is to destroy McFadyn Industries. The last few months I’ve been painting a big, fat bullseye on my back. Only part of that has been intentional, but it’s not surprising Sinclair’s decided it’s a fine time to take advantage. I’d relish the little ‘tussle’ it seems we’re going to get into, except that other people have become involved.”

 

Gareth turned to Warner. “Does this help us, knowing why Sinclair might be doing this?”

 

Warner shook his head. “Not really. It makes it easier to prove ‘harassment’ if he has a ‘motive’. But I’d say if he really is insane, it will only make him that much harder to stop. ‘Threats’ won’t dissuade him, neither legal or physical consequences will have any meaning for him. You’re going to have to lock him up, to stop him.”

 

Kate waited for Gareth to say ‘Or kill him’, but he was strangely silent on that topic.

 

The pilot announced, “We’ll be landing in approximately three minutes, please take a seat.”

 

Kate and Gladys looked at each other, walked to the nearest bench seat and sat down.

 

Eric Bloomfield burst in from from the office at the back of the passenger cabin.

 

“Good news. I have the papers ready for you to sign, Drew. If they serve you with the suits you think they will, we’ll have the legal response ready for them.”

 

He looked around at everybody and saw he’d walked in on the middle of a conversation.

 

“Did I miss something?”

 

Gareth shook his head.

 

“Only our conclusion that Anthony Sinclair is a madman, who also happens to be very mad at his perceived rivals, the McFadyns, and their ilk. That hardly comes as a surprise.”

 

It all happened more or less as Gareth had predicted. Gareth’s efforts at ‘sprucing up’ turned out to have been ‘foresight’. The press was waiting for them when they came off the plane. Lots of pictures were snapped, Gareth looked good, if a bit dour. The question was, how would it play in Peoria? Did he really look like a man who was guilty of treason, murder, and mayhem? Because that was how the press was likely to paint him. Even though Kate didn’t leave the plane arm in arm with Gareth, a few pictures were snapped of her and the other passengers as well. Good ‘stock footage’ in case someone decided to fabricate a story at a later date. Gareth and Eric Bloomfield were miles ahead of everyone else. Gareth actually had to shoulder one or two of the photographers out of the way, as he was very well capable of doing, however, he did it quite ‘gently’. It almost seemed more like he was Eric’s ‘protector’ and not the other way around. Kate supposed that since he was the bigger and more fearsome of the two, his role made a certain amount of sense. Since it became clear that he was not going to say anything except ‘no comment’, the press people began sticking their microphones in Eric Bloomfield’s face instead, as if he had been appointed ‘media star’ in Gareth’s place. Of course, all Eric was really saying was ‘no comment’ at greater length. No, Mr. McFadyn would not be commenting on the charges that had been brought against him. No it had not been decided at this time whether or not Mr. McFadyn would resign. Yes, Mr. McFadyn would be ‘happy to answer the press questions at a later date’.

 

“Well ‘happy’ is pushing it Eric.” Gareth said under his breath.

 

Some one of the reporters must have been sharper at identifying who the little entourage included, because one of the last microphones of the gauntlet was aimed at Gareth along along with a pointed question.

 

“Bloomfield is a civil litigator, but Warner is a criminal attorney. Do you expect to face criminal charges as well as civil complaints, Agent McFadyn?”

 

Gareth paused long enough to raise an eyebrow, as if to say ‘Well, what do you think?’

 

Encouraged by his quarry’s momentary hesitation, the reporter became bolder.

 

“Is it true you killed a man in Scotland, with a sword?”

 

Gareth had started to move on, but now turned back towards the persistent questioner, and the man’s eyes suddenly registered the fear that came with the realization that he was standing no more than a foot or two from a man he’d just accused of being a killer. If the accusation was false, he probably deserved a punch in the eye. And if the accusation was true.….he stood eye to eye with a killer.

 

“Ah.” he muttered tellingly, as the fear set in. Gareth’s bright eyes had flared to life, and Kate knew how frightening they could be. The man stepped half a step backwards, almost stumbling, trying to put more distance between himself and his interview ‘subject’. Gareth didn’t allow his would be tormentor to escape so easily. He reached out with a large, strong, right hand, wrapped his fingers around the man’s hand and the head of the mic, Kate had no doubt crushing the man’s hand somewhat, and probably rendering the audio pickup of the mike almost useless. Then he held up the three central fingers of his left hand. The man’s eyes went, if possible, a little wider. Then Gareth released the man’s hand, letting him stagger backwards trying to regain his balance. The microphone was now out of position and before the reporter could raise it completely Gareth spoke.

 

“The least you could do is check your facts. It was three men, not one.”

 

No one heard the comment except the unfortunate reporter, but sensing trouble, the rest of the reporters drew out of the way. As soon as they were past the mob, Eric Bloomfield expressed his concern. “I’m not sure it’s wise to bait the press that way.”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve found it’s possible to intimidate the press, without actually harming any of them. I seriously doubt that particular reporter is going to do any hack jobs on me any time soon. It’ll give him nightmares if he tries.”

 

“If you had PR people like your father does, they’d tell you not to indulge yourself.”

 

“If the little fishes are in a feeding frenzy, it’s good to give them something to chew on. But not too much.”

 

“You may not feel that way if he puts your comment on the air.”

 

“I think not.” Gareth gave a small laugh. “I turned off his microphone.”

 

Bloomfield stared at Gareth, his mouth not quite closed. “The more I think about it, the more I think I’m ‘lucky’ to have won that Scrabble game.”

 

They hadn’t covered more than a few steps, when Gareth’s other prediction came true. A man approached rapidly from the side, carrying a sheaf of papers. He got no further than “You are hereby served…..” before Eric Bloomfield cut him off.

 

“Let me see those.” Bloomfield perused the papers at light speed, Kate getting the impression he was as facile with words as Gareth apparently was with numbers. Seeing whatever key words satisfied him that he was holding the correct documents, he bent down and retrieved the legal responses from his briefcase, snapped it shut, and stood to hand them to the startled messenger. Kate was sure that even in the electronic age, the man wasn’t used to a paperwork turnaround of quite that speed.

 

“And you can also pass this along. You can tell Mr. Sinclair, that unless he backs off, he’s going to be slapped with a harassment suit the size of Texas. I’m sure that’s a simple enough message for you to carry.”

 

The process server walked away looking annoyed, Eric Bloomfield looked pleased that he’d been of some help to his ‘college friend’. Kate was afraid his jubilation might be a bit premature. Gareth apparently concurred, because Kate got the definite feeling he was waiting for ‘the other shoe to drop’. It wasn’t long coming. The three men in dark suits were standing just outside the terminal doors. Gareth looked at them. Then he looked at Kate. The three men stopped Gareth at the door. The two in the back were wearing dark sunglasses. The one who was not, was standing slightly in the lead, and would, apparently, act as spokesperson. Will Warner came up silently and stood next to his ‘client’, without being asked.

 

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation hereby charges you with.….” There followed an extensive list. What it amounted to was that Gareth was being charged with treason, but of the ‘minor’ rather than ‘major’ variety. Incompetence, rather than willful betrayal of secrets for personal gain. Something closer to what in the military would have been called ‘conduct unbecoming an officer’ and what a civil court would have called ‘gross negligence’. He’d been accused of divulging ‘classified’ material to his ‘girlfriend’ (read for that ‘mistress’). That would be Kate. Kate swallowed. Gareth did not answer the charges in any way, other than to lift his head slightly. For her part, Gladys shook her head.

 

“The rats have been busy while the cat was away.”

 

Kate had to hope that even the predations of a cat would be trivial compared to what the Pied Piper could do to them. She also hoped that God might see fit to produce one of those ‘last minute saves’ for which He was so justly famous. She then soon found out, that dreading an experience didn’t get it over with any sooner, or make it feel any better. She didn’t sleep, or eat very well for the following week, she spent time on her knees praying, but still the deadline for the hearing drew closer. She pictured herself being thrown into a burning cauldron. It’s not like that, she told herself, it’s just Refiner’s Fire. She decided she should be praying for more ‘faith’ instead of for a favorable outcome or to be ‘excused’ from testifying. Because it seemed very much like she was going to have to go through the fire to get where she had to go. And as for a ‘favorable’ outcome, if she were honest, she had no idea of what the ‘best’ outcome would be. Gareth seemed resigned to the fact that he would be found guilty, but he didn’t seem particularly troubled by that, which puzzled her. She worried about all the things she knew, that Gareth had said she wasn’t ‘supposed’ to know. The sort of facts that foreign agents might find interesting. Things she was afraid she would blurt out on the witness stand under ‘expert interrogation’. The location and entry strategy of Section Six, the identity of most of Gareth’s chief assistants. Vogle’s identity, and damning details about Burrows and Sinclair. She knew more than she wanted to know about Leon Foster’s death. It was going to be like wandering through a field full of land mines trying to guess which of the disquieting facts must be kept hidden from the FBI’s ‘interrogator’.

 

Word came back from Scotland. O’Shea had ‘hung himself’ in his cell. Which would have seemed like a straightforward suicide, except for a few strange details. In the first place, no one could quite understand how a man with only one functional hand had managed to rig up the belt with which he hung himself. Then it had been noticed that the offending belt was a very sturdy 44’‘ and the victim wore size 34’‘ pants. Even stranger, his own belt had been taken from him when he was incarcerated, in order to prevent just such an occurrence. However, it seemed there might be a plausible, if far-fetched, explanation of what had really happened. A rowdy and disheveled drunk, had been tossed into an adjoining cell the same night as the incident. In the morning the ‘stranger’ was gone, though witnesses recalled seeing only an ‘odd’ looking janitor leaving the building. Both cell doors were shut and locked, and the former bomber was alone and dead in his cell, hanging by a belt from the upper bars. An autopsy had revealed no drugs in the man’s system. Still, there were weird substances, which would dissipate before they could be detected, and a possible injection site had been found on the man’s skin. So the surmise was, that the ‘drunk’ had somehow or another broken out of his cell, broken into the bomber’s cell, injected him, possibly in his sleep, and then strung him up with a belt that the ‘drunk’ had brought along for the purpose. Then, the assassin had closed and locked both cell doors, and furtively escaped the building, wearing a janitor’s coverall, that he had probably stashed earlier in a broom closet somewhere in the building. All of this was conjecture however.

 

It was admitted that the ‘drunk’ had not been searched ‘too carefully’, on account of his smelly and obnoxious condition. Therefore it was possible, and highly probable, that he had smuggled in lock picking tools, and/or a vial of some drug, and a small hypodermic. In his shoes perhaps. No one had thought to take them from him. A ‘44’ belt would have fit him nicely, and no one had thought to remove that either, they didn’t even remember if he’d been wearing one. Worst of all, no one had taken his fingerprints, as he was thought to be a ‘common drunk’, and typically drunks could not hold their fingers still long enough to be fingerprinted. So no attempt had even been made. Needless to say, everyone was now very curious as to who the very ‘uncommon drunk’ had been. The authorities were under pressure to call it suicide, because although such a verdict admitted a ‘regrettable lapse in monitoring their prisoners’, it was nothing compared to the firestorm that would come down if it were publicly known an assassin could enter any facility at will, and kill an inmate his sleep. The Inverness Jail was further embarrassed, because their building was antiquated, and their cell doors were relics, not all that hard to pick with a clever hand. Normally, that wasn’t too big a problem. This time, it had been. They were now both slightly and starkly ashamed of their ‘historical landmark’. Kate regretted the man’s death, but only because Gareth had hoped to use him as a source of information. Vogle, apparently, had decided the man was a liability he didn’t need.

 

The day Kate was to give her deposition, dawned bright and clear. A good omen, perhaps. Or a good day for an ‘execution’. She reminded herself not to get too worried. This was only the ‘warm-up’ for the hearing, otherwise known as the ‘main event’. For the day’s deposition, as long as she stayed relaxed and didn’t contradict her own testimony, she’d be all right. She had then remembered Gareth, always, always admonishing her to tell the truth, and she would do so, as far as she was able, but she would avoid volunteering any extra info. She was, however, going to have to figure out just ‘how much’ truth to tell. One thing she should not mention, was what Gareth had told them about Sinclair that day in Aberdeen. She took a taxi from the E-Palace to another federal office building next door to the Admin HQ of the FBI. She walked in feeling somewhat hopeful. Mr. William Webb Warner had agreed to be present with Kate during the deposition. He was waiting outside the door to the designated office and he nodded to her. Then they both walked in together. The bureaucrat, in cheap navy blue slacks and a wrinkled dress shirt, an odd color of gray, looked Warner up and down and practically ‘oozed’ disgust. Warner was dressed in a black suit Kate took to be silk. She wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been Armani, or else someone who would have made Armani feel envious. Since the morning had been chill, he was wearing a long black overcoat of equally expensive design, probably cashmere, or vicuna or something. His perfect looking shoes were shined to within an inch of perfection. The silver on his hard-shelled briefcase, looked as if it might really be silver. He was carrying an umbrella that did somehow seem to match and complement the briefcase. His hair had been freshly trimmed by an extremely skilled barber. The air that wafted away from him smelled of expensive soap. Ha. She’d thought McFadyn was ‘upscale’. Warner made him look like a boy scout.

 

And all of this was at eight-thirty in the morning. He had to have spent at least an hour to look that perfect. Kate felt downright shabby by comparison. She was wearing a turquoise shirt dress, a tan raincoat, and had her hair in the “Kate Special” characteristic ponytail. It had taken her no more than ten minutes to get ready. But she had to wonder, if Warner was actually this motivated, just to attend a deposition, how much ‘prep’ time would he be willing to put in, on an actual real trial? The man was awesome. But also a little bit scary. She’d never believed she would ever need a high-powered attorney. But she found herself reassured by his presence, as if Gareth had sent him along to keep her safe. Not the first time Gareth had assigned her a ‘babysitter’. They’d worked out a signal. He would listen to the deposition. If he thought she was getting into difficulty, he would raise his hand. She would stop talking. That would give her time to marshal her thoughts. He would perhaps ask a question to clarify. The interrogator would be ticked, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. As it turned out, Kate had no difficulties giving the deposition. Her interrogator managed to go off subject almost immediately. He wanted to know all about the ‘shooting incident’ up in New York. Kate successfully avoided answering questions about what type of ‘ammunition’ Gareth had used to ‘blow up’ their pursuers car. The FBI interrogator seemed quite interested in that detail.

 

Kate claimed ignorance of the various types of ammunition, and they moved on to other subjects, how she’d become involved in the case, how and why she knew what she knew. She thought she did a good job of pointing out that she’d been in ‘protective custody’ almost since the moment she’d picked up Agent McFadyn. And she also pointed out that while the FBI suspected she was a ‘spy’ sent to glean facts from McFadyn, the bad guys’ were equally sure she’d make a fine target. So now basically both sides viewed her as ‘the enemy’, a fact which Kate found more than a little ironic. But when her interrogator didn’t get the ‘dirt’ he was looking for, he became increasingly frustrated. Finally, after covering and recovering ground they had already examined in detail, he seemed to give up. At that point he told her she was free to go. With a sigh of relief, Kate climbed out of the chair and got to her feet. The tension she’d experienced while being interrogated, had made her legs wobbly. She wanted to escape the stuffy confines of the office, a cumulatively bad feeling, composed of strident fluorescent lighting, stale air, and nasty people. She was only a step or two ahead of Warner, but she was in for a shock. There down the hall was Sinclair, staring at her with something akin to a smirk. Suddenly her knees felt more than wobbly. They threatened to give out altogether. She no longer felt so confident about her performance on the deposition. Maybe she’d made a critical error. Or maybe she would during the hearing the next day. It was too soon to tell. But Kate no longer felt at all hopeful about the outcome.

 

In the courtroom testimony she gave the next day, Kate temporarily had a resurgence of optimism. She decided her black premonitions of the previous day had been misplaced, brought on no doubt by that one disturbing glimpse of Sinclair. He’d disappeared by the time Warner emerged from the office, and although she felt foolish, she had told both Warner and Gareth that he’d been there. On the witness stand, she began to believe whatever curse Sinclair had tried to throw on her was licked. One after the other she answered the questions just as she had when giving her deposition.

 

The interrogator asked her “If she’d known about the nefarious fact of Agent Burrow’s involvement?” She admitted she had. The interrogator then asked, “If Gareth had told her of Burrows guilt?”

 

“No.” Kate corrected him, it was she who had suggested Agent Burrows might be guilty. She pointed out that she had not only seen Burrows possibly tampering with her car, but also had seen him acting rather ‘suspiciously’ in Oscar Donovan’s office. Kate thought she’d handled that one properly.

 

Second Question: “Had she known about the investigation of the hacker known as ‘Bird of Prey’?”

 

“Yes.” She stated, she had.

 

“And who had told her about this? Had it been Gareth?”

 

“No.” she said, “It had been one of his staff.” There was a short conference about this. It was apparently recognized, that while Gareth could be faulted, for not keeping a closer rein on his workers, this hardly constituted treason.

 

So the questioner came back with another question. “Had she known the nature of the evidence secreted by the informant Leon Foster?”

 

“I guessed at what it was. Surveillance photos of secure military installations.”

 

“And Agent McFadyn did not disabuse you of this idea?”

 

“No he did not. He said I was welcome to guess. But he neither confirmed or denied my conjectures.”

 

“And how did you come to believe it was photographic data?”

 

“Because of the size of the file.”

 

“And who told you that it was a large file?”

 

Kate paused. Two people had told her she and Gladys were looking for a large amount of data. Elyse Foster had said, they were looking for a large, thick package of documents. She’d only been confirming what Gareth had also said, the stolen file was a large one.

 

“The informant’s wife, Elyse Foster, told us we were looking for a large stack of documents.”

 

“Wrong Answer, Miss Greenwood.”

 

Kate swallowed, a dry mouth, a dry throat, and panic.

 

“And why is that?” she said at last.

 

“Because your ‘dear’ friend Agent McFadyn has already admitted, he’s the one who told you it was a large file. It’s nice of you to try to shift the blame off of him.”

 

“I…..”

 

“One of you is lying. And unless Mr. McFadyn’s in the habit of making false confessions, it would seem you are that person. Since you’ve perjured yourself, it makes all the rest of your testimony meaningless and somewhat.….shall we say ‘worthless’? Was it your own decision to lie under oath, or did someone coach you? Never mind, there’s no point in you answering that question, because you lie. You are dismissed.”

 

She had failed him. She had let Gareth down. Even though he had told her to tell the truth, she’d lied, or tried to ‘cover’ for him, which amounted to roughly the same thing. She looked at Warner. He shrugged as if he would have warned her, but it was too late. Kate’s stomach twisted itself in a knot. She felt dizzy. Her mouth was, if possible, even dryer than it had been during the testimony. But there was nothing she could do, she’d already made the error. Her face felt hot with shame. If only she’d done what Gareth had told her to do. She’d only succeeded in making them both sound like liars.

For the full book of Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale, please go to the following links to buy:

 

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94


Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book Three Chapter 14-15 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: 9781370464883
  • Author: Travis Salisbury
  • Published: 2017-03-18 10:50:14
  • Words: 34688
Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book Three Chapter 14-15 Sampler Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book Three Chapter 14-15 Sampler