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Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book Two Chapter 7-8 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 TWO

 

CHAPTER 7-8 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 SEVEN: THE BLOODHOUNDS APPEAR…..PAGE 3

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: DEEP THINKERS…..PAGE 42

 

 

CHAPTER NINE: LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND CURIOUSLY DISCONNECTED…..PAGE 85

 

CHAPTER TEN: THE OGRE’S CASTLE…..PAGE 128

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: FLYING MONKEYS…..PAGE 164

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: SEASON OF THE WOLF…..PAGE 194

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: JUST TAKING A MIDNIGHT SWIM…..PAGE 224

 

JANET’S OBITUARY…..PAGE 256

 

TRAVIS' PERSONAL PLEDGE FOR 10% OF THE PROCEEDS FROM THIS BOOK SALE, ALSO KNOWN AS TITHING:…..PAGE 259

 

STORY SYNAPSES…..PAGE 260

CHAPTER SEVEN:

THE BLOODHOUNDS APPEAR

 

After the epiphany that her dearly beloved Gareth might not be long for the mortal world, Kate had decided it was absolutely imperative that she spend every possible waking moment with him. Until the day…..something happened to him. Until they ran out of time. The first thing to get rid of was the silly proscription against spending time together in the evenings. She had a sudden inspiration. She would get him to cook her a meal. Then of course, she would then return the favor. It was ideal. They would be together, but not in each other’s arms, and they would have something to occupy their senses. It wasn’t as if they didn’t have to eat anyway. She congratulated herself on her brilliance. Now all she had to do was convince him to come. It was he, after all, who had come up with the rule that they not spend the evenings in one another’s company, due to racing pulses, reputations and whatnot. He might be difficult to persuade. Anxiety made her palms dampen, and Kate felt the slight tremble of faintness, like her heartbeat was no longer steady. What if he rejected her idea as too ‘risky’ ? Or worse, ridiculed her for changing her position. She might only end up just convincing him that she was rather fickle, inconstant, and generally a person of ‘low’ moral caliber. No Integrity. If he turned her down, shot her down, let alone laughed at her, she would be extremely embarrassed. This situation had the potential for going so wrong. Kate’s phone rang. She picked it up, hoping it was Gareth, trying to figure out how to ask him. Wondering if she would lose her nerve.

 

“Hi.” Start off with something nice and bright.

 

“Kate, I won’t be there tomorrow morning after all.”

 

That did not have a ‘hopeful’ ring to it. Her ‘project’ might go off the rails before it ever began.

 

“Oh, did something come up?” Kate tried not to sound disappointed.

 

“I have to fly to Atlanta to talk with someone who’s been…..helping us.” Read between the lines, ‘friendly hacker.’ “Can I get a rain check?”

 

“On what? The breakfast or the face painting.”

 

“Both, I suppose. Well, hopefully soon, I won’t need the warpaint, although I have to admit, green is not much of a big improvement over purple. I get back after midnight tomorrow night, but I think I could manage breakfast Saturday.”

 

“Manage. I see.”

 

“Coming over isn’t a problem. I’ve gotten by with much less than six hours of sleep before, in fact, sometimes with none at all. And you can’t doubt I would be, as always, eager to see you.”

 

“Day or night, huh?” Kate laughed. “Well my great idea does not entail you dragging yourself ‘manfully’ out of bed with only four or five hours sleep. If you get in late tomorrow night, sleep in Saturday morning. But I was thinking, this suite has a kitchen. I thought I might persuade you to cook me dinner. You did say you might spell your guards by ‘watching’ me on the weekends.”

 

“You haven’t met Sergeant Rojas, yet.”

 

So he’d hired a third guard. He didn’t need to come over. How embarrassing was this. She had overextended herself. So much for taking romantic risks.

 

“Never mind then. It was just a thought.”

 

There was a long silence.

 

“I did say that, didn’t I?”

 

Kate didn’t answer. It would be cheesy to say ‘Yes, you did.’

 

“What makes you think I can cook?”

 

“I helped search your apartment in Denver, remember? No one who doesn’t cook would have that many, pots, pans, knives, breadboards, spatulas…..not to mention olive oil, Parmesan cheese, fresh basil…..well it used to be fresh, by now it’s probably getting a bit moldy, but you also had…..”

 

“All right, I yield. Rest your case.”

 

“You admit it then.”

 

“And if I did admit it, why in the world would you want me to cook for you?”

 

“Let’s just say I have an overarching desire to see you ‘out of your element’ for once. You probably don’t realize this, but you’re awfully, ‘professional’, even when you’re not on duty. Between the guns and the hurried phone calls, and of course the ever constant worrying about the earth cracking in half or whatever’s going down in your reality at any given moment, it’s difficult to be ‘casual’ around you. Generally, one is all too aware of being in the center of a battlefield.”

 

“Stiff old fellow, eh?”

 

“Starch doesn’t cover it. I’m thinking more in terms of plate armor.”

 

“Oh come on, no worse than chain mail, surely.”

 

“Hard to relax when you’re around. Pretty darn imposing. So I thought we could cozy this down to ‘human’ size, and I could see your ‘domestic’ side. What do you say?”

 

A sigh. “We could do that I guess. But I warn you, it probably won’t be what you’re used to eating. All I do is ‘guy stuff’. I bet you won’t like it.”

 

“I bet I will. I for one, am not afraid. Do your worst. I can even handle chili..… with onions. I have a cast iron stomach.” Well, normally she did. Around Gareth she had experienced a few butterflies, but he was not to know that.

 

“All right then. I shall rise to the challenge. I’ll see you the day after tomorrow, at 6 pm, not am.”

 

“I’ll expect you. What are you going to make?”

 

“You don’t really think I’m going to give up the game that easily, do you? It’s a surprise.”

 

He gave a movie villain laugh and disconnected the phone. Which besides making Kate laugh, made her wonder if he had so easily walked into her trap, or if she had inadvertently walked into his.

 

Friday was difficult. It proved harder to do without Gareth for a whole day than she had thought it would be. Kate occupied herself by going to the library, accompanied by Sgt. Wallace trailing at a distance, and there she checked out several books on sailing. She had always considered sailboats to be one of man’s more beautiful creations. She had never taken a serious interest, because she’d always known she’d never be able to afford her own boat. Gareth probably wouldn’t have much of a problem with the price-tag of a boat. The other problem, finding time to sail, now that would be his sticking point. He could surely do it, if he wasn’t so busy. According to Al, she was somehow supposed to induce him to ‘retire’ so that he could enjoy her…..or enjoy sailing…..or some combination thereof. Very well, she’d become an instant ‘expert’ on sailing at least the armchair variety. With that in mind, Friday evening went by rather quickly. It was after eleven when Kate decided she was tired enough to go to bed. She only worried about Gareth a little, smiled as she said a prayer for him before dropping off to sleep. The next morning she was at her studies again, only taking time out during the day for a shower in the morning and to have a snack about 2 pm. She was up to her yardarm in spars, spinnakers and varnish. The time seemed to disappear. So it was with some alarm that Kate glanced at her watch and saw that it was seven minutes to six. The last time she’d looked it had been four thirty and there’d been plenty of time. Now there wasn’t.

 

“Oh, Good Grief.”

 

Kate jumped to her feet and ran for the bedroom. Thus it was that she had poured herself into pantyhose and three quarters of the way into a stunning turquoise dress, when there was a knock on the front door. Breathlessly, she ran to the door barefoot and holding her dress shut in back with her hand. Noticing the sailing book sitting on the floor where she had dropped it in her haste, and having no desire whatsoever to let Gareth know that she was cramming for his sake, she shoved the book the rest of the way under the chair with her toe as she passed. Then she flung open the door, still holding her dress shut. Gareth was standing there with two large bags of groceries and a peculiar look on his face.

 

“If you’ll give me a minute. The time just got away from me. All I have to do is put on my shoes and..…

 

“You know I could put these down…..” Gareth matched word to deed and set the bags on the floor inside the door. “And help you with your dress.”

 

He looked different somehow, but Kate didn’t have time to think about it.

 

“Now why do I think, in light of past occurrences, that you might be more inclined to ‘unzip’ this dress, than to zip it?”

 

“I am crushed at your doubt. And here you were telling me just the other day how chivalrous I am.”

 

“Well, generally, when it comes to the common good, you are. I think there might be something here that would engage your ‘self-interest’, turn you from Sir Gareth say, to ‘Le Mal Loup Grande’ or whatever. So if you’ll just excuse me for a moment. Just carry on with the food, or whatever you were doing, and I’ll be right back.”

 

He laughed at her as she ran into the bedroom to slide into her new shoes. Then she stood in front of a mirror to zip up the back of her dress. Five seconds of lip gloss, five seconds of compact powder, ten seconds of mascara, and she was ready. Well, sort of ready. She sidled into the kitchen as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She had expected Gareth to be wearing a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. That was what was different. Instead of the accustomed shirt he was wearing a lightweight ivory colored sweater with a v-neck. Instead of dark dress slacks he was wearing slacks that were midnight blue and made of some soft almost fuzzy material. Same general light-dark color scheme as usual, but the material was different and he looked somehow a little more…..touchable.

 

“I brought a lot, I hope you’re hungry.”

 

“Famished.”

 

She wasn’t looking at the food. He wasn’t wearing dress shoes either, but loafers. Expensive loafers, but loafers nonetheless. So he did dress down, occasionally. She was wondering what he would look like in pajamas. Then she started wondering if he wore a v-necked t-shirt under his sweater, or if it was just skin. She then had a sudden urge to run her fingers under the bottom edge of his sweater to see if it was just warm skin under there. All of these thoughts flitted through her mind at the speed of light. He had shoved his sleeves up and reached down into a lower cupboard to retrieve a pan, but now he turned to look at her.

 

“Is something wrong?”

 

“I, uh…..Maybe I’m just tired.”

 

She looked at him. Gorgeous man in her kitchen, by invitation. No, his kitchen, his apartment really, or at least his home away from home. She was living here by his ‘invitation’. Well, not actually invitation, more like ‘kidnapped by his buddies’. How confusing was this situation? Very.

 

“I’m not surprised you’re worn out. It appears you’ve been studying far harder than necessary. This book…..” Gareth pulled the supposedly secret library book out of the lower pan cupboard. “This author makes everything more difficult than it has to be. A lot of the terms he uses are outdated, and the man can’t write without leading you in circles. As a matter of fact, I think it would be accurate to say, he can’t write his way out of a paper bag. I have a lot of books that are easier to read than this, if you want to study sailing.”

 

Caught. He’d discovered that she was studying one of his interests. This was very humiliating.

 

“And if you’re wondering how I found the book…..I saw the corner sticking out from under the chair and wondered what you were at such pains to hide. Have you ever considered the possibility that I might be flattered that you’re trying to learn about something that interests me?”

 

“Umm…..Nice sweater.”

 

“Nice dress. You could stay and help me cook, you know.”

 

He gave her the sideways grin.

 

No, she couldn’t. She turned her back on him and headed towards the living room. She had to get away from him. Because she was fighting an insane desire to grab his sleeve and pull him out of the kitchen towards the couch, so that she could have her way with him. Did this happen to men when women were cooking in the kitchen? Maybe it did. Maybe that was why they were always so impatient to get the food on the table, because they were afraid if they had to wait very long for the food, that they’d break down and devour the ‘cook’ instead.

 

“Coward,” he said from the kitchen. “Wait until we get to dessert. I’m thinking the smell will melt your inhibitions completely.”

 

Kate was sure she would melt, but she wasn’t sure the dessert would cause the melting. She drifted towards the famous couch. She would have plenty of time to worry about whether she’d done the ‘right thing’ by inviting him for dinner. She thought he was whistling out there. In her mind she imagined quietly going up behind him and putting her arms around him from the back. Similar to the thoughts she’d had about sneaking up on him in the shower. Then she remembered that Gareth wasn’t a ‘regular’ person. If she snuck up on him she might startle him. No telling what he’d do. Maybe karate chop her in the throat or something. Then if she wasn’t dead, they’d still have to call the ambulance. If she did manage to put her arms around him without injury, he might be wearing a weapon. She’d end up hugging a chunk of metal instead of a nice, warm, yummy smelling man. She sighed. Apparently he’d finished some kind of preparations, because he drifted to the kitchen doorway and looked at her.

 

“What are you thinking about. You have one of those peculiar looks. Second thoughts about inviting me over?”

 

She sighed again. “I was wondering if I snuck up on you, if you’d annihilate me or what.”

 

“You think I can’t tell the difference between you in high heels or stocking feet, and some guy in tennis shoes or boots? What do you take me for, an amateur?” He laughed. “I promise. I haven’t killed anyone in Section ‘by accident’…..in decades. Or ever for that matter.”

 

“I thought maybe they were just wise enough not to sneak up on you.”

 

“Civilians? Are you kidding? They’re always pulling some dumb stunt. You do recall that Houdini was mortally injured by a civilian punching him in the stomach when he wasn’t expecting it? Civilians are are extremely irresponsible, God Bless them. They don’t know any better. But the fact remains, I have never killed anyone by accident. So stop worrying and come out here in the kitchen so that I can see you. You’re my favorite bit of scenery.”

 

So Kate sighed one more time and went out to perch on the kitchen stool. After a while something began smelling delicious, mouth-watering, practically to die for. No, that would be Gareth. She thought she smelled fried onions.

 

“You said you liked your hamburgers with onions,” he said finally, “So I decided to up the ante. May I present…..” He then deposited a platter with a small steak smothered in sautéed onions, bell peppers and mushrooms, right in front of her. “We can’t have that, without this…..” He then handed her a side dish with a baked potato dripping with butter and Blue Cheese. Then he sat down on his own stool, handing her a rather elegant linen napkin, and keeping one for himself. The steak was quite rare, but definitely not raw, either, browned at the edges. All the vegetables were gilded with browning, lightly salted, warmly inviting. They were glistening at her saying ‘eat me’. Kate stared at the food. Then she stared at Gareth. She’d been previously trying to envision what ‘guy food’ would look like. She’d been envisioning something like ‘macaroni and cheese’. Gareth turned towards her on his stool. “You said you like onions.” He held out one of the shining portions of warm onion, balanced on the tip of his fork, and then he moved it slowly towards her mouth. Kate then obediently closed her eyes and opened her mouth. He gently shoved the onion inside her mouth and then lifted her chin with one finger.

 

“Chew.” he said, in a self-satisfied tone.

 

Kate chewed thoughtfully.

 

“How’s that?”

 

“Scrumptious and you know it.”

 

“Then I think you might also like this…..”

 

This time the proffered tidbit was a mushroom, held between his thumb and first finger. Kate kept her eyes open, watching him. He then popped it into her mouth and his fingertips brushed her lips. Then as Kate chewed on the mushroom she watched him lick his own fingertips. Kate’s mind gave brief thought to the idea of grabbing his hand and licking his fingertips herself. She told her mind to please ‘get a life’ and leave Gareth alone.

 

“Did you burn yourself?”

 

“A little. I’ll live. That’s the price of impatience.”

 

He picked up his napkin. “Dear Lord, we thank you for this food…..”

 

“Oh, I forgot.” Kate almost dropped her fork.

 

“I’m sure God understands.” Gareth chuckled. “You were hungry.”

 

Kate dug into the potato and thought blissful thoughts as she chewed.

 

“Al said you were ‘overqualified’. I don’t think he understands how seriously overqualified you really are.”

 

“In order for me to agree, or disagree, it might help for you to tell what you’re talking about.”

 

“He thought I should engage your services as a personal bodyguard on a more permanent basis, possibly to the exclusion of your career with the FBI. He pointed out that you don’t have to work unless you want to, and he tried to convince me that I’d be having a lot more fun, and you’d be a lot safer, if you then decided to quit and just take care of me constantly.”

 

“Al is always trying to think of ways to make me safer, and I’m always trying to think of ways to make him safer, and so far I don’t think either one of us has been able to figure out a way to entirely eliminate risk. Go figure. Two such high flight intellectuals and we just get sore spots on our heads from butting them against the walls of reality. I give him points for trying, though.”

 

“I told him you wouldn’t be interested in the job.”

 

“Oh, but I am. This sounds extremely intriguing.” Gareth smiled a lazy smile. “Do you need, in fact, need ‘constant care’?”

 

“Well, I didn’t used to think that I did, but I’ve been feeling more and more ‘helpless’. Recently.”

 

“Only recently?”

 

“Yes, just since meeting you, as a matter of fact. Very helpless. In need of constant tending.”

 

“Hmm. Interesting.”

 

“Yes, isn’t it?”

 

“You do realize my current job isn’t just a ‘hobby’.”

 

“I pointed that out to Al.”

 

“After we put Vogle away, I might consider some other line of endeavor.”

 

Kate looked at him as if she couldn’t believe what he’d just said. Because she couldn’t really picture him doing anything other than what he did, or being other than what he was. It was impossible to picture Gareth as a civilian. Hadn’t he said something about ‘never being able to go back’? She couldn’t picture him as a ‘Normie’ no matter how hard she tried. ‘Going Civilian’ would be a difficult transition for him. She wasn’t sure he could do it. Kate dabbed her face with the napkin because she didn’t want to express her doubts out loud.

 

“Should we feel guilty about eating meat?”

 

“It’s been scientifically proven that it’s difficult to make a good hamburger without meat.”

 

“Veggie Burgers aren’t your thing, huh?”

 

“I was going to say if you’re going to complain, I’ll eat your steak for you. But look, you’ve eaten it! What kind of ‘lame’ protest is that? Eat it first, and then complain. I probably should have made a salad with this, but I’m not sure I would have had room. There’s dessert.”

 

“There’s dessert too?”

 

“Indeed there is. Can’t you smell it? I thought it would have announced itself by now.”

 

Kate took a sniff. An indecipherable but heavenly apple aroma wafted past her nose.

 

“Apple something?”

 

“You’ve hit on it on your first try. It’s an ‘Apple Something’. It’s supposed to be an Apple Cobbler. I fear I’m not much on rolling pie crusts.”

 

“Supposed to be?” Kate smiled. “What’s it going to do, change while you’re not looking?”

 

“There’s no telling if it’s going to be up to restaurant standards. I don’t normally spend much time on cooking. I may have whipped something up for Allie now and then, but I’m not much for entertaining. Bachelor’s eat out a lot. It’s just easier.”

 

“But obviously you can cook, and very well, I’d say.”

 

“You wanted to see me outside my comfort zone. Now you have. I’m extremely rusty at this. I hope you’re satisfied now that you’ve seen me brought low.”

 

“You make me sound very mean.”

 

“I’m sure you could be, if you tried. Smarter people make better ‘meanies’, don’t you think? And you’re very smart. Smarter than you let on.”

 

“Says ‘Mr. Scares People Just By Looking At Them’.”

 

“My ‘bark’ is far worse than my ‘bite’.”

 

“Oh, I really doubt that.”

 

Gareth got up and moved to the oven. He used an oven mitt to pull the dish out and then he set the casserole dish down on the counter. He then scooped out two dishes of whatever it was, bringing one of them back to her. Whatever it was, it looked wonderful. The crust was flaky, but the filling was even better. Chunks of baked apple fresh from a tree were drowning in a rich cinnamon sugar glaze. Kate picked at the edges with her spoon, unwilling to burn her mouth. But she wanted to get a full bite of the stuff before it entirely cooled, and she lost the delicious aroma. Of course Kate wasn’t really sure she should eat it, it seemed more like a work of art. She would gladly have inundated herself in warm apple-cinnamon if it had been a wearable scent. Come to think of it, Gareth was wearing it. Just when she thought he couldn’t smell any better. How unfair. She could easily have wrapped herself in the intoxicating smell and settled down in comfort, forever. He had probably calculated the effect. Gareth seemed disinclined to burn his mouth like Kate almost had, so he picked up his dish and ambled out of the kitchen into the living room area, towards..… ‘the couch’. Plunking himself down, he set the dish on the end table nearest his left hand.

 

He looked as if for a moment he contemplated something less pleasant than their current circumstances. That made Kate wonder what he’d been doing in Atlanta. Kate then picked up her own dish and followed him, slowly. Decisions, decisions. Now where was she going to sit? The other end table was too far away. If she sat where she could place her dish on it, she’d be at the opposite end of the couch from him. That was just plain rude, wasn’t it? But on the other hand, Kate didn’t feel like she could just snuggle down next to him, either. That seemed ‘forward’ and too…..‘immediately intimate’. She compromised by setting her dish at the far end of the couch, while she herself sat in the middle of he couch, a foot or two away from him. Now she could experience two heady smells at the same time, apple-cinnamon from the right, and sandalwood spice from the left. His arm was along the back of the couch and his hand was behind her neck.

 

“You could come closer. Bring your dish.”

 

Kate reached out for her dish and moved marginally closer. Into the danger zone. Into his dominion. Now a scant six inches separated them. She could feel the heat from his body. And both of the smells, warm apple cinnamon, and Gareth, had gotten stronger. She felt like she was going to faint from ‘sensory overload’.

 

“They say food is probably the second most sensuous thing, a pleasant aroma, eating and tasting. A warm bath, that might be third. But of course the most sensuous thing would probably be…..”

 

Kate felt herself starting to panic. She had wanted this, but now she had to wonder if it was…..too soon. She had wanted to spend time with him, just to be with him. Yet it had always seemed to come to this. Somehow, some way, they always seemed to end up in a clinch. Mostly, Kate thought, it was Gareth starting the trouble. But he wasn’t putting into action anything she hadn’t already been thinking and feeling. Maybe she could divert him. Maybe she could divert both of them. There had been that frown when he sat down, as if he’d remembered something worrisome.

 

“Why did you go to Atlanta? Was it something about the case?”

 

His eyes shuttered for a moment, switching gears from the primal thoughts he’d been thinking to the cerebral question she’d just asked. He was editing before speaking, she was sure of it. She was only going to get part of the story. He sighed and put her dish next to his own.

 

“We had an informant who knew something about how our package was going to be taken out of the country. Even though they can shrink the stolen data down and transfer it on a device the size of a matchbook, what we tech geeks call a USB Flash Drive, it still has to be handed off to someone physically. It’s too risky to try to transmit it over the net. We might catch them at it. Carlisle wanted me to go down and talk to the guy. With the info he gave us, I think we can intercept the package. It was going out of Norfolk, by the way.”

 

“Norfolk? Doesn’t the Navy…..”

 

“Yes, Norfolk is crawling with Navy personnel. Why our overseas troublemakers would choose that as the data’s point of departure is anybody’s guess. Unless someone in the Navy is involved, of course. We’ll be looking into that.”

 

“I’m glad the trip was a success. Is this guy a hacker? What sort of ‘inducement’ did you offer him to get him to talk to you?”

 

“Yes, he is. And in answer to your second question, he had about twenty thousand dollars in back taxes owing to the IRS. I told him I could make that go away.”

 

Knowing Gareth, he probably hadn’t worked out a deal with the IRS. He’d probably just paid it himself. Carlisle could depend on Gareth to come up with ingenious solutions.

 

“Can you relax a little now that you’ve intercepted the drop?”

 

“I wish. There could be a dozen copies of that information by now, all of them equally hard to trace. If we catch one messenger, they’ll just designate another.”

 

“It’s amazing what people will do for money. And I suppose even if you manage to catch every transfer this time around, your moles can break in again later, at another computer, and steal the same data.”

 

“Or something that would cause even greater harm. The only way to stop this, is to eliminate the whole network. The ‘people’ part of it. Empty the board, clear to the top. Until we get Vogle, anyone else we remove will be replaced.”

 

“I hear he feels the same way about you. That if you were eliminated, his problems would evaporate like the morning dew.”

 

“He might believe that. I don’t. I’m not indispensable. If I fall, there would be others. It wouldn’t take Carlisle long to replace me.”

 

Kate had a feeling that wasn’t true, but it was something Gareth needed to keep telling himself in order to keep his ego in check. And to keep some of the pressure off.

 

“I don’t care, to me, you’re ‘irreplaceable’.”

 

“Careful, now, you’re beginning to sound like one of the ‘fans’. I’m glad you think I’m so ‘special’, but I’m completely ordinary. Just a foot-soldier.”

 

“Well, I guess we’ll find out if they can ‘replace’ you when you get yourself killed.”

 

Kate wiggled away from him.

 

“I keep telling you…..”

 

“You keep telling me you won’t. But from everything I’ve heard, you seem completely determined to get yourself killed, and maybe as soon as possible. I still don’t understand why. Everyone else seems puzzled and aghast, as well. Care to clue me in?”

 

“It’s all I can do to live with myself as it is, I’ve no desire to drag myself through all that by remembering. It’s a long story, and more than sad. Maybe someday I ‘ll tell you.”

 

She sighed. “Or maybe you won’t.”

 

“Besides, I don’t think I’m ‘seeking’ death. I’m just not afraid of it. It’s not that I’m a particularly brave person, it’s just that I don’t recognize any threat. I can’t die. My body can die, but my spirit can’t die.”

 

“The same is true of me, Gareth. If my body dies, my spirit will be somewhere. But would you be content with that?”

 

“No, No I wouldn’t.” Kate was surprised to hear a little catch in his voice.

 

“Then how can you expect me to settle for seeing you someday, in ‘heaven’? I’d have to live the rest of my life here on earth without you. You seem to have a double standard. It’s OK for you to die, but not for me. Why are you so expendable?”

 

His eyes turned sad and distant. Kate knew he wasn’t going to answer her. She’d been shut out.

 

“I think you’re far more important than you realize.”

 

He snorted in disbelief. “You mean I’ve actually conned someone into believing I’m indispensable. No one’s indispensable. We can all be replaced.”

 

“It’s nice to know you can find a suitable replacement for me on any street corner. I am somewhat offended.”

 

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. It’s just that I…..Some people need to go away more than others. That doesn’t apply to you, and it does to me.”

 

“Gladys says there’s no one like you.”

 

“There’s no one like anyone. But you and Gladys are charmingly prejudiced in my favor, you can hardly claim objectivity. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this point. You think I’m useful and I’m convinced I’m a waste of space. I’ll continue on this earth exactly as long as God agrees with you instead of with me.”

 

“That’s harsh.”

 

“But Oh So True. However, I must admit to being baffled why people waste their time discussing me.”

 

“Because you’re interesting. In a mysterious sort of way.”

 

“But why bother, when they could spend their time thinking about something that’s actually important, like God himself?”

 

“You’re easier to see than He is, and better food for gossip. Everyone’s convinced you’re working for Him, by the way.”

 

“Not everyone, obviously. Herr Vogle must not believe it, or he wouldn’t dare try my patience so sorely. If I’m working for who you say, I can’t lose. And not even Vogle would bother to play a zero sum game, or for a tie. So he must believe there’s a real possibility he’ll beat me.”

 

Gareth turned and gave her a sphinx like stare. “Why is it, my little munchkin, that I get the feeling you have purposely diverted this conversation away from dessert, which is getting cold. Don’t you want to taste it ‘warm’, while it still smells like cinnamon?” Somehow the words ‘w-a-r-r-m-m and ‘sinna-mon’ sounded exotic and sensuous sliding off his tongue, something like the purr of a giant cat. He didn’t improve matters much with his next suggestion.

 

“Why don’t you put your head on my lap and let me feed you?”

 

“I…..”

 

Whatever protest Kate had been about to make died on her lips. To say Gareth had a compelling gaze would have been to understate his ability to influence. Looking into his eyes caused something far beyond a desire to comply with his wishes. Looking into his eyes caused one to wish to…..leap into his eyes and drown there. So Kate then found herself attempting to obey. She drew up her stockinged feet and laid herself out horizontal. He didn’t have soft legs.

 

“I hear in Japan they used to use carved wooden headrests so they wouldn’t muss their elaborate hairdos.”

 

“I forget. I don’t have a grandmotherly lap. Here.”

 

He temporarily stashed her dish next to his, reached down and grabbed one of the pillows that had lately graced the previous love seat. Then he stuffed it next to his leg, now giving her a fully inclined plane to repose upon. Now as she lay down her upper back was supported by the pillow, but the back of her neck was supported by the upper surface of his thigh muscle, warmer than she was, and firmer than she thought human flesh was supposed to be. But Kate had no doubt life coursed through him, she could sense a pulse like a hot river, tendons like steel cables and a faint hum of electricity, like she rested on a human electrical conduit.

 

“I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

 

“I’m not sure it is either, but you did invite me. And here we are. So open your mouth.”

 

Kate complied with only a twinge of reluctance, and he began spooning the luscious lukewarm concoction into her mouth. About the time of the third spoonful, there there came a pause in the feeding. Gareth had put the spoon down and was regarding her with one of his intense and consuming looks.

 

“What am I going to do with you?”

 

“That isn’t the right question.” Kate supplied helpfully. “The question you should be asking yourself is, what are you going to do about us?”

 

“What indeed?”

 

He reached out with the pad of his thumb to gently trace her lower lip. A sigh escaped him. Then he raised the thumb to his own mouth and tasted it thoughtfully, eyes closing in a dreamlike way. If she didn’t stop him she knew what he was going to do. All of the blood in her body rushed away from wherever it normally resided, probably her brain, leaving her dizzy, breathless and on the verge of fainting, even though she was already horizontal.

 

“Gareth…..?”

 

“Hush.”

 

Kate was never quite sure whether his mouth came down over hers or he lifted her towards his mouth, but one thing was sure, he closed the gap quickly. She then felt the usual heady mixture of excitement and fear, the prospect of towering heights from which to fall. She was simultaneously smothered and exhilarated, like being ‘totally alive’, while poised on the brink of death. Gareth had a positively scary depth of feeling, and he was capable of transmitting most of that to her. Kissing Gareth, a dubious venture in the first place was a little like sticking a key into an electrical socket, and being silly enough to hang on to the key. She was never grounded enough to handle the voltage. Or was it the amps? Of course if she had to die, this was definitely the way to go. Gareth’s passion was beautiful in its own way, a technicolor sunset unbearably bright and deep, but Kate thought she might almost as soon stare at the face of God as try to meet Gareth’s needs and desires.

 

He’d spoken of ‘being consumed’. Now she knew what he meant. She was afraid that Gareth’s desire might consume her utterly, that there would be nothing left of her but a cinder, a burnt out match. It was too much. Kate began to struggle in his arms, which he no doubt took for the throes of passion. While she had invited him over, she now admitted that was about as smart as inviting a polar bear over for dinner and then feeding it by hand. First the polar bear ate the fish, then it ate your hand. Polar bears just ate everything they saw. While his warm, and she thought, rather large, tongue chased every bit of apple sweetness remaining in her mouth, Kate realized she’d have to come to a decision…..very soon. Some how or another she had ended up lying on the couch with Gareth’s long form stretched out beside and half on top of her, there wasn’t really room on the couch for them to lie next to one another.

 

Apparently, Gareth noticed this at nearly the same time as Kate, because without removing his mouth from hers, he somehow managed to scoop her into his arms and start carrying her towards the bedroom. The bed. His former bed. He was going to put her, in his bed. This was a greatly startling revelation, more disturbing than it should have been. What a wonderful, fantastic, abs. If they completed this act, she would be his mistress in fact, as well as name. Gareth then made the mistake, depending on how you looked at it, of pulling away long enough to look at her face. Something he saw there halted him in his tracks. The man who had exultantly borne off the hard-won tournament prize, now relinquished her reluctantly, turning into a boy who’d been told not to play in the garden for fear of breaking the statuary. He lowered her feet to the floor with a hesitant diffidence. She swore she could still hear the thunder in his blood. In her mind, the image of Gareth’s untamed inner self completely overshadowed his attempt at being civilized. He was still breathing hard and considering the shape he was in, she doubted it was physical exertion that had gotten him into that sorry state. He appeared to rein in is thoughts and emotions, not to mention his body, with considerable effort. At last he spoke, after taking a steadying breath.

 

“I wondered if you were ready for this.”

 

“You shouldn’t have picked me up, your shoulder…..”

 

“Ah, yes. I guess the shoulder does feel like a sheet of fire, now that you mention it. But right now that’s the least of my worries. I’m afraid I may have offended you.”

 

“No, it’s my fault. I feel like I led you on.”

 

“Well, yes you did. But not by any artifice. Just by being your own sweet and lovely self.”

 

“It was too much, too soon…..I think.”

 

“This is not the right way to go about this. Maybe tomorrow, we can talk. But I think I’d better leave.….while I still can.”

 

With that he snatched up his coat and headed for the door as if the very hounds of hell were at his heels.

 

“Are you coming to breakfast?”

 

He hesitated, with his hand on the doorknob. For a moment she thought he was going to turn her down, and her heart prepared for a plunge into the abyss.

 

“I don’t think…..” He looked at her and his eyes burned bright, as if he contemplated what it would be like never to see her again. “Yes…..I guess I can. I will. Yes…..I will. What time?”

 

They had agreed on 8. Gareth had said later was better because he had to go running first. So Kate had expected Mr. Sunday Morning Cheerfulness at 7:59, polished. What she got, was Gareth at her door at 8:07, hot, sweaty, wearing a navy blue jogging suit, and holding a bouquet of flowers.

 

“Hi,” he said, with the disarming sideways smile. “Sorry I’m late. These are for you.” He handed her the flowers. “Sorry about last night. I got carried away. No excuses. Can I use your shower for a few minutes? I have some clothes stashed in the back of the closet. I’ll be right out.” He gave her a slightly sweaty brush of the lips across her cheek and slid right past her. “I promise, I won’t get too close until I’m ‘presentable’.”

 

He disappeared in the general direction of the bedroom and the bathroom. Kate reached up and brushed the dampness off her cheek with her fingertips. She thought she could probably manage to bear up under a little ‘sweat’ now and then. She did have a long shower. Actually it was his shower. This was his suite. She kept forgetting that. Wow. Two apologies in ten seconds or less. She wasn’t sure he owed her even one. Kate went back into the kitchen, rummaged around for a good glass to put the flowers in and then went back to finishing breakfast. She’d gotten up at 6 am herself and spent almost an hour trying to look wonderful to make up for being such an erratic female. Then she’d gone down to the deli for ingredients for a Spanish omelet. She was behind schedule, as usual. She always tried to accomplish too much in too little time. By 8:25 am, the food was ready. Right on cue, he emerged from a slightly steamy bathroom, now fresher than she was. She’d been slaving over a hot stove and thinking about warm water and soap suds slathering down that long body in the bathroom. It was fortunate that she’d been busy cooking. Obviously not quite busy enough or her thoughts wouldn’t have wandered. He was wearing, no surprise, a white shirt and dark slacks, a rather dashing looking sport coat in a dark gray, and a dark maroon tie with narrow white and silver stripes. Dress shoes of course. Where in her empty closet he had found all that, was a mystery.

 

“You have clothes in the closet?”

 

“In the back, there’s a cupboard. It’s locked, but I have a key. Allie and Jon let me keep a few things here, in case I have to crash. I smell something very nice.”

 

“That could be the Spanish omelet.”

 

“I think it’s you.”

 

“That would be the Blue Meadows, then. Thanks to someone who bought me a half gallon of the stuff.”

 

“I still think it’s you, not the perfume. But never mind.” Kate tried to resist blushing. Not with notable success.

 

“You look like you’re ready for work.”

 

“I am. I’m going in later this afternoon. No rest for the wicked, and none, I fear, for me.”

 

“I wasn’t sure I should even invite you this morning, I thought maybe you went to church.”

 

He snorted, a sound cynical even for Gareth. “As if any church would have me. When they find out what I do, the people withdraw to the corners of the room and stare at me. Heaven help me if they ever saw me carrying a weapon. You then remember how you reacted when I handed you my business card. Well that’s exactly how the church people react. As if I’d dumped a hot coal in their hands. Only the hot coal is ‘me’. They can’t wait to be rid of me.”

 

Kate was appalled. She really didn’t think churchmen should shun ‘potential parishioners’. But at least it made it clear why Gareth didn’t do his ‘charity’ through any Christian organization.

 

“I’m sorry. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. People are amazingly cliquish and cowardly. I suppose they do find it in their hearts to approach you for contributions though, when they find out which branch of the McFadyn’s you belong to.”

 

“Naturally. Can we eat? Is it ready? I’m famished. All I had this morning was orange juice.”

 

“I take it you ran here.”

 

“I started at six, but it was getting late, so I came this way instead of going home for the shower.”

 

“Doesn’t it bother you to run in downtown DC?”

 

He quirked an eyebrow at her. “Any special reason it should?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. Pollution, muggers, traffic. No food, no water, no bathrooms, no transportation. And the ever present possibility of killer inclement weather, heat waves, hailstones, thunder and lightning, tornadoes. You know, stuff.”

 

“I had all the necessities with me.”

 

“What do you mean, ‘necessities’?”

 

“Keys, money, weapons. A power bar or two. The necessities.” The grin returned.

 

“Yes, I should have known. But what about water?”

 

“I stopped four times and bought something to drink while I was running. You get some odd looks if you don’t come to a complete stop to drink, but people get over it. And as for hailstones, lightning and tornadoes, I could always duck into the underground.” Gareth sat down on one of the stools and she brought him a plate. “The ‘mugger’ aspect might have some merit though.” Gareth twisted his face into a thoughtful look. “For a while there I thought I might have had a ‘shadow’.”

 

“Somebody following you?”

 

“I thought so for a few minutes. But I ran up and down some outdoor stairways, and through some buildings that I know are always unlocked. I think I lost them. It could just have been my imagination. I was tempted to turn around and try to run whoever it was down. It would have been embarrassing though, if it’d turned out to be some innocent tourist.”

 

“And kind of deadly if you caught up with them and they pulled out a gun and shot you.”

 

“Not if I shot them first.” He smiled and picked up his fork. “We need to say Grace.”

 

In addition to the eggs, of course, Kate had bought chorizo and steamed the grease out of it, added green onions, black olives, lots of cheese, and topped it with salsa, and sour cream. She gave him a side dish of warm buttered tortillas, and a cup of Mexican hot chocolate. When she finished laying it all in front of him he stared at her appreciatively.

 

“Wow. And I was thinking maybe ‘macaroni and cheese’.”

 

“Very funny Mr. Chef. After your performance last night, I could hardly do less.”

 

“I’ll try to do this justice.”

 

“I can’t imagine the amount of calories two hours of running uses up. I guess you’ll have to fill up on tortillas to get your extra carbs.”

 

“I think I’ll survive quite nicely on this. But you weren’t kidding about growing up in California, were you?”

 

He took off his coat, folded it neatly and put it on a clear section of the kitchen counter. Then he rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to say Grace, entirely in Spanish, a bit more haltingly than he did in English, as he sought the right words to express his thoughts. Well, just another little Gareth surprise.

 

“I see you are dressing the Spanish theme as well.”

 

The dress she was wearing was red with a fitted sleeveless bodice a full skirt falling past her knees. It reminded Kate of a dress out of the fifties, but it fully fit her to perfection, and had a lovely swish as it swirled about her knees. The only thing vaguely ‘Spanish’ about it was the color, which she supposed could be described as ‘fiesta red’ and the fact that there was a narrow red ruffle around the scoop neckline. She would take compliments where she could get them.

 

“It wasn’t my intention, but it does seem in the spirit. Thanks. And as for California…..if you like this omelet, wait until you taste enchiladas the way my Irish grandmother used to make them.”

 

“I’m sure there’s a story that goes with that, but I’m too hungry to stop and ask you about it.”

 

They began to demolish the food. Kate had made it perhaps halfway through her four eggs, and Gareth a similar distance into his eight, when he suddenly got a pained look on his face, as if he’d stepped on a thorn, or sat on one. He reached for his pocket.

 

“Pager. On Vibrate. Not yours. I’m sorry. I have to take this.”

 

He put down his fork and moved towards the living room, searching for a ‘land line’ no doubt. Good luck with that. Kate had noticed a plug for a phone, but no phone. Unless there was one hidden somewhere. She watched Gareth walk across the room to a cupboard. He pulled it open it and took out a phone. Then he went over and plugged in the phone and sat down. Apparently Gareth knew where everything was. Of course. He had lived in this apartment before. He made the call and after half-listening for a minute or two, Kate realized it was likely to be a long conversation. She sighed and put down her own fork. Five minutes later he wandered to the open archway and leaned against the wall with his arms crossed.

 

“What happened to the food?” Kate noticed he sounded sad and resigned, but not angry.

 

“I put it away. I thought you might have to go in to the office, or go off and attend to something.”

 

He nodded. “Section has some new information. But it can wait a while. Sorry about breakfast. What I had of it was very good.”

 

“That’s OK. Gladys warned me about your schedule. Something about being a ‘computer widow’. But I warmed up your dessert from last night. I decided I should keep my promise to feed it to you.”

 

Gareth uncrossed his arms with a slow smile “I thought I smelled something familiar.” But then he seemed to remember their previous ‘dessert encounter’ and his brow clouded with worry. “About last night…..”

 

“I don’t hold it against you. I blame myself. But I’d rather we just forget about it, and continue…..forward.”

 

“That’s very charitable of you, but I want to explain something.”

 

Kate knew she probably wasn’t going to like this revelation, it was generally disturbing news when Gareth got ‘serious’. She preferred to remember him sitting on the floor laughing, after he’d fallen off the chair. But since that choice didn’t seem to be an option, she resignedly nodded in acquiescence.

 

“I said I wouldn’t make any excuses for my behavior, and I won’t. But cooking isn’t the only thing I’m rusty at. It’s been seven years since I’ve..… been in a relationship.” He ran a thoughtful hand over his jaw. “And before you ask, I’m not going to tell you why, at least for a while.”

 

“Wow. If you’re like most guys, I guess you’re pretty…..”

 

“Yes, there are words for that, and I am. But wouldn’t be half so bad if it were anyone but you. It’s just that…..you’re all I’ve ever wanted wrapped up in one person. And I can’t believe I’ve found you, that you’re so near. No farther away than the reach of my arms. Unbelievable. Do you understand?”

 

Kate could reliably say that she did, since she felt exactly the same. She thought about her own life. She hadn’t been involved with anyone since her marriage broke apart. First she’d been hurt, then she’d been bitter. Then she’d once been busy getting her Masters Degree. During the whole five years there had never been anyone tempting enough to throw in with outside the bonds of marriage, and no one ‘worthy’ of considering for matrimony. Gareth obviously, was both. She would love to marry him. She’d be ‘tempted’ by a liaison, even if he never proposed to her.

 

“Well, it’s been five years for me, so I think I can understand where you’re coming from.”

 

“Ah, yes. Both of us, then. House of tinder, don’t light a match. But the point is, I’ve made an arse of myself a couple of times recently, and therefore I’ve decided that I should not kiss you.” Kate’s wayward brain began a mental pout, thinking about ‘no more kisses’. “So what I thought we’d do is this, I’ll leave it up to you. You can kiss me, if you want to. And I’ll try not to respond so…..vigorously. I’ll try to restrain myself. At least a little. What do you think?”

 

“So let me get this straight. You’re going to ‘allow’ me to kiss you. And you might, or might not, respond.”

 

“When you put it that way, it does sound kind of arrogant, doesn’t it. But I’d say that about sums it up.”

 

“Do you realize how foolish I’d feel if I had to constantly figure out when it was going to be ‘acceptable’ to kiss you? What if you rejected me? I’d feel squished, obliterated, meaningless.”

 

“Exactly the situation men find themselves in. No fun, is it?” He actually had the audacity to chuckle over his own joke.

 

“You are insufferable! You are so conceited.” Where was a pillow when she needed one?

 

“You sound kind of angry about this. Which doesn’t really make a lot of sense. If you don’t care about kissing, none of this should matter. We can just try to have a ‘platonic’ relationship from now on.”

 

Kate thought Gareth’s teasing had gone too far this time. It should have been obvious to anyone that the ‘kissing aspect’ of their relationship was very important to her. Here was making light of it just to get her goat.

 

“We are not having this discussion!”

 

“And if you do care about kissing, you can always kiss me. But it’s all right if you decide you don’t want to. I’m kind of afraid if you did kiss me, I might fall off the chair again. And I might get ‘injured’. We have to be ‘careful’. You can see how ‘delicate’ I am.”

 

He was really giving her a bad time about this. “That wasn’t my fault. All I did was back up. You wouldn’t let go.” That was all true. He hadn’t been willing to let go of her face, therefore by backing away, Kate had helped pull him from his perch on the chair.

 

“I’ll be on the couch if you change your mind about kissing me. Don’t forget the dessert.”

 

He flowed into the living room like a giant cat, leaving Kate fully behind in the kitchenette, holding the dessert and experiencing a curiously nettled temper. She watched him walk into the other room, turn his back to the couch and throw himself backwards into gravity, falling with long limbs spread wide and loose. He did, however, manage to keep his head slightly tucked. More martial arts, probably practiced pratfalls, maybe skydiving. He certainly knew how to land without hurting himself. Gareth’s entire trip across the floor had taken all of two seconds. Kate had forgotten how quickly he could move when he felt like it. His now moving body created enough impetus to create a little shock and awe in Kate every time he threw himself at something. It was impossible not to picture Gareth geared up in medieval fashion, swinging a sword, or an axe. Not to imagine the momentum of a mace or a hammer wielded with that much weight and strength behind it. Knocking down heavy oaken doors and stone castle walls would not have been a problem for him. God forbid, knocking down people would have slowed him down even less. Imagine Gareth in armor, roaring his defiance and rushing toward a stone wall, weapon raised…..

 

“What is taking you so long?” he importuned, impatiently.

 

Gareth was, after all, a very physical person. In his ‘unrestrained’ form, he was very imposing, probably unnerving just about everybody. What seemed ‘normal’ to him, would tend to overwhelm everyone he came in contact with. From Gareth’s point of view he was a ‘full size’ person stuck forever in a ‘three-quarter size’ world, even if to everyone else it was Gareth who seemed ‘over the top’. At least Kate assumed he intimidated everyone else as thoroughly and easily as he intimidated her. Most people would be unsettled by his physicality, except maybe, someone like Al. As a result, Drew seemed to shackle his natural energy and strength in order to avoid rattling ‘the civilians’. Kate now realized how much he limited himself, especially around her. Around her, he moved carefully, quietly, and slowly, to avoid frightening her, even though the ‘real’ Gareth McFadyn was rather disturbingly energetic. He was probably wise to hold himself in check, because he was scary. Kate shook her head as she realized he would only get stronger as he recovered from his injuries.

 

“I’m coming,” Kate said, out loud, “slowly,” she whispered to herself, “as fast as my cowardice will let me.”

 

Of course now that he was ‘willing’ to let her kiss him, Kate was quite reluctant to do so. It was one thing to completely close her eyes and trace the warm lines of his face in silent reverie, as she had done the day she prayed for him, but it was quite another to face the recumbent warrior spread out on her couch. Not to mention the fact that he’d ruined the mood by challenging her. Apparently, he thought her rebellion would quietly morph into obedient compliance with a wave of his hand, that she could control her feelings like some one flipping a light switch. If only it were so. He was, she decided, quite impossible. She never knew what he wanted. One minute he was all soft and gooey, and the next, hard as nails. He often made her forget that she loved him, since she was too busy remembering how very irritating he could be. Kate stalked in his direction, still smoldering.

 

She decided she would hold on to the dish. She wouldn’t even consider touching him. She wouldn’t touch his lips with her fingertips, or touch his lips with her own. Now she would not be running her fingers through that very soft hair of his, or sharing his hot warm breath and somehow crawling inside that indomitable presence for a very wild ride. Now she wasn’t going to do anything like that. She looked down at him, sprawled on the very couch she had ordered for him to sprawl upon. There was a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

 

“What if I don’t want to kiss you?”

 

“Oh, you want to kiss me all right. But you fear of loss of control. Which is an entirely different problem. And only you know how far you want to go. I can’t answer that for you.”

 

Gareth was at his most annoying when he was right, which was frequently.

 

“Must you be so analytical?”

 

“Part of the package. I warned you I was like this, as far back as Kansas.” So he had. There was no use complaining. The ‘unruly hair’ and the ‘clockwork brain’ were just a part of him, and always would be.

 

“What happens if I don’t kiss you?”

 

“I’ll lie here, basking in the sun, waiting hopefully, day after day.”

 

“There is no sun.”

 

“You shall be renamed, ‘Kate, the Destroyer of Dreams’. Still, I will lie here in my imaginary sunshine, and wait for my imaginary lover, who looks astonishingly like you, to come along and give me one simple little kiss. I will lie here for days, months, years, hoping against hope…..”

 

“McFadyn, you are beyond crazy.”

 

“I certainly hope so,” he chuckled. “I’m counting on being so far beyond crazy, I’ve gone clear round the circle and I’m sane again.”

 

By now she had come very close. He closed his eyes. But Kate could still hear his breathing, just as she was sure he could hear her own drawn breath.

 

“I’ll hold still, I’ll keep my eyes closed. I won’t move a muscle. Totally harmless. Do your worst.”

 

He closed his eyes, as good as his word. Kate might have bought it, except for the ‘overkill’ about being ‘harmless’. She was reminded of a conversation they’d had about a very large, and ‘less than truthful’, wolf. Then he opened one of his eyes again and said something else.

 

“And I promise not to grab you.”

 

He closed his eyes a second time, but this time his face twisted in a slight grimace. Kate decided that he’d made the last statement with some reluctance. Then she saw his body shift slightly, as he willed it to obey. He took a deep breath, let it out, and became still. That ominous stillness. She’d seen him do it before. It had taken years of martial arts training to learn to become so still. Somehow she knew he could explode out of that sprawl in a heartbeat, if he was under attack.

 

“I am not going to kiss you. That’s all there is to it.”

 

“Fine. You’re scared. I can understand that. I used to be an Academic myself, remember? A college is a fine place to hide from the world. Everything is ‘theoretical’, nothing is real. Reality becomes soft and fuzzy and far, far away. There are no big wars in the Middle East, secretly driven by oil oligarchs. There are no starving children in Africa. Nobody dies. You don’t have to deal with your emotions, you have your intellect to protect you from all that. But take my word for it, your emotions are still lurking somewhere inside you, and they will come back to bite you when you least expect it, or need to deal with it. So you might as well learn to deal with them now…..”

 

Trust Gareth to give a lecture with his eyes closed. Obviously the only way to shut him up was to kiss him So the next thing was, how to approach him without doing something totally inappropriate. Crawling onto his lap was out. So she moved to the couch carefully, kneeling in the space next to him. The trouble with Gareth was, he was big. To get close to him she had to sort of ‘lean’ over him, quite a distance, a precarious balance, she might easily fall right on top of him. As soon as she drew near, she was enveloped in his body warmth and smell, even though she was still a few inches away. She gently smoothed her fingers down the side of his face.

 

“I’m at your mercy.”

 

“So you said, but I’m afraid I don’t believe you,” Kate said. “Predators are never helpless. Any appearance of helplessness is an illusion. Probably the better to inveigle their intended prey, I am not fooled by that ‘Grandma Disguise’, Monsieur Wolf.”

 

Kate drew a finger lightly across his hard mouth. His lips parted slightly in response, inviting her kiss. But she wasn’t ready yet. She was going to make him suffer, for all the times she’d wanted to kiss him and hadn’t, and all the times she’d wanted his arms around her and he’d been too far away. He would have to wait as she had waited. Then she began kissing all the spots where he’d been hurt. His skin was smooth and warm, but not feverish, and she gave thanks for that. She ran her fingertips along his jawbone, under his chin, down the long, strong neck. She reached across his body to rest some of her weight on him. Then she ducked her head beneath his chin to kiss his throat. He drew a ragged breath. He really was in there somewhere, feeling all of this. She let her fingers glide under the edge of his shirt.

 

“Which collarbone was damaged?”

 

“The one you’re touching.”

 

Kate spread her hand across his skin inside his shirt collar. She thought good thoughts, beauty and power and love. Healing. If Gareth really was one of God’s ‘chosen warriors’, then surely God would agree to heal him. She felt the heat beneath her hand, warmer even than Gareth’s own body temperature, which always seemed above normal to Kate. Whether the feverish sensation originated in her hand or came from Gareth’s body she couldn’t tell. Probably from him. Under her touch Gareth had gone from warm to hot. She remembered then, that he was a person in top physical condition, equipped with a burning hot metabolism, someone who could swim long distances in cold water. She was toying with his thermostat. Turning it all the way up to max. She kissed him on the chin. He almost groaned, but strangled it into silence. She tasted the salt on his skin. Possibly she’d made him a little warmer than he’d expected. Far hotter than she had anticipated. But Kate refused to take pity on him. He certainly deserved every bit of provocation, for all the tortures he’d put her through.

 

Kate decided it was time to try his mouth. She bent down to brush her mouth across his slightly parted lips. She’d resisted the urge to lick the salt off his skin, but now, the tip of her tongue began to explore his lower lip. His measured breathing promptly went off the chart, beneath her weight she could feel his body dragging in oxygen to cope with whatever onslaught was coming. And despite his promise, Kate was fairly sure his right hand had snaked around, barely touching the hair behind her neck, and was poised to pull her into one of those crushing kisses he’d assured her were not on the agenda. Apparently his body thought otherwise. Kate’s reality was beginning to slide into a zone where nothing mattered except the man in front of her. A most peculiar form of tunnel vision, leading towards an inevitable crescendo.….There was a distant click. A key turning in a lock.

 

Several things happened, seemingly all at once. Gareth did, indeed, surge to his feet. With a power that rivaled one of the great whales throwing themselves half a body length out of the sea into the open air. A force strong enough to overcome planetary gravity. Scary thought. And because she was so startled, Kate threw herself backwards to get out of his way. Which landed her on her bottom, on the floor beside the couch. Al burst through the door. Gareth looked relieved, annoyed, and amused, simultaneously. “I’ll assume you have a good reason for charging in here without knocking.” He was running the fingers of his right hand, the one he’d been going to grab her with, through his hair…..but his left was holding a.….gun? Made you wonder where pesky little thing had been hidden. Shoved down in the side pocket of the new couch perhaps. He’d apparently discovered a novel use for Kate’s recent acquisition.

 

“Sorry Boss, I can see you were…..” he paused to take in Gareth’s rumpled and flushed condition, and also Kate, who was staring at him a trifle balefully from from her position on the floor. Al tried to repress a laugh. “I was going to say you must have been ‘busy’, but it looks to me like this woman was about to attack you. So maybe I came just in time.”

 

“Yes, you great idiot, you have ‘rescued’ me. Except that I did not want to be rescued. It’s taken me days to talk her into attacking me.” Gareth was now grinning.

 

It was clear to Kate these two were good friends, and had been for a while, despite the difference in their appearance and their backgrounds.

 

“I ‘charged in here’ as you put it, because I thought there might be somebody else in the room.”

 

Gareth looked around, pretending to search the corners. “Nope, don’t see anybody else here. Have you been eating fruit loops? Why would there be anybody but us in this suite?”

 

“Because the Press is downstairs.”

 

Kate saw Gareth processing this bit of unwelcome news. She could see that he wasn’t happy about it. But neither did he panic.

 

“How would they get in? You have a key, and I have a key. And housekeeping. Anybody else?”

 

“Your brother-in-law told me someone stole the Housekeeping key.”

 

“OK. Now I begin to see the problem you spoke of.” Gareth ran his long fingers across his jaw thoughtfully, as if contemplating the next chess move.

 

“Yeah, me too. That’s why I came up. I didn’t really think you were in here. I thought somebody else might be. Nobody knew you were in the building. Your car’s not here.”

 

“The explanation for that would take far longer than it’s worth.”

 

“I tried calling both of you on your cells,” Al said reproachfully. “But neither one of you answered. And I didn’t want to page you through the office…..in case you didn’t want to explain why you were…..unavailable.”

 

Kate gave a guilty start. She’d turned her phone off the previous night and forgotten to turn it back on. Why Gareth might have shut off his phone, Kate could only surmise. She couldn’t imagine him doing much of anything by accident. Which meant he might have wanted some time alone with her.

 

“I thought maybe you’d both gone somewhere for…..breakfast…..or something.” ‘Disappeared to a motel’, he might have been thinking. “I thought the suite was empty and someone might have come in here for a look around.”

 

“So you were going to burst in here, catch them in the act, and haul them off to jail. By yourself.”

 

Gareth let that one sink in for a while. Kate heard a teacher chiding a student.

 

“Now that you put it that way, it does sound kinda stupid.”

 

“Only if you don’t mind getting yourself killed. What if it wasn’t someone from the press who stole the key? What if you’d stumbled onto the crew that killed Foster? I also promised Carlisle I wouldn’t lose any more people. And you really don’t want you to make a ‘liar’ out of me.”

 

“Yeah, I suppose I could have run into someone who’d make a ‘yellow journalist’ look as innocent as a nursery school student.”

 

“How can a man who is as patient as you are on the other side of a chessboard run headlong into a situation like this? I think we’ve discussed this. Multiple armed assailants. Were you prepared for that eventuality? It doesn’t usually play out too well. I don’t care if you thought you were saving me…..or her…..you still don’t…..”

 

Al held up his hands palm outwards and turned his face away, closing his eyes.

 

“OK. I get it. You’re ticked. You have a right to be ticked. You’re trying to save my sorry…..behind.”

 

“All right, I guess I’d better shut up. But I’m hoping you you heard me this time. Because if you get yourself killed, I’m going to be more than angry, I’ll be…..profoundly disappointed, in both of us, me as a mentor and you as a trainee. But especially myself. You can’t keep doing this Al.”

 

“I hear what you’re saying. You’ve always said the same thing. ‘Even if you’re fast, even if you take out the first two, the third one nails you.’”

 

“So…..enough of that subject. We were preparing to leave this area, because it’s no longer secure.”

 

Kate decided to jump into the conversation.

 

“Keep in mind, Al. The man who’s telling you all this, is now recovering from going to a dubious sounding meeting, by himself, where he was attacked by, pause for the drum roll, ‘multiple armed assailants’. And almost died. So possibly he doesn’t listen to his own advice.”

 

Gareth smiled crookedly. “It was bad enough when I only had to take this sort of abuse from Al.”

 

Kate decided to get to her feet about then, and both of them rushed to help her up. Since either of them separately could have easily boosted her to her feet, the effect of both of them taking an elbow and lifting her made her feel like a child. Then the three of them were standing very close together, within inches. Somehow Kate had never expected to be quite this close to the FBI.

 

Al let go of her elbow first, and scratched a face that sounded like sandpaper.

 

“You know Boss, you wouldn’t have to hide the fact you’re with this woman morning, noon, and whenever else you can arrange it, if you’d just convince her to marry you.”

 

“How do you know I wasn’t working on that very problem, when you interrupted?”

 

Gareth fixed them both with his most ‘I told you so’ stare, which was quite effective, since he was standing no more than a foot away from either of them.

 

“I probably wouldn’t have said anything, it’s just that,” Al cleared his throat, “You seem like folks who are already married. Married ten years, but just still can’t get enough of each other. Like you knew each other and just got back together. Like two sides of the same coin. Like…..well…..‘partners’.”

 

Gareth raised one of his eyebrows almost imperceptibly higher than the other and stared at Al for a few seconds.

 

“You may be on to something, my friend, but we’ll have to save considerations of soul-mates and destiny for another day. What we’ve got to figure out right now, is what we’re going to do about the Press.”

 

“I assumed you’d want to get Miss Greenwood out of here, possibly by way of the freight elevator.”

 

“Why is the ‘Press’ even interested?”

 

Al grinned. “The frenzy seems to be fueled by the usual sorts of rumors. The ones yellow scandal rags use to earn their bread and butter. So far, I’ve been asked what a weird looking guy like me is doing working for the FBI. I’ve been asked if my Boss is the son of the ‘infamous’ billionaire Andrew McFadyn. I’ve been asked if my boss is keeping company with a murder witness from Kansas. I’ve been asked if my Boss is keeping his mistress in a penthouse apartment in this hotel. And I’ve been asked if the penthouse for the mistress is being paid for by ‘taxpayer dollars’.”

 

“About par for the course.” Gareth said. “Is that all? I’m surprised there’s not more. Maybe I skyjacked an airliner, or I’m trying to assassinate the President.”

 

“I think that was plenty.” Kate said, wilting into a chair. She wasn’t used to figuring prominently in celebrity gossip.

 

“No, no. They could be much more thorough. Drag in the stuff about the ‘Boy Wonder’ who was once poised to ‘take over’ both Wall Street and Washington DC. Reference a few of my old girlfriends, wonder where they are now, etc. etc.”

 

He turned to Al. “I take it you didn’t answer any of the questions?”

 

“Well I did answer one,” Al grinned, because he knew he had their complete attention. “I told them I can dress the way I do because I’m a member of the famous ‘anti-hacking’ squad and we have a very loose dress code at the office.”

 

“I doubt if I would have told them even that much, but maybe it was a good diversion.”

 

“I still can’t understand how they tracked you and her. She came on a commercial flight, but under an assumed name. You came in on a private jet. No one should even know that the two of you are in Washington DC, let alone where you are.”

 

Kate gave a guilty start when she remembered her credit card purchases. But neither of them seemed to notice.

 

“I’d say the answer is obvious. Somebody sold us out. It has to have been some one in Denver. That little detail about a ‘murder witness from Kansas’ is the giveaway. Kate was ‘in’ Kansas, but she’s not ‘from’ Kansas. Which means it was someone who had known something about the investigation but not quite all of the details. Someone who didn’t know that Kate’s from San Francisco. Which rules out Gillespie.” Gareth grinned at Kate, “Even though I know Kate doesn’t like him, and it also rules out Donovan even though she likes Donovan even less.”

 

“But knowing who it isn’t, doesn’t tell us who it is.”Al sounded frustrated.

 

“Sure it does.” Gareth was smiling one of his chess smiles. “Process of elimination.”

 

“So who is it then?”

 

“I’d say it’s one of the agents who came out to bust the guys in the pickup that was chasing us. Which gives you, Al, a new assignment. I’d like you to get the name of every agent who was out at the site where the helicopter landed. Even if we eliminate Donovan and the medic, you’ll still come up with about twenty names. Everyone who was there saw Kate’s interest in me. If they assumed the interest was mutual…..they might have reason to believe we’re still together.

 

As for why we’d be here, if I’m not at my house…..where else would I be, besides here? I don’t think it’s exactly a secret my brother-in-law and sister own the E-Palaces. If they know I’m not at my house, it means somebody’s probably watching my house. Which gives you your second assignment. I’d like you to install our own surveillance team and see if we can’t figure out who’s watching, and how they’re doing it.”

 

“It’s as good as done.”

 

“I take it we’re besieged by journalists of the nastier sort.”

 

“They didn’t want to know anything about the case. That would have been ‘legitimate’ news. This was all the usual tabloid stuff. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Mostly sex.”

 

Kate heaved a big sigh and shook her head. “Sorry guys. I know you got blindsided by this.”

 

“It’s really my own fault.” Gareth’s face flickered with one of his long remorseful looks. “First I had you stash Kate here. Then, despite you telling me Kate was fine, I had to come here and see for myself. After that, I decided it was ‘all right’ to sleep on the couch. Bad decision. I can plead ‘exhaustion’, but now that I spent the night here, we’re never going to be able to convince anyone that Kate and I are ‘just friends’.”

 

“That’s why I mentioned the two of you getting married. That would really take the wind out of their sails.”

 

“The problem is,” Gareth sighed heavily, as if he’d already been over this in his mind “if someone is trying to get Raymond Carlisle to remove me from this case, they’ll just switch focus. Next thing you know, according to them, I’ll have been taking bribes, although what anyone could bribe me with, remains to be seen. Or I’ll have been giving government contracts to my family, or I’ve got a ‘cocaine habit’, I’m a ‘cross-dresser’ with a boyfriend, all my friends are ‘communists’, or ‘neo-nazis’ or maybe I play poker with a couple of Mafia Dons.”

 

“Now I know that one isn’t true,” Al said “Because if you were, I’d…..”

 

Al suddenly realized what he was saying and shut up. Kate and Gareth both looked at him. Kate was wondering if Al knew quite a bit more about the Mafia than either one of them did. Maybe Gareth was wondering the same.

 

“Well McFadyn,” Kate said “If all of those rumors are true, it makes you quite the ‘interesting’ fellow. But you really seem to have a lot of ‘issues’.” Kate was laughing merrily.

 

“If half of them were true, I’d already be pushing up daisies. But just because something is far-fetched, and beyond the scope of rational belief, doesn’t keep the press from saying it. And the reason why nothing was leaked about the case, is that the whole purpose of the leak is to stop the investigation.

 

“By discrediting you.” Kate said sadly. Suddenly, it all made sense.

 

“And if they want us to drop the case, they’re not going to be laying out any facts that would increase public interest. If they mentioned ‘murder’ or ‘missing files’ or ‘secret informants’ the case would go from the ‘obscure’ category, to something considerably higher profile. Turn up the heat, and the government would be too embarrassed to drop the case.”

 

Al gave a devious little smile. “Kind of makes you wish we could do a bit of ‘leaking’ of our own, doesn’t it? Drop some of those clues you mentioned into the right ears and make sure there’s a public outcry. Then, even if you were taken off the case, at least the investigation would go on.”

 

“Al, you’re a far more formidable chess opponent than you give yourself credit for being. But we can’t do it. Using the press to do our dirty work isn’t in the playbook. Though it sounds a little like something Mr. Carlisle might try. Are you accusing me of being as underhanded as the CIA? In the FBI we’re supposed to be ‘straight arrows’, you know.”

 

“Unfortunately your enemies don’t seem to share your scruples. You stand fast on your principles, while the press is tearing you to shreds.”

 

“Being a ‘good guy’ has it’s drawbacks,” Gareth chuckled “but you signed on anyway. I wish we could handle this situation just by manipulating the Press. It might keep me in the game a little longer, but it wouldn’t solve our basic problem.”

 

“Bird of Prey.” Al said glumly.

 

“Unless we get a break in the case soon, our opponents may come up with some thing credible enough to make Carlisle disavow me and back out of the investigation. If we don’t catch some of the major players before that happens, the government may overrule my authority and order the firewall redesigned.”

 

“I suppose you’re right Boss, except they may not even bother to redo the security protocols. The Bureau can just pretend nothing ever happened and leave everything as it is. Wouldn’t the bad guys just love that. They could break in any time they want.” Al sounded disgusted.

 

“And take whatever they want.” Kate said bleakly. She felt a stab of sorrow, thinking Kestrel might have died for nothing. They all seemed to be feeling it, Gareth suddenly looked tired, admitting a truth he didn’t want to face.

 

“That could happen, yes.”

 

Kate felt herself choke with outrage. “Leon Foster sacrificed himself. His death has to to be worth more than that.”

 

Gareth ran his hand across closed eyes, like he was trying to erase the past from his mind. “We can’t resurrect the dead, but we can save the living. Right now my primary concern is safety, everyone’s but especially Kate’s. In the first place she’s a civilian. In the second place, she was more or less co-opted by me.” He smiled “I won’t say ‘against her will’, but under a form of ‘duress’.”

 

“Expeditious use of the word ‘please’. A deadly but effective technique.” Kate gave a rueful laugh.

 

“Which means, I fear, that I’m the no-good rotten son-of-a-gun who’s responsible for the danger she now finds herself in.”

 

Al’s eyes narrowed “You could…..send her away…..I guess.” he finished lamely.

 

“Sadly, if I cut her loose at this point, Kate will be in even more danger than she is already. It’s much too late to guarantee her safety by the one means that would have worked.”

 

“Which is…..?” Al asked, leadingly.

 

“Which is her never having come to their attention to begin with. Vogle’s probably building a file on her as we speak, just so he can involve her in his sick little games. And whatever my powers may be, I can’t seem to fix any of this. Kate’s been in jeopardy since the moment she stopped to help me. And by spending time with me the danger became more sure and certain. The only way she would’ve been safe, is if she’d driven off and left me.”

 

“He told me to leave him, but I wouldn’t.”

 

“I was weak. I craved rescue, particularly at the hands of someone so…..”

 

“I get the picture. But you can’t change the past.” Al said. “And you can’t be sure leaving you behind would have saved her. Once she made contact with you, they might have decided to track her down and eliminate her anyway.”

 

“I suppose. They could have assumed I’d said something to her or given her something. They seem to be ‘big’ on ‘precautionary measures’.”

 

“Merely attempting to help a wounded knight merits a death sentence? So now I’m ‘doomed’. Who knew?”

 

Kate was attempting to make light of the situation, but she had to admit she was frightened.

 

“Not ‘doomed’ maybe, but dragged into the heart of danger, with no way back to easier, gentler climes.”

 

“Well I for one, am glad I met you, no matter how it turns out. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

 

“You’re probably not going to like this Kate, but I think you can consider yourself in ‘protective custody’.”

 

“As if I wasn’t already.”

 

“Excuse me, Boss, but aren’t you going to get your tail in a gate for even putting this lady here? Don’t ‘protected witnesses’ usually sleep someplace like an unlocked jail cell, or a women’s shelter or something? Even if you aren’t sleeping in the same spot, isn’t this a bit ‘unusual’ hiding a material witness in your own home, or your family’s home?”

 

“That’s right. And I don’t see how he can put me under ‘house arrest’ by his own authority.” Kate complained to Al. “Doesn’t he have to declare ‘martial law ‘or something, to get away with this type of behavior?”

 

“Trouble is,” Al grinned, “he is the Marshal. All he has to do is slide it past Carlisle. With Carlisle’s ‘blessing’ Mr. ‘Carte Blanche’ there, can do virtually anything he wants to do. ‘National Security’ and all.”

 

“I see. So what you’re saying is I can forget appealing McFadyn’s seemingly arbitrary decisions because Mr. Carlisle will undoubtedly back him up.”

 

“And there’s virtually no one higher than Carlisle to to hear the complaint. I mean, I suppose you could try the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the President, if you think they’d listen to you. But Carlisle outranks just about everybody else. Which means,”

 

“Agent McFadyn can do whatever he wants.”

 

“Yes, I can. We’re leaving, Al, and I’m taking Kate with me. Kate, you have about three minutes to pack.”

CHAPTER EIGHT:

DEEP THINKERS

 

The trip down the freight elevator didn’t take long. They had successfully avoided the press camped out in the lobby. Kate wondered how long it would take the press people to realize whatever ‘story’ there had been, it had long since ‘escaped’ through the back door. Maybe the news hounds would camp out for another day before they realized the story had flown the coop. Al made rather short work of tossing two of the smaller pieces of Kate’s new luggage into the trunk of the white Mustang. She was about to climb into the passenger seat, wondering if Al was coming with them, or would be staying behind, when she noticed Gareth was staring at her in a particularly unusual way. She was getting used to him giving her strange looks, but this was a new one. Equally composed of bemusement and stubbornness. Then she noticed that he was holding the keys out to her.

 

“Come on, Kate. You’ve got to get your feet wet sooner or later. You might as well drive this car now and get used to it.”

 

Kate did not want to drive the thing. Pretty as it was, the whole concept made her itch with discomfort, like she didn’t quite fit in her own skin. Not to mention the prospect of driving in the Washington metro area in any sort of vehicle was crazy making. That would have been a nightmare in her old ‘familiar’ vehicle. This would be worse. And the thought of Gareth as a backseat driver had to be the icing on the cake. She could imagine what some poor kid would feel like if he came to take Gareth’s daughter out on a date, and Gareth came to answer the door. Archangel with newspaper and slippers. No, Gareth was not someone you wanted looking over your shoulder. Apparently, Gareth read all of her reluctance quite clearly from her face, because he started to bargain with her.

 

“Look, I’m taking you to my sister’s place in the country. If you’ll drive for half an hour, I’ll take over and drive the rest of the rest of the way. How does that sound?”

 

As if she ever had any ‘choice’ with Gareth. Why did he even bother to ask her opinion? It was a mere formality, since he had already clearly come to some decision that he was not likely to change. She did notice that he still wasn’t going to take her to government sponsored housing. Either he didn’t trust the ‘Safe’ houses as actually being safe, or Gareth wanted to keep this all under the radar for some reason. He was going to stash her with the family, again. With no great enthusiasm, Kate climbed into the driver’s seat. Maybe if she drove a few blocks she could persuade him to take pity on her. That was going to be a ‘hard sell’, though. The ‘I’m only a timid woman driver’ gambit wasn’t going to fly very well with him, since she’d spent most of the first hour after she’d met him driving 90 miles an hour, and she hadn’t crashed once. She held out her hand for the keys. Might as well get this over with. She climbed in and settled into the seat. Then Kate realized her legs were bent almost double, there was no way they were going to fit under the dash. She couldn’t believe that Gareth had actually shortened the leg space since his legs were longer than hers by at least an inch or two. She reached for the lever to adjust the seat. But she wasn’t about to cave in without giving him a bad time.

 

“McFadyn, what have you done to this car? I suppose you drive it like a jockey, with your feet in the stirrups? Because I’m going to have to adjust…..”

 

Kate got about that far, when Gareth grabbed her left forearm with his right hand so hard she was pretty sure it would leave a bruise, and she glared at him. Except in the heat of passion when he tended to forget a bit, Gareth had until this point, always treated her with utmost gentleness. Grabbing her so hard she gasped in pain wasn’t like him.

 

“Don’t move. Don’t even breathe. And whatever you do, don’t try to get out of that seat.”

 

She felt all the color drain out of her face. As her life became the thin thread of her pulse, Kate wondered if she could remain upright. But she must not fall, because it would remove her weight from the seat, possibly setting off a…..what? Pressure sensitive detonator?

 

“You’re not telling me there’s a…..an ‘explosive device’, under the seat?”

 

“All right. I won’t tell you that. But don’t move anyway. All I know is, I didn’t leave the seat like that, so somebody’s been in the car. Maybe I’m overreacting. But if there is a bomb under the seat, and you move very much, you’ll blow both of us to kingdom come.”

 

Gareth barely raised his voice “Al, would you please leave the building and call the bomb squad?”

 

What had Gladys said, ‘smooth as glass’ under pressure? Gareth was beyond that, into the realm of icy calm.

 

Al hustled away, leaving them with the car, and the silence, looking at each other. Gareth had knelt down right outside the still open driver’s door and his face was no more than a few inches from hers. He looked haggard. He looked tired. He looked angry. His skin seemed to have a gray cast and she thought she could detect the faint sheen of perspiration. Maybe she looked much the same. Probably worse. Gareth was far better at withstanding stress than she was, even ‘command level’ stress. And they were going to to share the terror, apparently, because he was close by her side. Then it occurred to Kate that he didn’t have to remain in the danger zone. He could be on the other side of the garage, where it would be a lot safer.

 

“Gareth if there is a bomb, don’t you think you should be farther away, like a hundred feet or so?”

 

He didn’t bother to answer her, just shook his head.

 

“You think if I hold still it won’t go off. But what if it has a timer instead of a pressure switch?”

 

“This wasn’t meant for you. It was meant for me. I just happened to talk you into sitting down in my place.”

 

Kate took a deep breath. So if she died, he was going to blame himself. That figured. Then she remembered she wasn’t supposed to breathe deeply, or for that matter make any movement at all. She stopped breathing.

 

“It’s OK. I shouldn’t have told you not to breathe. I did overreact. You can breathe. Even if there’s a pressure switch, it can’t be hair-trigger. If it was, it would be too easy to set it off. It would be triggered by someone slamming the door of the car in the next space, or by the wind jiggling the vehicle. Since I’m big, they’d probably set it for at least a hundred pounds. So just make sure you keep firmly in the seat. Settle right down and stay there.”

 

“So this is one of those situations where it’s actually better to be heavier.”

 

“I’d say so. Think ‘heavy’ thoughts.”

 

“And I take it you’re not going anywhere?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Not even when the bomb squad comes?”

 

“Not going anywhere. Sticking like glue.”

 

“So what are we going to do until the bomb squad shows up? I’ve heard it can be anything up to three hours.” Kate tried not to think what was going to happen if she had to use the restroom. Maybe she’d get rid of all her excess moisture in cold sweat. As it was, her teeth were developing an alarming tendency to chatter. She hoped Gareth wouldn’t notice.

 

“I doubt it will be anything close to three hours. I don’t know where you got your facts, but that sounds more like the timetable for a small town. Happily, or unhappily, this is Washington. I’d expect a response time of half an hour or less.”

 

“Besides wanting to keep him from getting his fool head blown off, is there any other reason you sent Al outside to make the call?”

 

“Think about it.”

 

Kate thought about it, chewing her lip. No doubt he was giving her mental busywork to take her mind off the situation. But she had an idea.

 

“OK. Professor, how about this. This is my Jeopardy question. Can bombs be set off by phone transmissions?”

 

“You are one of my better students. And attractive, too.”

 

“You probably say that to all your female students.”

 

“You’re picturing me teaching Freshman Literature. I was teaching graduate level computer science at MIT. Do you know how many females there are in a group like that?”

 

“I see what you mean. Almost none?”

 

“I think there were, let me see, six? In all the time I was teaching. One happened to be married. Another was gay. The other four were so intent on their careers, that men were the very last thing on their minds. That’s a very competitive atmosphere.”

 

“You seem to thrive in those.”

 

Gareth winced. “I was ‘brought up’ to expect to be ‘cut down’, if that’s what you mean. My father taught me to expect the worst from people, never to expect either mercy or forgiveness. If he’d made it ‘easy’ he would have thought I was being ‘mollycoddled’. No one really lives all that well under pressure. Some of us just die from stress more slowly than others.”

 

“So if you’re going to teach me about ‘grace under pressure’ what should we be doing with potentially the last few minutes of our lives?”

 

“First, we pray. ‘Please Father, give us courage in this fearful moment, give us strength to be a good example to those around us, give us faith to believe that You are still in charge, whatever the appearances may be. Please give us hope we will be on this Earth tomorrow, and if that is not to be…..if that is not to be, then let us be with you soon’.”

 

“That about covers it, I’d say. You know you’re very good at that, ‘praying’? Almost as if you’re on a ‘first name basis’ with the Big Guy Upstairs. Almost as if you do this all the time.”

 

“I can’t imagine why you’d say that.” Gareth smiled a grim smile.

 

“And you’re absolutely right, contact with the ‘One in Charge’ always puts the predicament in a different light. I don’t feel nearly so discouraged. Or afraid. And you know, we might just make it out of this yet. So don’t you think it’s about time you told me why you swore off of women?”

 

“I suppose you’re right. You have a right to know…..all of it, before you make any decision about whether to spend…..a long while with me. So where should I begin?”

 

“Are my questions numbered, do I get only three?”

 

“No. You get as many answers as I have time to give you.”

 

Well that was telling it like it was, Kate thought. They might get three seconds, or they might get thirty years.

 

“Tell me about the girl you got engaged to.”

 

“OK. I was twenty. There was this girl. We got involved, but I think if anyone was taking advantage, it was she taking advantage of me, and not the other way around. I was still pretty ‘green’ in those days, you see, and thought all ‘romances would come to a happy conclusion. Looking back, I think she thought of me in terms of being a large ‘party favor’. I was kind of tall, you know, something ‘collectible’. Like younger girls collect ‘Barbies’ and ‘My Little Ponies’. Her Dad, who was very rich, although not so rich as my father, got wind of what his daughter and I were up to.

 

It so happened, this girl’s Dad knew a certain Senator, who my father had been bribing to get defense contracts. This girl’s Dad, decided he would like to have a piece of my father’s empire, and he thought he was in a position to get it. So he told my father that if I would marry this girl, and if my father would also sign over several divisions of McFadyn Industries, to the ‘in-laws’ you see, that he would keep his mouth shut, and my father would not go to jail. My father approached me with the proposition and tried to convince me it was my ‘familial duty’ to marry this girl. You know me, the guilt was working on me. I might have gone through with it, ‘tragic hero’ stuff. At twenty, a lot of people think they’re tragic heroes. Before I could fully pull my act together to make my ‘selfless sacrifice’, my father announced my engagement to the press. Fortunately for me, the girl, who wasn’t in any way in love with me, had the good sense to run off with her mechanic boyfriend and marry him. So I was ‘jilted’, you see. It didn’t exactly break my heart.”

 

“Couldn’t this man have blackmailed your father anyway, even if the ‘marriage’ was off?”

 

“Not exactly. By then my father had hired a private detective to dig up a lot of ‘dirt’ on the other rich guy. So I’d say it was pretty much a ‘stalemate’.”

 

Kate hated herself for it, but she was rather happy he hadn’t been in love with the woman. He had also just admitted his father wasn’t exactly the nicest guy in the world. That wasn’t much of a surprise.

 

“So what about the ‘married woman’?”

 

“My, you have been doing your homework. Now you see why I told you not to look me up.”

 

“You said you’d tell me.”

 

“So I did. OK. That was back when I was still drinking, I think I was…..twenty two. I met this woman in a bar. Several years older than me. She didn’t really look that old, though, she looked maybe five years older than than I was. She told me she had run away from her husband because he beat her. Being quite young and stupid, I believed her. I also believed her when she said she was in the process of getting a divorce. It was only much later I found out she was twenty-nine, and she had told the same story to five or six other young guys that she found ‘interesting’. She wasn’t really planning on ever getting a divorce, because she was married to a rich old man, who didn’t beat her, and pretty much let her do anything she wanted, including fooling around with younger men.”

 

“Why didn’t he divorce her, do you think?”

 

“I suppose he considered her a trophy and was willing to put up with her highjinks. Who knows why rich people do anything?”

 

“And here I thought you were the expert on that subject.”

 

“Far from it, the older I get the less I understand human behavior in general, and the motivations of the wealthy in particular. They’ve been known to cut off their nose despite their face, and I’ve watched them do it. Figuratively, of course.”

 

“But none of this was enough to cause you to swear off women.”

 

“Of course not. As I got older I got less stupid, but as it turned out, I was still not nearly smart enough. I think the bible says something specific about ‘leaning on your own understanding’. As I became more cynical, I was sure I had it all figured out. I became one of those love ‘em and leave ‘em types.”

 

“It’s hard to picture you that way.”

 

“I told you I couldn’t really afford to judge your ex-husband for being an exploiter. I was one, myself. Though I didn’t seek out ‘good’ women to despoil, but bad ones. Sadly for me, I found them. Or perhaps they found me. Surely I put myself in the place of disaster. I think Proverbs had something to say about that also, how hazardous it can be, seeking out bad women.”

 

“So you had the friend who was killed by a drunk driver, Henry Iversson.”

 

“Yes, I felt like God had directly spoken to me about my drinking behavior, so I stopped. However, I didn’t stop going to bars. I kept on going into bars, but I’d order a soda instead of booze. That’s how I came to get involved with a certain woman. I took her for a university groupie, you know, someone who thought the professors were ‘cool’. I was very flattered, because I thought I found someone was finally impressed by me, or at least my credentials, instead of by who my father was. By then I’d been teaching almost four years and I thought I was pretty ‘hot stuff’. Looking back, I have a feeling she knew exactly who I was. I think, in her own strange way, she was stalking me. I strongly believe the woman had some disturbing mental issues. From some things she said, I think she thought I was going to soon inherit a lot of money. She didn’t know I already had. She was a strange person, and I never quite trusted her. So you might say our communication was not the best. One day she asked me…..she asked me…..”

 

Kate was sure she saw the gleam of tears in his eyes, this man who had been so stoic when speaking of his own death, or even her own, was breaking down over something in this story.

 

“She asked me if I ‘loved’ her. On some level, I think I was convinced she was trying to trap me. There was a certain amount of anger there. I was damned if I was going to let anyone dictate terms to me. So I told her I didn’t love her, and that there was no sense in her trying to snare me by getting me to make some declaration of ‘undying fidelity’. At that point, although I was uncomfortable, I thought I’d dealt with the situation in a properly hard nosed fashion. I actually congratulated myself. I figured it was over between us, and I didn’t really care. I was pleased with myself for handling it so well, and not ‘getting boxed in’.”

 

Gareth tried to look at her, but for some reason couldn’t raise his eyes. Instead he buried his face in his hands.

 

“This woman.….disappeared for about a week. When she came back, she had the bitterest smile I’ve ever seen. She said to me ‘I want you to know just what you’ve done’. Then she told me…..she’d had an abortion.”

 

Gareth leaned away from Kate and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes.

 

“So you see, God did speak to me about my ‘other’ illicit behaviors. If I’d stopped carousing when I stopped drinking, the rest of that would never have happened. I wouldn’t be responsible for the death of a child. That’s why I ‘deserve’ to be left, a hundred times over, exactly as I abandoned that woman and that child, to fend for themselves.”

 

“Gareth…..” Kate reached out to touch his shoulder. “If she wasn’t honest with you…..”

 

“You also wanted to know why it doesn’t matter if I die. If I had to weigh it in a balance, I’d say I was a murderer. I deserve to die, at least as much as any other ‘murderer’. Not quite what you wanted to hear about me, I’ll bet.”

 

He stood up as if he wanted to leave, but must have remembered his promise, and threw himself back down next to the car. If he had chosen to walk away she couldn’t have stopped him. She couldn’t move from her spot, without possibly blowing up. She couldn’t go to him at all. When he came close to her again on his own, Kate knew she wanted to touch him. As soon as his head was on her knee she buried her fingers in the perpetually rumpled hair, which was as soft as it looked. He would not meet her eyes.

 

“You’re not a murderer.”

 

“The laws of man may not call me murderer, but I feel like one. And if my actions have resulted in someone’s death…..I’m not sure God sees much of a difference.”

 

“Gareth, remember King David?”

 

“How could I forget. He and I have a lot of things in common.”

 

“Yes, you do. Remember Bathsheba?”

 

“That’s one of the things I have in common with old Dave, too many women.”

 

“They conceived a child together, without benefit of marriage. A baby David prayed for, and wept for. Even though he prayed, the child was taken away. God said that David was being punished, but the child, who had done no wrong, would not be punished. Being with the Creator isn’t punishment, it’s a reward. The highest reward. You, here on Earth, may be miserable because of your weaknesses. That baby is not miserable. The baby is with God.”

 

His voice had a flat quality, but he no longer sounded so stricken. “I remember that story. I don’t remember anyone telling it quite that way. You make it sound so ordinary, like a Sunday School story for adults. I’m afraid I can’t be so accepting of my part in that situation. I’m fully convinced where there’s ‘sin’, there will be a reckoning. That wasn’t just any ‘mistake’. That was a life-changing error.” So that was it then, Gareth had staggering regrets. Kate could do little to lift them, but God would, if Gareth would let Him.

 

“You honestly believe God wouldn’t forgive you if you asked Him? He could forgive you if you were a murderer, and you’re not.”

 

The muscle along Gareth’s jaw tightened, the way it had a habit of doing when he was disturbed.

 

“I didn’t exactly ask for forgiveness. I don’t feel that I’m worthy of that. Instead, I asked God to take my life, in return for the little child I sent away. Only at a time that will benefit the kingdom.”

 

That figured. Gareth playing chess with God, dictating terms and attempting to strike a bargain. Trying to ‘pay’ God with His own coin. This then, was Gareth’s ‘Holy Quest’. A Life for a Life. Only now he ‘owed’ for a child and for Foster. It explained so much about him. Including why he might be intent on having one last fling before dying.

 

“The child’s life belongs to God, but so does yours. How can you ‘pay’ God with something that already belongs to Him?” She could now see Gareth was set to argue his case, when suddenly he stopped. His eyes focused on some distant point unseen to Kate. Then his face relaxed, like a granite statue melting into something softer, warmer, and far more human.

 

“You’re right. You know, you’re pretty good at this. Maybe you should hang out a shingle…..”

 

“You read the bible more than I do. You should know better than to condemn yourself.”

 

“Kate, I thought you’d hate me.”

 

“Are you kidding? Why would I judge you, when you’ve already been punished? ‘Feeling bad’ is punishment. ‘Guilt’ is punishment. You’ve already paid. You’ve repented. You don’t do those kind of things anymore. God deals with each person in an individual way. God punished David. But He also forgave him. He let David continue as King. He blessed David and Bathsheba, who was equally guilty, with another beautiful son, Solomon.”

 

“How do you know she was ‘guilty’? Maybe David ‘commanded’ her to come to him. Not much choice, to obey a king.”

 

“What was she doing bathing naked on a roof, where she probably knew he could see her?”

 

“Good point. I see I’ll have to have you defending me at all times. My ‘Advocate’. It would be wonderful if I believed God could forgive me as easily as you do.”

 

“Why wouldn’t He? If God never changes, He’d do exactly the same thing today as He did three thousand years ago. If He forgave David, He can forgive you.”

 

Gareth was sitting on the concrete next to the car’s open door, the right side of his face resting against her thigh, his left hand holding her knee. She continued to stroke his hair just as she would have done for a small child.

 

“I’m glad I told you.” he said. “In case we get blown up.”

 

“Silly Rabbit, we’re not going to get ‘blown up’. We have too much to do.”

 

“That actually makes a certain amount of sense. Let’s hope God sees it the way you do.”

 

When he raised his head to smile at her, he looked exhausted, but he also looked less haunted.

 

“You can stop petting me now. I’ll live.”

 

“But will you be totally alive, or just an empty shell?”

 

“That’s for me to pray, and you to find out.”

 

“I’d say you were being ‘difficult’, but actually it seems to me you’ve been ‘nearly impossible’ for a long time. Before you were born, you were merely ‘improbable’. Which leads me to an interesting theory on your birth. Due to the great age gap between you and your sister, I was wondering if maybe your father had decided that he didn’t want any more children, and your mother ‘snuck’ one past him. The ‘one’ being you, of course.”

 

“That thought had also occurred to me. I wondered how it might have affected the relationship between my parents. I thought it might have accounted for my father treating me like an unwelcome guest, instead of part of the family.”

 

“I’ve looked at pictures of you and your brother and sister. Your sister doesn’t resemble your father very much, her face is a lot more angular, though she does have your father’s coloring. Your brother looks like your mother, the same high forehead, the same long oval face, the same brown eyes. The only thing about you that looks like your mother is your hair color. The irony is, despite all the trouble you have with your old man, of the three of you, you resemble your father the most. Your face is a bit longer, but you’ve got the same squared off jaw, and you’ve both got that ‘take-on-the-world’ look about you.”

 

“Which ruins the fantasy I had while growing up that I was really someone else’s child.”

 

“If your mother was the serious Christian you say she was, I doubt if she would have had an affair even if she and your father weren’t getting along.”

 

“I don’t think my father was unfaithful to my mother while she was alive. They had kind of an ‘armed truce’. He went off he deep end when she died.”

 

“Maybe he actually loved her. Maybe he’s not so awful.”

 

“You wish. He was probably just angry with my mother for having the audacity to desert him.”

 

“Weren’t you?”

 

“Angry with my mother?” Gareth looked thoughtful for a moment. “Not really. I blamed God.”

 

“Do you still?”

 

“Maybe sometimes. I’ve come to believe she really has gone to a finer place than the rest of us presently inhabit. I recognize the angry boy I used to be, as a basically selfish lad. Oh I was worried about her, for sure. It was myself that I was really pining for. I just didn’t want to lose her.”

 

“I try to imagine what your mother was like from seeing her picture. But I’m not sure I do her justice. Did both of your parents speak with a Gaelic accent?”

 

“Very much so. My father still does. You would be unflatteringly reminded of ‘Scrooge McDuck’. I think it’s an affectation on his part. I think, that after all this time, he could speak without an accent if he tried. I believe he thinks it makes him more popular with the women to sound like an Auld Scots Laird.”

 

“And does it?”

 

“I wouldn’t know, I don’t speak with an accent, leastwise not most of the time. The ‘Old Blighter’ did once steal one of my girlfriends. So maybe it works. When I was about twenty-five one of my girlfriends seemed to have quite the obsession about visiting the family compound up in Connecticut. I finally took her, and we weren’t there more than five minutes before she was on my father’s arm instead of mine. Needless to say, I felt like a ‘fool’, because she’d used me to get to the old man. That had been her intention all along.”

 

“It’s easier to see these things in hindsight.”

 

“Being Andrew McFadyn’s son is far worse than you can imagine, but at least you’re beginning to get an idea of what it was like. What made you ask about their Scots accent?”

 

“Because I hear it in you, every once in a while. Just the quietest trace. And you can roll your ‘r’s’ better than anyone I’ve met who isn’t a native Spanish speaker.”

 

“Ah, the ‘burr.’ Well that’s too bad. Because my mother tried to get me to speak without an accent. Her name may have been Bethany MacKenzie, but she wanted me to be a ‘full-fledged American’.”

 

“‘Full-fledged’, as in fully feathered? Like an arrow or an eagle? That’s rather appropriate. You do have a bit of an ‘aquiline’ nose, I guess.” Kate kissed her own finger, and then reached out and touched it to the bridge of Gareth’s nose. It was quite inconvenient not being able to move more than an inch or two.

 

“As for the accent, I find it charming, but it’s barely noticeable.”

 

“It’s true, you notice details that other people don’t. It’s one of several things I like about you.” Gareth’s smile was one of encouragement, warming Kate from the inside out.

 

“You know, you may upset your father exactly because he sees so much of himself in you.”

 

“Now that’s a truly frightening thought.”

 

“And why is that?”

 

“I’d rather I reminded you of my mother. She was much nicer. And Allie says if there’s any ‘royal blood’ in the family it must have been on mother’s side. On my father’s side on the other hand…..you have your more typical Highlanders.”

 

“Meaning?”

 

“I’m sure they were probably cattle thieves. Dad’s mother was a MacGregor.” Gareth was grinning.

 

“So you’re telling me I’m hanging out with a cattle thief?”

 

“I can’t vouch for my ‘law-abiding nature’. My family might all be outlaws. It could be in the blood.”

 

“I hope we’re not doomed to repeat our ancestors mistakes. Because if if we are, then I’m doomed to be a ‘drunk’ and a ‘gambler’ and run out on my family.”

 

Gareth stopped smiling and regarded Kate with a sympathetic look.

 

“Kate, I’ve thought about offering before. Because of who I am, because of my job, I might be able to find your father for you.”

 

“Don’t bother.” Kate shook her head. “I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to look. I’ve thought about searching on my own. But there’s a good chance he had another family after he left us. It might be too painful to dig up the past.”

 

Kate gazed off in he distance to where the bright late morning sun blasted through the parking structure entrance. No one had come into the underground garage during their long vigil. No doubt Al had been out there somewhere, waving his badge around to keep everyone at bay. But now he came hustling back across the concrete floor. He stopped about fifty feet away.

 

“They’re on their way. Should be here in about five more minutes.”

 

He spent a long moment surveying Gareth sprawled next to the open car door with his face against Kate’s leg, Kate stroking his hair with her left hand, as she’d been doing for a while. She hadn’t stopped smoothing his hair when he told her to. He hadn’t objected again. Al seemed to take in the situation and accept it. He didn’t question Gareth’s sanity, or his judgment. At least not out loud. He made no comment about the fact, that his Boss was glued to the side of a woman who might blow up in the next thirty seconds. In fact, he almost looked like he’d expected Gareth to behave exactly as he had. As if nothing Agent McFadyn could ever do would really surprise Al, because he’d already seen Gareth do so many unexpected things, that one or two more, wouldn’t make much difference. Kate doubted Al really understood, he just thought he did. Al would understand the ‘duty’ part, Gareth was certainly the knightly sort, he had duty and honor by the bucketful. Or by the pint, in the case of blood. Duty might have kept Gareth close by Kate’s side. Gareth would feel it was his responsibility to make sure everyone was safe and he wouldn’t want to leave the area until the threat was neutralized. Al would have had to be more dense than usual not to see the ‘devotion’ part. Everyone who had seen them together could see they held a lot of affection for one another. Devotion would have kept Gareth close to her in a crisis. Gareth would have wanted to offer her emotional support. Al might even have understood the ‘guilt’ aspect. Since Gareth had prevailed upon Kate to climb into the driver’s seat in his place, he couldn’t have let her die without being next to her.

 

What Al didn’t know about, was Gareth’s sadness, which fueled the death wish, which made it completely incidental whether he lived or died on any given day. Nobody knew about that particular little thorn in Gareth’s side, except for God, and now, apparently, Kate. Knowing Gareth as well as anyone could, Kate was sure that even deeper, below the visible layers, were more layers of motive. Motives which caused Gareth to do the things he did, in the ways that he did. Motives of which even he was not aware. Gareth, like a fine Swiss watch, had tiny precision gears within gears. Across the garage, the sun through the open door silhouetted the arrival of more people. Three men walked towards them, all of them wearing body armor, one in front, obviously the man designated to do the disarming, or die trying, as the case might be. Kate could see he was a young man, maybe a soldier. He wore a grim expression, appropriate to the time and place. Al stepped aside for him.

 

‘Oh no’, Kate’s stomach told her, ‘Here comes the confrontation’.

 

She felt Gareth gather himself together like a self-winding steel spring getting ready to uncoil. He was on his feet facing their would-be rescuer in less time than a thought.

 

“Excuse me Sir, you’ll have to leave this area.”

 

The young man had begun in a bored tone, like he’d delivered this speech many times, and knew, should he survive and go on in this line of work, he would have to deliver the same speech many times more in the future. Kate tried to see Gareth as this young man probably would. White dress shirt, tie, dark slacks probably a little grubby now from sitting on the pavement. A thirty-something yuppie just like thousands of others in the DC metro area. That’s the kind of guy that this kid thought he had to move. Boy did he have the wrong number. Poor kid. He was liable to get into difficulty. Kate winced, forgetting she wasn’t supposed to make any ‘untoward’ moves. Gareth ignored him for a few seconds, letting it sink in that he wasn’t going to comply, at least in the foreseeable future.

 

“Sir, I really have to insist. We can’t have civilians nearby when we’re working. You’ll have to clear out of the area.”

 

“I’ll move about three feet. That should give you enough room to work.”

 

There was a pause while the young man decided whether he wanted to pursue this. “I’ll call for backup and have you removed.”

 

“You’re welcome to call anyone you like. But as for ‘removing me’…..this should prove.….interesting.”

 

Kate would have sworn Gareth cracked his knuckles, and he was certainly smiling a smile with an unpleasant resonance. His voice had also taken on that low, dusky quality simmering with implied threat. “And by the way, I’m not a civilian.”

 

Kate saw the young man trying to figure this out. He couldn’t have looked more nonplussed if he’d turned over a rock and found a rattlesnake. “Sir, this is really for your own good. I don’t know what agency you work for, but I’m trained to deal with this, and you’re not.”

 

“I’m sure you believe that what you’re saying is true. I know you’re just ‘following procedure’. But as it so happens, I’m the one who decided to call your agency. Do you think I would have recognized there was a threat if I didn’t know anything about explosives?”

 

“Exactly what agency do you work for, Sir, if I might ask?”

 

“The words ‘Anti-terrorism’ are in the title, and what do you suppose that might entail? Explosives perhaps? I can assure you, I know precisely what I’m doing, and I’m not moving more than three feet from where I am right now. I really hope you can accept that, because if you can’t, we’re going to have a problem.”

 

“Ah…..I think I know who you are Sir, not a civilian, yes. And you’re welcome to remain…..if you think it wise.”

 

Gareth moved a foot or two towards the rear of the car which left him standing behind Kate’s left shoulder. As promised he was leaving the door area open for the man to work.

 

“This is my car. She’s in it. This is my fault. And I’m not leaving. It’s OK with both of us if we blow up at the same time. Which won’t happen, unless you don’t do your job properly.”

 

Technically, Gareth had given the car to her, but in this instance he was taking it back so he could also take responsibility.

 

“I would just ask that neither one of you move around unnecessarily. Try to hold as still as possible.”

 

“I already told her that. We’re thinking it’s something pressure controlled, because if it was on a timer or radio detonated you’d be scraping us off the inside of the parking structure right about now. So we’ll hold very still. But thanks for the warning.”

 

Their would-be rescuer spent the next five minutes shining a flashlight under the seat, and then reaching underneath it with wire-cutters. He then pronounced the bomb in a safe enough condition for Kate to exit the car.

 

“Sorry it took so long. It’s gotten so we have to look for secondary and even tertiary triggers. We can’t afford to miss one.”

 

“Thorough is good.” Gareth said, climbing to his feet. “Thanks for your help.” He reached out his hand to grasp the young soldier’s in a handshake.

 

When she got out Kate found her legs were shaking badly. Gareth held on to her elbow with a steadying hand.

 

“So there was a bomb.” Kate said it with a certain amount of disbelief. These things didn’t really happen, did they?

 

“At least it was an easy one. Whoever planted this one didn’t think anybody would be looking. They didn’t make it hard to disarm, just hard to see in the first place.”

 

“Or else it was meant to be found and disarmed, because someone is just playing with us.”

 

The grin disappeared from the young man’s face. “You know who did this, Sir?”

 

“I have a few ideas.”

 

“Well then, I guess someone will be contacting you to…..debrief you.”

 

“I’ll be looking forward to it,” Gareth said dryly.

 

“Now that I size you up I’m kind of glad I decided not to get physical. You look like you might be kind of hard to…..take down. Weren’t you the one that won that inter-agency tournament a few years back? And I suppose you still spar.”

 

“When I can.”

 

“And you work for…..”

 

“Raymond Carlisle.”

 

“So they won’t be debriefing you, it’ll be the other way around.”

 

“I’ll be happy to share what I can with your organization. But this is part of an ongoing investigation.”

 

“I understand, Sir.”

 

“And your name would be?”

 

“Roland St. Denis.” Unlike Gareth, who could could legitimately be described only as ‘fair haired’, St. Denis was ‘true blond’, with pale lashes and eyebrows, and eyes of an almost china blue. Young Roland was the size and general contour of Al, though the two didn’t look much alike. It probably would have been a messy fight indeed if he’d tangled with Gareth. Kate didn’t have much doubt who would have ‘won’, but she wasn’t sure if the battle would have taken a minute or an hour. Probably closer to the minute end.

 

“Ah,” Gareth said, “another mother who believes in ‘hero’ tales.”

 

“I must say,” the young man beamed, “I don’t know if in my entire experience, and that would be the last five years, that I’ve ever seen two people handle this situation quite as calmly as you two did. Do you have a secret method for handling stress? Whatever it is, you should pass it along.”

 

Gareth and Kate exchanged a look. How to explain ‘faith’, especially to a nonbeliever.

 

“Let’s just say…..Someone besides us, ‘takes care’ of us.” Gareth’s smile was more relaxed now, probably remembering the One who cared for them, and what a fine job He did.

 

There was a clamor and all three of them turned towards the brightly lit entrance a hundred and fifty feet away. Humans who looked much more like animals on the prowl had broken through. The reporters. They came scurrying in like rats or galumphing like hunting dogs, depending on their speed, size, and predilection. Only rats were supposed to leave a sinking ship, not look for a floundering ship to jump on. As they rapidly approached across the concrete, Kate turned away. They had undoubtedly seen that the bomb squad was on the premises and wanted to know why. Kate was curious about how Gareth was going to handle this. He had a lot more experience with ‘the Press’ than she did. Instinctively she turned toward him for reassurance. Kate realized he wasn’t looking at her, he was looking back over her shoulder at the reporters. He had a peculiar look pasted on his face. Kate would have called the look ‘cougar treed by baying hounds’. He looked as if he was wondering how many of them he cold take down before they got him.

 

Someone behind her started to say something. Probably one of the reporters. But before Kate could turn around, Gareth grabbed her and pulled her close into his chest. She buried her face in the crook of his neck. He had his arm firmly around her back and was pulling her even closer. Kate couldn’t have moved if she’d wanted to, and she didn’t really want to. It was then, that Kate heard the flashbulbs going off. Gareth continued to hold her close against his shoulder, effectively keeping her from turning around for another minute. During that time Al, and somebody else, Kate didn’t quite recognize the voice, cleared the reporters out of the parking structure. Now the Press had their obligatory ‘picture’. A photo of the ever newsworthy Drew McFadyn. Now, even better, he was holding tightly to some ‘mystery woman’. That really was a ‘juicy tidbit’, and probably made the photos worth a lot more money.

 

It looked as if they were going to be answering questions for a very long time, but then Gareth stepped off to one side and used his cell phone. They were turned loose shortly thereafter. Kate had to assume he’d been talking to Raymond Carlisle, and yet…..he’d said “‘Yes Dear’, several times, and he didn’t report a bomb, reporters and bureaucratic red tape, instead he mentioned ‘almost having a blowout’, being delayed by a pack of ‘stray dogs’, and now being ‘tied up in traffic’. Which was as good a way as any to describe the situation. It was probably some previously agreed upon protocol. Gareth REALLY didn’t like to talk by cell. Paranoid as all get out. But who knew, perhaps someone really was ‘listening in’ out there in the hinterlands.

 

“I was about to get ‘jealous’ until I figured out who ‘Yes Dear’ probably is,” Kate said, amused.

 

“So how is the ‘Dear’, ‘Sweet’ fellow?”

 

“Oh he’s absolutely fine, which is why we’re getting out of here, right now.”

 

Gareth took her firmly by the elbow, smiled a patently fake ‘civilized smile’ at his fellow investigators, and waltzed right past them and out the door, leaving Al to gather up her luggage. She might have queried whether they really could walk off on the city cops that way, but apparently they could, because they did. Her legs told her not to complain, because they would be eternally grateful for getting off the concrete. They had ended up calling a taxi, because their previous mode of transportation had been confiscated by the bomb squad to be dusted for prints. Gareth wasn’t convinced the print trail would actually lead anywhere however, because although the bombers had been less than professional in the way they’d adjusted the seat, it was extremely unlikely that they would have skipped wearing gloves. Even less likely if according to Gareth’s suspicions the maladjusted seat had been an intentional ‘clue’, a calling card left to show Gareth how vulnerable he, and everything he held dear, really was. When the taxi finally arrived, Gareth didn’t give the driver their destination, until nobody but she and Al were listening. Don’t trust anyone. Hadn’t Gladys warned her she would become just as wary as the rest of them, or she wouldn’t survive? From the destination he gave, it seemed they were no longer going to Gareth’s sister’s estate.

 

“Remember when you said you’d like to go to work with me? You get your wish. That’s where we’re headed.” Agent Gareth apparently took the phrase ‘secure facility’ very seriously, particularly when there were ‘explosive devices’ involved in the mix. So she was going to be ‘holed up with the FBI’. Again.

 

Of course, Kate had an idea she was going to like the ‘anti-hacking’ squad, a lot better than she’d liked her interrogation in Denver. Kate could certainly recognize that being a close friend of ‘the Boss’ might have something to do with her optimistic expectations, just as she was willing to admit her dislike of Donovan had jaundiced her view of the Denver Bureau. Still, Kate had reason to believe places did reflect the spirit of those who presided over them. So it was no great surprise that ‘Section Six’ turned out to be worlds apart from what she’d experienced in Denver. So much so, it was hard to believe the two facilities were in the same country and supposedly run by the same government. How many differences could she catalog? Well, to begin with, there was the quite strange location. The taxi now conveyed them to one of the many industrial areas that surrounded the entire periphery of DC. It was an area that looked so ‘un-official’ that Kate normally would have thought there weren’t any of the usual government buildings closer than a mile or two away.

 

There was virtually no traffic on the surrounding streets. Nor were there any parked cars. The facility could have been built over the site of a bomb blast. The whole neighborhood was barren and empty. Then there were the security measures. Inside a fence that Kate was fairly sure enclosed an entire city block, was a fairly large corrugated metal building, which looked like nothing more than a warehouse or a particularly large machine shop. A wide strip of gravel covered the area inside the fence, all the whole way around the building. Not a single blade of grass grew in the gravel, nor was there a single bottle cap or gum wrapper in evidence. Entirely too neat for an industrial area, Kate decided. She noticed surveillance cameras mounted on the fence at intervals. There were other devices as well. She had no idea what they were. Infra-red scanners maybe, to warn of night-time intruders? There was only one entrance, a gate with a guard booth. This was very much more ‘high-tech’ than it’s counterpart in Denver. This guard booth was totally enclosed and Kate had a feeling not only was the glass bulletproof, but that the entire booth was explosion resistant and climate-controlled. The guard’s seemingly easy grin certainly supported the idea he was comfortable in there, despite it being a muggy eighty three degrees outside. Gareth got out of the taxi and walked around to stand in front of the camera which was normally used to screen the drivers of vehicles entering the compound.

 

“Cooper, let us in, forty five ninety.” Gareth swept off his sunglasses as if to prove he had nothing to hide.

 

The guard looked startled for the space of a heartbeat and then keyed them in. Gareth walked through the gate and the taxi pulled inside. Then the gate rolled shut again behind them, closing them inside the fence. Gareth opened the door for her and Kate then climbed out. Al climbed out of the front passenger seat a moment later, and went around to get Kate’s ‘minimal’ luggage out of the trunk.

 

“What was all the number stuff about?”

 

Gareth sighed, like explaining was the last thing he wanted to do.

 

“Kind of like a Manager’s override at the supermarket checkout. I wrote out a protocol that says the guard isn’t supposed to let anyone inside the gate who isn’t on the list. And you’re not on the list.”

 

“So bringing me here is going to create a problem for you.”

 

“Actually, not as much as worrying about what’s happening to you when I don’t know where you are. And as long as you don’t blow anything up while you’re here, it should be sufficient that I vouched for you. And although we’ve never had occasion to ‘interrogate’ anybody before, there’s always a first time, right?”

 

Kate was reasonably sure she wasn’t supposed to be inside a ‘secure government facility’, even if she was ‘almost family’, but she wasn’t going to argue with Gareth about it. Cooper had come out of the booth. He held a massive guard dog by the handle of a harness.

 

“I’m surprised you’re breaking protocol, Sir. Was there some kind of a problem?”

 

“You could say that, we need to get off the street as quickly as possible.”

 

Gareth handed the cabdriver a hundred dollar bill, which seemed to lessen the greenish cast the cabbie’s skin had taken on at the sight of the dog.

 

“Let him out,” Gareth instructed Cooper, gesturing toward the cab driver. “But don’t open the gate until we’re out of sight.”

 

Meaning Gareth didn’t want all the gates and doors open at the same time. From a purely tactical perspective Kate could understand that. Only the man in the booth was in any danger when the outside gate was open, and the gate was opened only with extreme caution.

 

“OK, folks, enough chitchat. Let’s get inside.”

 

Gareth picked up one of Kate’s suitcases and Al picked up the other, and they walked up a wide concrete driveway that disappeared underneath set of metal doors set in the side of the building. When they were about ten feet away, Gareth held out his right hand. He was holding the little bauble that was on the key-chain that he’d used on the black car. He must have pushed the right button, because the doors in front of them slowly slid apart, revealing an interior Kate was sure would always thereafter be her model for Area 51. The inside of the building looked nothing like the outside. The outside of the building, except for the high-tech gadgetry and the scrupulous neatness, looked perfectly ordinary, much like hundreds of other similar buildings in the area. Inside the building, where Kate would have expected metal walls, everything was white, all the walls were lined and insulated. There were a lot of lights, so many that Kate found herself wincing from their brightness. Between twenty and thirty vehicles were parked in an area that took up possibly one quarter of the floor space. Kate noticed Gareth’s black convertible among them. So he at least, would be able to drive. She was relieved. Losing vehicles was a new experience for her, and not an entirely welcome one. She also noticed half a dozen bicycles, including Gareth’s racer, which he must have brought from Denver on the plane. Unless he had a duplicate. With Gareth anything was possible.

 

The rest of the huge room was filled with working electronics, stacks of supplies and what looked like a small shack. There were no people. Gareth walked towards the shack as the outer doors slid quietly shut behind them, making no more than an almost inaudible ‘shooshing’ noise. He saw nothing odd about this, he did it every day, so Kate tried to follow along with the appropriate level of confidence. They opened the door to the shack, which was not a shack at all, but the top of an elevator shaft. Gareth stepped into the elevator, followed by Kate and Al. Then, they traveled downwards three stories. The elevator opened to a brightly lit, ultra modern hallway. Kate now realized how ‘secure’ this facility really was. Nothing short of a nuclear holocaust would dislodge these folks, and maybe not that. There was no telling exactly how large the place was, the footprint underground might not match that above. The hallways might go on for blocks. As long as there was sufficient ventilation coming from somewhere, the place might be huge. Gareth’s own little underground kingdom.

 

“You see why we like to get ‘out’ on our lunch breaks. Sunshine is good.”

 

“This is a long way down.”

 

“Oh, not bad as DC bunkers go. The Profilers are down at 55 feet. Apparently they’re more valuable than we are.” He laughed a half hearted self-deprecating laugh, like he was all too used to this place, and possibly thought he might never escape.

 

“Welcome to Section Six.”

 

Kate was far too overawed and intimidated to make any of her usual witty comments, and Gareth apparently noticed her silence.

 

“You said you wanted to come to work with me. So, you’re ‘at work’, ‘with me’. Relax. Enjoy. I’ll go to work.”

 

They turned into what Kate thought must pass for a cafeteria, at least there were lots of long empty tables, suitable for being wiped down. There were also vending machines and the very first thought crossing her mind was to wonder who had a high enough security clearance to service the vending machines in a secret facility. The very next thought, was to remember she herself didn’t have a high enough security clearance to to service the vending machines. Nor did she rate access as an ‘honored guest’. She wasn’t important enough to rate VIP treatment, not a foreign dignitary, or a top classified scientist who could singlehandedly stop World War III. She was only ‘Kate’. For a moment she felt like running away, but she realized it wouldn’t be an easy place to run from. If it was hard for the ‘Bad Guys’ to get in to Section Six, it would be equally difficult to get out. It would take so long to ‘get away’ that someone would be able to stop her long before she made much progress. Kate realized she was pretty well stuck here. Until Gareth said she could leave. He was right as usual. Since she couldn’t run away, she might as well relax.

 

“You’ve got extra food supplies and an alternate power supply down here, don’t you?”

 

“It’s nice to know you’re getting as paranoid as the rest of us.” Gareth laughed. “Of course we do. And speaking of food, I think we skipped lunch. What time is it?”

 

“About one o’clock.” Al rumbled.

 

“Well in that case…..Al. Are you up for cooking all three of us some kind of lunch? I guess I ran off a few too many calories this morning. I’m hungry again.”

 

“Yeah, I guess I could do that. There’s a bunch of stuff in the refrigerator that needs to be used up.”

 

Gareth gave Al a questioning look.

 

“As long as it hasn’t turned blue, I’m game.”

 

“Nah, nothin like that. Just components for an extravaganza. You know, a little cheese, a few olives, a couple of hot peppers, maybe some sausage.”

 

Al wandered away humming to himself, in what Kate gathered was the general direction of a large kitchen.

 

“Come with me.” Gareth said. “I have a place I want to put you.”

 

Kate followed Gareth past an indoor shooting range, heavily soundproofed, then a gymnasium, well-equipped with treadmills and stationary bikes, punching bags, mats on the floor for doing judo throws, weights, a hoop for throwing baskets, a small swimming pool and what looked like a jacuzzi and a sauna. Naturally, that was followed by a men’s and a women’s shower room, the men’s larger, the women’s fancier. She followed him past a men’s dorm that looked like it could sleep about forty, and a smaller women’s dorm that looked like it would hold about ten. No more than half the beds in either space were made up. Then he took her past a cavernous room that made most of the others look small. It was darkened, and yet hundreds of small lights left the place in a mild glow, the room that held all of the computers, the heart of the complex. If it wasn’t really her imagination, Gareth hurried her past that next one, whatever secrets there were in this place, probably began and ended in the ‘cave of lights’. Finally, they reached what Kate would have called a lounge. It reminded her of student lounges from back in the days when she’d visited Iris at her junior college. Kate hadn’t been able to afford to live on campus, but she’d spent plenty of evenings when she and her friend should have been studying, watching TV and eating pizza in a room just like this one.

 

There was a large table with straight backed chairs in the center of the room, some slightly ‘lived in’ looking couches around the outside edge, a television in one corner and a microwave in another. There was a large screen at one end of the room, something far beyond a blackboard, but she had a feeling it’s function would be the same. Gareth installed her in the corner of one of the couches with a cup of coffee and a small soft blanket. All that was missing here was the pillow and the airline peanuts. As soon as she looked comfortable, Gareth disappeared. For a few moments there, she thought he had been over-solicitous in providing her with a blanket. That changed when Kate realized two things, the air here was cool, dry and constantly circulating, almost as if there was a faint draft. It was a much better atmosphere for all the high tech stuff down here in this bunker, she had supposed. The other thing she realized, was that she was now shivering. She cuddled up in the blanket and started sipping the coffee. The first one to show up was Weevil, with his left arm in a cast. With his good hand he was carrying his own cup of coffee.

 

“How are doing, Miss Greenwood? I hear you had more ‘trouble’ today.”

 

She noticed Weevil had lost his ‘home-fried’ accent. His expression was grave as well.

 

“Anybody who takes a hit for me, deserves to call me ‘Kate’.”

 

Weevil smiled and sat down at the table in one of the chairs nearest to Kate. He had turned the chair so that he could see her, but his right hand and the coffee rested on the table.

 

“The rest of them are coming. They’re just taking their time. I think someone’s cooking. It has to be Al from the smell. I hope you like your food spicy.” He was grinning. Apparently Al was a legendary chef.

 

“The idea of food sounds pretty good, but staying alive to eat it is even better.”

 

The next to enter the lounge was the redoubtable Sarah Jane. She was a surprise. As soon as Kate saw her she attempted to get up off the couch so that she could introduce herself. Sarah Jane motioned her back, and instead lowered herself into the other corner of the couch, sighing as she settled in. Kate had the feeling she might have been up all night. Kate had forgotten this place was reputed to run twenty-four seven. She was about as tall as Kate and carried 20 more pounds, most of it muscle. She had straight, dark blonde hair that fell past her chin, high Baltic cheekbones, flat blue-gray eyes. Kate could just have equally imagined her as girl-next-door who milks cows, or international spy. She was studying Kate with just as much interest as she was being studied. Kate’s greatest concern, of course, was whether Sarah Jane harbored any strong feelings for Gareth and would consider Kate to be ‘poaching’ on her territory. Gareth had said nothing to indicate any more than a ‘professional interest’, but many women had crushes on their bosses, and Gareth was a remarkable boss.

 

“Hi, I’m Sarah Bremer.” The woman held out her hand and Kate reached across to grasp her fingertips awkwardly in the semblance of a handshake. Before Kate could reply herself Sarah Jane continued, “but you can call me ‘Sarah Jane’, everybody else does.” She laughed, a pleasant rippling sound. “And I hear your name is Kate. You must know how rare it is for Drew to bring anybody down here.”

 

“Yeah, like ‘never’,” Weevil intoned. “But she doesn’t call him ‘Drew’, she calls him ‘Gareth’”

 

“Is that so?” Sarah Jane said with interest, turning to look at Kate. “In any case, I hear we’re supposed to have a little conference in here in a few minutes.”

 

“As soon as the slowpokes get in here.” Stanley said, mock dragging his feet as he walked in. He was carrying a file. He gave Kate a lookover and settled into a chair that completed a square with Weevil, Kate and Sarah Jane. “She is just as pretty as I remember. I can see why the Boss laid claim rather quickly, but I hardly think it’s fair…..”

 

It occurred to Kate that in puffing himself up Stanley seemed sometimes to affect an almost British accent, but it wouldn’t really convince anyone he was actually a Brit. Of course if he’d spent any considerable amount of time in Hong Kong as a child…..Gareth walked in, still looking like someone who’d had a very bad night and possibly a rotten morning to go with it. There were shadows under his eyes and his shoulders drooped slightly. He had loosened his tie and rolled up his shirt sleeves.

 

“All right, listen up, people. As soon as Al gets here we’re going to go over what we know so far. I’ve got the file with the ‘old news’, Stan’s got the new stuff.”

 

“We know why they’re after you,” Stan said. “You’re the only one who stands between them and getting away with this. Without you the investigation grinds to a halt.”

 

“True, but I still wish I knew why Vogle’s people are after Kate. We now have to discuss what Kate might know that would be so important to them they’d be willing to kill over it.”

 

“It has to be something she saw in Denver.” Stanley tapped the table with a pencil and looked at Kate speculatively, as if he could glean the details from her mind just by looking at her.

 

“Kate…..” Gareth looked at her, and Kate hoped she was the only one who noticed that his expression softened, “I would like you to tell everyone here exactly what happened during the times when I wasn’t with you in Denver. I know you’ve already gone over most of it with me, but maybe we’ve missed something. It could be something that happened while you were being questioned, or it could have been when you and Gladys were running around looking for the evidence.”

 

“How did that happen, by the way?” queried Stan in mock puzzlement. “I doubt Gladys would exceed her normal guidelines by that degree, and I just can’t see a neophyte tackling an errand that was so ‘taxing’, and yet, simultaneously so ‘unlikely to succeed’. Let me see, high-risk, low probability of success, and tedious as all get out. Yes, the endeavor has all the earmarks of something dreamed up by our ‘Fearless Leader’, Dr. Doom over there.”

 

“Yes Stan, it was me. But there’s no point in guilt tripping me about it, I feel bad enough as it is. I asked both of them to do some checking for me, as a ‘favor’.”

 

Before Stan could come up with one of his characteristic ‘smart-aleck’ replies, Al wheeled a small cart into the room, and something quite savory wafted to Kate’s nose, one of Al’s ‘Leftover Specials’ whose apparently justified reputation preceded the cuisine itself. Al handed her a plate, placed one on the table next to Gareth and sat down at the table with one of his own. Gareth was still leaning forward with the file clasped in his hand, ignoring the plate. Kate had a feeling he ate a lot of food that had gone cold. But she, however, had no intention of letting Al’s kitchen efforts go to waste.

 

“So, let’s start the worst.” Gareth’s voice sounded heavy. “We assume one of our Denver informants, ‘Kestrel’, is dead. If he is, and I believe it’s almost certain at this point, then his identity as Leon Foster no longer has to be protected by this office.”

 

“What about his family?” Surprisingly, Sarah Jane sounded concerned.

 

“Gladys arranged some accommodations for them. They’re out of the line of fire. At least temporarily.” Gareth casually made it sound as if he’d had nothing to do with it. But his crew, knowing his tendency to ‘interfere’ in everybody’s affairs, probably understood he’d made the arrangements himself. He followed that pronouncement by running his hand over his forehead, an obvious sign of his distress over what had happened to Leon Foster. What had Gladys called it, ‘Survivor’s Guilt’? He clearly felt Leon Foster had died because of something he had done, or failed to do. “Our hacker Kestrel’s execution seems to have been immediately followed by the attack on me. I believe they wanted to know how far we’d gotten with the investigation. But before they got their answer fate intervened.”

 

“Mz. Greenwood intervened.” Weevil said.

 

“Yes, well, the appearance of Miss Greenwood, ‘interrupted’ them. But they were still looking for something, presumably the file of ‘borrowed’ material. How’s deciphering that going, by the way?”

 

“Just what you and Miss Greenwood expected, schematics of at least a half dozen military bases, in the possession of the FBI for reasons of ‘defense’, but ideal information for any group planning a tactical assault on one of the bases.” Stanley shook his head.

 

“I assume the bases in question have been notified they are at risk.” Gareth raised a brow.

 

“Yes, Mr. Boss Man,” Stanley said, “Carlisle’s office took care of that ASAP.”

 

“Then we have the attack on Mr. Channis, who I believe was mistaken for Miss Greenwood, sorry Weevil, sorry Kate,” Gareth was smiling now. “I know the two of you don’t look much alike. But it was very dark that night.”

 

“Well” said Stan, “now all we have to do figure out why anyone would want to capture Miss Greenwood.”

 

“Kate,” Kate amended, having some difficulty talking with a mouth full of the tasty, if spicy, food. She swallowed it and re-iterated her claim “You can call me ‘Kate’, I wish you would.”

 

“First of all, with all due respect for those who are eating,” Stanley said, glancing significantly at Al and then Kate, “I’m afraid it’s a pretty sure thing about Foster’s death. We already knew that there was far too much blood at the site out in Kansas for whoever was injured out there to have survived the injury. Though a lot of the blood had soaked into the ground, what remained was sufficient to give an idea how much was there originally, quite a lot of it. And a few hours ago we got word the police have found a body matching Foster’s description. The body was found in a box car in a Kansas City train yard. There was no blood at the site, but the man’s throat had been cut. It appears our informant was killed in central Kansas, and then his body was transported to Kansas City and dumped. We’re waiting for confirmation, of course.”

 

Everyone was silent for a few moments. Kate set her plate down on the end table next to the couch. She no longer felt like eating. Maybe Gareth had been wise not to start in the first place. Al kept eating, but more slowly. Gareth sighed.

 

“We haven’t gotten DNA analysis or fingerprints back yet,” Stanley continued, “but it seems fairly certain. The police have some other evidence from the dump site they’re not releasing to the public, but our best guess is that it will be the same thing we’ve seen in the past. Crushed chess pieces, with no fingerprints on them. Maybe we’ll get lucky one of these days and whoever it is will get care less and leave a print, but that’s doubtful. So Boss, did you get the usual charming film clip on your website?”

 

“Just a couple of hours ago. And this time it was signed.”

 

“Would you care to show us the part we haven’t seen before?”

 

“Might as well.” Gareth acceded with all the cheer of a man on his way to the gallows.

 

“First, the signature…..” Gareth pressed a remote Kate hadn’t noticed in his hand. The screen at the end of the room lit up. There in vibrant color, mostly black with touches of gold, red and yellow, flew the grandiose Prussian Eagle against a field so white it hurt the eyes. Kate refused to be impressed. It didn’t seem all that menacing, just a bragging gesture, like a swastika, full of empty bravado. She realized however, one could not fully discount the ideology of a fanatic. Hitler with his belief in astrology and myth. Al Qaeda with their ‘death to infidels’ cartoons. The fantasies of madmen might seem ludicrous, but even so, such fantasies might easily result in the death of thousands who had done nothing to so deserve such a fate.

 

“Vogle seems to have changed his policy on anonymity.” Gareth announced dryly “I’d say he knows we’ve discovered his identity. He’s right, of course. There’s no longer use keeping a ‘secret’ that’s no a longer secret. So it appears we’ve entered the ‘boasting’ phase.”

 

“What about the rest of the ‘message’?” Stanley prompted.

 

“The usual implied threat.” Gareth touched the remote. This time the screen bloomed into a midnight blue, a few shades darker than Gareth’s eyes. A rather curious and mysterious dark space, and swimming in it, multitudinous shards of pale grey. Kate had an uneasy feeling. Not that she knew immediately what it was, but there was something about the display that was eerie.

 

“And if we run an ‘assembly’ program on it, which took a bit of tweaking in order to include extra parameters for the irregular shape…..” Gareth touched another button and the shards halted in place and then assembled themselves into a coherent shape. A chess piece. A pale grey knight. Kate felt her stomach tumble at the impact of the warning. Gareth would be shattered. Even Kate could picture that. Yet no one else around the table reacted. They had all likely seen it before.

 

“What’s new is this,” Gareth used the remote to jump to a piece of text. “Pretty wordy for ‘Bird of Prey’, but I guess if he’s ‘bragging’ that takes more words than usual. For those in this crowd who don’t speak German, what it says roughly, is this:”

 

‘Do you sleep well,

Knowing others have died in your place?

Those you would keep safe, will perish.

You will watch your friends die.

You will live long enough to see that you have failed.

To see what your foolishness has cost.

When the price has been paid in blood, for your Guilt,

Only then, at the last, will you die.

As is proper.

And the Earth will be wiped clean of your existence.

As if you had never been.

But for now, do not sleep,

Remembering,

The wrong man died.’

 

To Kate’s ears, the silence after Gareth finished translating was thunderous. Everyone seemed afraid to be the first to break it. Eventually Al cleared his throat.

 

“Very poetic, for a German.”

 

Kate supposed Al would know if anybody would, his family being from Eastern Europe. Then everyone was silent again. Gareth’s face had become a mask, remarkably remote, his gaze, distant. He looked as if he had no emotions at all, and never would. He played idly with a pencil, but Kate had the strange feeling he was thinking about killing someone. Welcome to a Gaelic war council. The Clan Chief was planning a raid, Kate was almost sure of it. But how high would be the cost? It wasn’t often that pale-skinned people went ‘tribal’, but Gareth didn’t seem far from it. Hence all of the ‘civilized’ folks fascination with the Highlanders, she supposed. Kate thought no one else noted Gareth’s reaction. Then she noticed Al had shoved his plate away even though his food wasn’t quite finished. News of Foster’s death hadn’t upset him enough to keep him from eating. The latest message from Der Raupvogel had. So it seemed that Kate hadn’t been the only one to understand what the effect of Vogle’s latest message would probably be. The taunting insults were quite liable to have a very detrimental effect on Gareth surviving through the next few months, because they played upon his guilt. Guilt for events which had already happened, and which he could do nothing about.

 

“I have one other little bit of news which might figure into this.” Stan said finally “Our friends at the lab in Kansas City were very helpful in providing a list of the contents of the trunk in Kate’s vehicle. We got those results back almost immediately, due to someone here expediting the request.” Stan glanced with heavy emphasis at Gareth, who paid no attention to the jibe, lost in space as he was.

 

“I wonder who that might have have been?” Weevil chuckled.

 

“In any case.” Stanley said “And it would be of some interest to know why, the lab seems to have ‘misplaced’ one of their more interesting findings on the car, and they’ve only just sent along the report to us now, after three days. There was a tracking device attached to the body of the car, right in front of the rear wheel.”

 

“Which explains why there was a little ‘mix-up’ about who was driving the car.” said Sarah Jane. “They had no ‘eyes on’. They were just following a blip on a screen.”

 

“It seems to me,” Gareth said, “that there are three locations where a tracker could have been placed on Kate’s car. One is the Denver Bureau, another is the hospital parking lot, and then there’s her motel. Now, all we have to do is figure out which location it was, and who it might have been. Hopefully, we can narrow it down to a smaller pool than the entire population of Denver, plus miscellaneous imported talent. Kate,” he turned to look at her, “I know you’ve been over all this before, but if there’s anything you can think of, anything at all that jumps out at you…..”

 

And suddenly Kate saw Burrows face, his hand touching her car. But she wasn’t sure she could make the rest of them believe the implications of that vision.

 

“Agent McFadyn and I have had some discussions about intuition.….”

 

Gareth looked at her encouragingly. “Go ahead.” She realized that if Gareth believed her, it didn’t much matter if everyone else did.

 

“I’ve been listening to people…..a long time, but especially recently. There’s something people do when they’re lying, or upset, or emotional about something. They don’t know they do it. There’s this little pause in their speech.”

 

Gareth smiled, in a knowing way. “Tells. Yes, the best FBI interrogators know all about those.”

 

“It was Agent Burrows. I told you he was kind of unpleasant to me. I don’t think I really described the situation very well. He was touching my car, and when he straightened up from looking underneath, he seemed startled. He told me he’d been looking at the tires, but I’m pretty sure he was lying. Because how he said it was, “I’ve been looking at.….” and then there was a pause, and then he said “your tires.” Kate sighed. “I suppose a wayward pause isn’t a strong enough reason to investigate an agent.”

 

“You may be on to something. It fits with a lot of other things we already know. Burrows was in a position to know many of the facts that were leaked. I can’t see Burrows doing the programming end, but…..”

 

“But if he had even one skilled ‘accomplice’ on the computer side, he could have done it.” Stanley ventured the idea, steepling his fingertips together with interest. But for some reason, Gareth didn’t seem as ‘thrilled’ by narrowing the suspect list as everyone else in the room seemed to be.

 

“Which reminds me, Stan, would you have a look at my laptop and see if it’s been tampered with? Someone knew the location and time of my meeting with Leon Foster, and there’s a limited number of ways that information could have been accessed.”

 

“And there was one other thing about Burrows,” Kate said, clearing her throat self-consciously. “After Gillespie finished questioning me, I was walking through the building so I could talk to Gladys. I saw Burrows looking at Oscar Donovan’s computer, and Donovan wasn’t around. But I have no idea if that was unusual behavior. A lot of assistants have access to their Boss’s terminal.”

 

“OK.” Gareth said, “let’s assume for a moment that what Ms. Greenwood saw was ‘noteworthy’ behavior. That would give Vogle’s people two reasons to make sure Kate didn’t pass that information along. Why didn’t they just shove Kate’s car over a cliff some where, and have done with it?” This was a question no one had thought to ask.

 

“Because Vogle doesn’t want her dead?” Stan asked, hopefully.

 

“Yes. And why not?”

 

“He wants her for something else,” Al said sadly, coming to understand Gareth’s bitter expression.

 

Gareth gave a deep sigh, accompanied by a grimace. “There’s only one reason I can think of, and I didn’t want it to be true.”

 

Kate could see where this was headed, a very unpleasant eventuality she’d discussed previously with Gareth.

 

“Hostage material to use against you personally.” Kate tried to sound as level as possible. Might as well let them think she was going to be a professional about all this.

 

“That’s disturbing,” Stan said.

 

“Bad to be Kate. The bad guys may have mistaken me for Kate on a location finder screen. Now that I think about it, I’m lucky I’m not actually your girlfriend, Boss,” said Weevil. “Kate’s going to have to put up with this on an ongoing basis. I’m off the hook.”

 

“I imagine McFadyn is also grateful you’re not his ‘girlfriend’,” said Sarah Jane.

 

Gareth ignored the jokes, it was as if he hadn’t even heard them. People in the room exchanged glances. This was serious business, if Gareth wasn’t responding to jokes.

 

“So Kate is still a target for them,” Al said sadly. “As a bargaining chip, not a fatality.”

 

“Kate was probably not the target for the bomb we found earlier today. It may have been me, but likely the bomb was just put there to make us sweat. It may even have been a dummy, and I’m going to have the bomb people check to see if the pressure switch was actually operational. I wanted all of you to be aware that I consider Ms. Greenwood’s safety to be of the highest priority. Because if I end up trading myself for Kate…..”

 

“As Kate goes, so goes he.” Al intoned. Kate’s stomach gave another lurch. She hadn’t quite realized what ‘negotiating with the terrorists’ would entail.

 

“Yes. Exactly. And as we’ve discussed in the past, we’d have a ‘worst case scenario’ situation. The one there’s no coming back from.”

 

“No coming back…..” Kate murmured.

 

“Yes.” Stanley said. “He would almost certainly end up dead, in one of three possible ways. If he was lucky…..by his own hand. Or he might give our government snipers a little practice. Or the bad guys might conceivably become overenthusiastic if he resisted torture for any length of time. I imagine that would be his least favorite. And if we saw him alive again, we’d have to assume he’d ‘gone over’, so the safest thing would be to shoot him. I guess that would make four ways. Oh well, anyway, ‘Dead’.”

 

“I want you all to take very good care of Kate, but I want you to take care of yourselves, as well. You’ll note the wording on Vogle’s warning. ‘You will watch your friends die’. Not ‘girlfriend’, ‘friends’, plural. I doubt I have any friends closer than those of you in this room. So from now on, consider yourselves on ‘high alert’. When you’re not in this facility, I want you to be very careful. If you let yourselves get caught, I may end up dying for any one of you. Yes Weevil, it’s lucky they didn’t realize you were one of my Section people, or you might be hanging on a wall somewhere, while I went into ‘deep negotiations’.”

 

“I still say it’s crazy to trade yourself for one of us, knowing what you know. They’ll kill us anyway. It’s a ‘Lose-Lose’ scenario.” Sarah Jane sounded disgusted.

 

“I agree.” Stanley said, “It would be foolish.”

 

“Well, you don’t make the decision, I do. I say getting one of you back alive would be worth taking a run. It’s not my favorite way of getting you back either, hence the title ‘Operation Last Ditch’. Mr. Carlisle knows all about this, and he says if I’m willing to pay the price, it’s my call. I’m sure I could be very creative finishing myself off if I put my mind to it.”

 

“We’ve heard this all before.” Al said, disgustedly. “But the only reason you’d trade yourself is so you won’t have to feel responsible for one of our deaths. As a mater of fact, you won’t be feeling anything at all, will you? Since you’ll be dead.” Al heaved himself to his feet. “There’s no use trying to change his mind, guys, he’s in his pigheaded mode.” Al continued snarling and left the room.

 

“And on that ‘cheerful’ note,” Stanley said, shaking his head, “I suppose you’ll want us to investigate this new lead, ‘carefully’.”

 

“I’d like Sarah Jane to run a deep level check on everyone who could have had access to any of the terminals in the Denver Bureau. We’ve been concentrating on the lead programmers…..but perhaps we should look.….a little lower. I think we may have been looking at the wrong people.”

 

“I don’t see how any of the lower level people could…..” Stanley began.

 

Gareth shook his head. “Normally Stan, I’d agree with you, a data entry clerk wouldn’t have been able to pull off data insertion this sophisticated, but you’re assuming the employee told the truth about their level of training on their job application. Considering who we’re dealing with, I’m going to make a small assumption here that they may have lied about their level of expertise. At which point just about anybody who works there might might have the requisite skills.

 

“Sarah Jane, we’re looking for someone whose abilities far surpass their salary and their job description. Someone who is, as it turns out, very ‘overqualified’. Ask the supervisor’s if anyone has shown ‘unusual aptitude’. And I’d especially take a look at the people who work nights and weekends, when there’s less oversight.”

 

“Weevil, I’d like you to see what you can find on Agent Burrows phone records. Calls he received as well as calls he made. Go back at least two years. No, make that three. And if it goes international, or you get bounced from server to server, then drag Stanley in to help you.”

 

“What about Al?” Sarah Jane asked. “He’ll get over his funk eventually. He always does.”

 

“Don’t worry. I was saving a little chore for him, although there’s no guarantee he’ll get what he’s looking for. Still, any man persistent enough to work away at getting though a firewall for two or three months at a time, might have the patience for what I have in mind. I’d like him to go a long ways back in to Agent Burrows past. See if we can follow Burrows back to grade school, or even farther. I have a theory more terrorists are born than made. So if Burrows is our traitor, it’s possible he’s not who he’s ‘supposed’ to be. We may have a foreign ‘mole’, and not an American who’s gone ‘sour’. Let’s see if we can find out where Burrows was really born, and who he really is.”

 

Gareth stood up as if their ‘brainstorming’ session was over. Actually, it had been mostly Gareth doing the thinking, a step or two ahead of everyone else. As usual. “I want to meet back here in six hours. See what you can find out in the mean time.”

 

Everyone filed out of the room. Out in the hallway, Al was leaning against the wall, brawny arms crossed, looking down at his toes.

 

“Yeah, I heard. I’m supposed to shake out deep cover on Burrows. But it’s not like you, McFadyn, to ‘delegate’ and then sit back and do nothing. Which means you’ve saved the worst job for yourself, probably going to see Carlisle. If that’s the case, I don’t envy you.”

 

“I hate to break it to you Al, but I don’t actually have to leave the facility to see him. You may recall that we’re on a land line from here to Carlisle’s office. The line’s secure. Carlisle and I can have a private teleconference. At this point I would have to consider that he might be a target as well. I am not going to ask him to leave a secure location to come out and meet with me.

 

“It’s Sunday, Boss. Won’t he be at home?”

 

“Probably at his Library. But I think I can lure him back to his office with the special pager.”

 

“So what are you going to tell him?”

 

“I’m going to tell him we have a clumsy bomber in DC. Or else, one who wanted to get caught out, because I’m ‘not supposed to die until later’, take your pick. I’m going to give him a heads-up that the situation in Denver is about to heat up. I think he deserves to know before whatever it is hits the fan. I’m sure Donovan will be on the line in no time complaining to everyone he thinks may listen. Fortunately Carlisle’s more concerned with catching whoever’s doing this than he is with the possibility of ‘hurting Agent Donovan’s feelings’.”

 

“You must have been one of those kids who enjoyed walloping a hornet’s nest with a stick. I’m not sure you’re standing far enough away as it is, only a thousand miles or so. That’s another reason I’m glad I don’t have your job. You get to take the blame if this all turns into a giant pile of…..difficulty.”

 

“Lucky me. I have a feeling we’re not going to catch Burrows. I think he’s already flown the coop. I think that’s why the results on the tracking device were delayed. Someone didn’t want us to figure out that Burrows was ‘dirty’ until he’d had time to escape. That means we have a problem in KC as well.”

 

“Boy, this just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it? You can stop turning over rocks anytime now, I’m getting a little sick and tired of looking for grubs.”

 

“You and me both, but it’s what we do, and we ‘love’ it, right?”

 

The two men gave each other a high five, accompanied by a groan.

 

“And me, what am I supposed to do?” queried Kate.

 

“Take a nap.” Gareth said, “You’ve earned it.”

 

“That’s not very exciting. Or very ‘helpful’ to anyone, for that matter.”

 

“It could prove exceptionally helpful, if we have to pull an all-nighter.”

 

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

 

Gareth walked off on both of them, as if his head was already someplace else, which it probably was.

 

“If he ordered you to take a nap, the least he could have done was bring you a pillow.”

 

“That’s all right. He seems to have a lot on his mind. Saving the galaxy, or the multiverse, or whatever.”

 

“I’ll grab you one when I take the dishes back to the kitchen. Oh, and if nobody told you, the bathroom’s down the hall to the left.”

 

“Thanks Al, you’re a good person. And I know Gareth depends on you, more than he lets on.”

 

The two of them drifted back into the lounge area, to be faced with the remains of the meeting, replete with three plates of food, one almost empty, one half full, and one in its original condition. Gareth’s plate was untouched. She and Al had both been too chicken to to nag Gareth about eating. Al’s glance followed Kate’s.

 

“Don’t worry too much. He skips a lot of meals. If he loses much weight he drinks these special milkshakes. He’s got a whole cupboard full of them in his office.”

 

“I’m sure you do your best.”

 

“I can’t make him eat.” Al said, sounding defensive.

 

“You and I both ‘lack the authority’. But hey, maybe we could get the President to make him eat.”

 

Al laughed. “The President would have his work cut out for him. But I’ll give it another try. Never give up. Sometimes, when he’s famished, and he sees food, he eats it without thinking. I’ll pass food in front of him once in a while and see if he ‘bites’.”

 

“‘Trolling’, now that’s a concept. It might even work.”

 

“Especially now that he has two of us pestering him.”

 

“Thank you very much for caring about him, Al.”

 

“You’re not so bad, yourself.” When he looked at Kate, Al stopped laughing. “But I really have no choice. And maybe you don’t, either. You love him a lot, don’t you?”

 

Kate really didn’t want to answer that. Even though it was the world’s most obvious question. “Look who’s talking.” she said, in lieu of answering.

 

“Yeah,” Al said, “But I don’t love him the way you do.”

 

Now it was Kate’s turn to laugh. “I certainly hope you don’t love him the way I do.”

 

“I think he was pretty lucky when he found you,” Al nodded as if confirming something in his own mind. “And I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure the two of you can stay together.”

 

He put all of the plates on the cart and slowly pushed it out of the room. Then Kate was alone with a lot of very strange thoughts. She waited patiently for Al to bring her a pillow. Since Al was a ‘Man of his Word’ Kate knew he’d do everything he’d promised, and most likely, quite a bit more.

 

Kate slept the whole six hours, only waking when someone turned on the light. The same crew filed back into the room. Kate put her feet on the floor and tried to rub the sleep muck out of her eyes. Someone placed a steaming mug of coffee in her hands, she thought it might have been Sarah Jane, and she mumbled her thanks. When they were all gathered, the debriefing began. Burrows had vanished. That was the news that came back after six hours. His disappearance seemed to predate the launching of the inquiry. He might simply have preternatural instincts, or he was well informed. It was believed someone was still slowing the investigation, but they were thought to be hacking in from ‘outside’. The tracking device report which had been mysteriously ‘lost in transmission’, had been diverted via the net.

 

Just to be well on the safe side, Gareth decided to launch a second preventative investigation into computer security at the FBI’s Kansas City Branch. Let’s see, she thought, so far Agent McFadyn was electronically ‘watching’ two of the FBI’s field offices, and the entire Norfolk section of the Navy. If anybody breathed anywhere, Section would probably get wind of it. The identity of Burrows accomplice was a ‘no-brainer’. A second Denver FBI employee had disappeared Friday morning right about the same time as Burrows. Nigel Carpenter was a remarkable fit for Gareth’s ‘best guess’. Despite the fact his application for ‘night data entry clerk’ had listed only two years of college with mediocre scores, in reality, Carpenter had a PhD level background garnered in jolly old England, and was frustratingly skillful. It was a stroke of irony that Carpenter had been the absolute ‘lowest ranking’ person who had access to both the building and the data entry ports. The trail ended there. Because Burrows and Carpenter were unavailable for questioning, the identity of their ‘handler’ remained frustratingly out of reach.

 

Everyone had a strong suspicion Vogle was the man behind all of it, but the FBI couldn’t make arrests based on hunches and speculation, no matter how highly placed or well-researched. No one knew whether the orders were being given by someone inside the US, or if instructions were coming from ‘overseas’. If the strange plot originated elsewhere, the case would promptly be handed over to the CIA. Gareth would continue to be involved with the case because of his ties to Carlisle, but no one else knew for sure whether their services would be needed. To top it all off, everyone was put on ‘high alert’ status.

 

Because of the security breach, everyone in Section, along with everyone in the Denver Field Office, had to assume that they might have been ‘exposed’. Vogle’s terrorist organization might know every detail about everyone in Section. The ghost in the machine could know the addresses of wives, children, parents, the names of banking institutions, and everything jotted down by the DMV. On the bright side, the firewall could now be repaired. Stanley would fly out to Denver to install a new version. Gareth was still taking a hard look at Denver. Kate was then reminded of a farmer who continued having chickens escape at a particular spot in the fence. Gareth felt there was something wrong in Denver, and he was still watching the entire facility closely. Like the building would move sideways if he didn’t keep watching it. It was also possible Oscar Donovan would be forced to resign because of his vastly gross incompetence. No one contended Donovan was a traitor. There was no evidence to support such a conclusion.

 

It was clear the Denver Bureau had let at least two saboteurs into their midst. Donovan’s failings would probably put his career with the FBI on a permanent downward slide, though if he refused to go, he wouldn’t have been the first incompetent bureaucrat to try to ride out a storm until he reached retirement age. Kate also had a feeling that Donovan would be penalized for being so obstructive of Gareth’s attempts to discover and correct the Denver Bureau’s security problems but didn’t share this opinion with the group. Raymond Carlisle surely had a long memory as well as a long reach. There was a general feeling of malaise hanging over everyone in Section. Since whoever Burrows reported to was still at large the ‘head of the snake’ was still as dangerous as ever. Gareth felt he’d missed his chance to really solve the case in the more final sense. Now the trail linking Leon Foster’s murder to the German terrorist was growing fainter. Unless Section Six found some solid connection between the missing data and someone outside the FBI soon, those responsible for Foster’s death might never be brought to justice. All the enemy had to do was regroup and attack a different spot next time. Even though the firewall in Denver Bureau would be impermeable once more, it was only a temporary ‘fix’. Everyone filed back out of the room, leaving Kate alone with Gareth.

 

“I want you to spend the night in the dorm. You’ll be safe here. I’m going back to the hotel. In the morning I’ll have your belongings packed up and I’ll come back and get you. Then I’ll take you out to Allie and Jonathan’s estate in Virginia.”

 

Kate sat up in her blanket. He was dictating terms again. Not that he didn’t do that sort of thing frequently, and with almost everyone. But he seemed particularly prone to giving ‘orders’ to her.

 

“Maybe you should ask me if I’m willing to go.”

 

Gareth shrugged as if her opinion was of only minimal importance, probably since he’d already made up his mind. Kate had discovered great difficulty changing his mind once it was set.

 

“If there’s one chance in a hundred, or even a thousand that Vogle still has you in his sights, it’s too much.”

 

Gareth gave her a level look, and ice glinted around the edges of the smoky blue. He was not going to budge on this, she could tell.

 

“Complacency has a way of getting people killed.”

 

Gareth had said he’d spoken with Ms. Forbes to explain that Kate was being put into protective custody until whoever was threatening her life could be apprehended. Kate then assumed he hadn’t already mentioned it might take a year or two to chase the spy ring to ground. If any of Gareth’s little group of warriors were still alive to finish the campaign. Since Mable Forbes was a ‘zero patience’ type, already looking for any excuse to terminate Kate’s employment, this turn of events was probably the ‘death knell’ of any independent job hopes Kate might still have been entertaining. She sighed deeply. She was fiercely fond of her independence, but life was forcing her in a direction where she had to depend on others for almost everything. It made her feel rather naked and unprepared, like some small child wandering in the woods. It seemed to be a very big woods. She was unsure when she’d get out, or even if she would.

 

“All Right. I surrender to the FBI.” she said finally. “Have it your way, then.” She might as well acquiesce. He really was stubborner than she was.

 

“You realize in that in this situation, under these conditions, I absolutely cannot kiss you good-night.”

 

It was Kate’s turn to smile crookedly. The ‘Boss’, kissing the ‘witness’, in front of the ‘employees’. Not good.

 

“I can see where that would be a little awkward, yes.”

 

“Then know this, if wishes were horses…..”

 

“You’d be you’d be saying good-night to me differently.”

 

“I would.”

 

“That’s all right, Dr. Do-Much. You’ve sworn your fealty. Your dedication is legendary, throughout the realm. We shall just have to wait for another day.”

 

“Until then,…..” he said, and she sighed as she watched him walk away.

 

They were back to spending their nights separately, to maintain she supposed, the appearance of ‘chastity’. On the one hand, this appeared very much pointless, especially since Kate would rather have been by his side, no matter what everyone else thought about it. In another sense Kate realized ‘honor’ and ‘virtue’ were not outmoded values. Ironically, it wasn’t her own reputation that Kate was concerned about. It was Gareth’s. Drew needed to maintain an honest and upright demeanor in front of those who admired him, or his whole little kingdom would fall right to pieces. Kate could play fast and loose with her own public image, if she wished to pay the price. It would be unfair to drag Gareth down with her. He’d spent at least five years gaining these people’s trust and loyalty, and she could tear down what he’d tried so hard to build with a single careless night. His crew was already worried Gareth was a little ‘out of control’, and she could convince them that he was. She shook her head. She seemed to be firmly stuck in a 21st century ‘medieval’ melodrama. The leader had always been held to a higher standard. Everyone was watching.

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90


Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book Two Chapter 7-8 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: 9781370976119
  • Author: Travis Salisbury
  • Published: 2017-03-18 10:35:13
  • Words: 31992
Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book Two Chapter 7-8 Sampler Defender: A Scottish American Fairy Tale Book Two Chapter 7-8 Sampler