Authors: Andrew Peterson
Tags: #Snipers - United States, #Mystery & Detective, #Intelligence Officers - United States, #Intelligence Officers, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Undercover Operations - United States, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Undercover Operations, #General, #Espionage, #Snipers
“Okay, that’s it then. Good night.”
“Sorry about that,” Nathan said, ending the call. “He’s a protective man.”
“I can tell. Does he have a family, a wife and kids?”
“Yes. Two sons. He’s been married for almost fifteen years, but he’s not worried about his family. If I know Harv, he’s already paging Gavin to arrange for two of our best guys to be here first thing in the morning. If I called back right now, the line would be busy.”
“He’s bringing in bodyguards?”
“He worries about me. To be honest, overly so, to the point of being annoying at times. Even though the Bridgestones have my name, there’s no information on me in any computer system they could access. Even if they had a high-level contact in the DOD, they still couldn’t access my file. I’m surprised you were able to get it. Speaking of, how did you get it?”
“I didn’t, Larry Gifford did. I didn’t ask how.”
“I’ll have to grill him about that. He must be a resourceful guy.”
“He is. If I had to speculate, he probably used your father’s influence.”
“Yeah, that would do it,” Nathan agreed. “Anyway, back to Harv. I rarely give him a hard time about being overprotective, and when I do, he shrugs it off. Remember when I told you my picture was in the encyclopedia under
? His picture’s under
“It’s his training, it’ll always be with him. You too.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Would he be as concerned if there wasn’t, you know… torture involved?”
Despite Holly’s protest, Nathan paid for their drinks. At her Explorer, Nathan asked if she still wanted him to drive. Because of the glass of wine, she said yes. Legally, she wasn’t drunk, but because of her position in the FBI, discretion was the better part of valor. He agreed and tucked her into the passenger’s seat. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Holly kept checking her side mirror, looking for anyone who might be following them. As they wound their way through the deserted streets of downtown Sacramento, Nathan did the same, using the rearview mirror. Two peas in a pod, he thought.
Holly’s home was in a planned residential neighborhood with neatly landscaped yards. As he approached her driveway, she leaned across him and hit the button on the garage-door remote attached to the Explorer’s visor. He held his breath as her left breast brushed across his arm. For a few seconds, their faces were inches apart. He pulled the SUV into her garage and killed the engine. This time, Holly waited while he climbed out and opened her door. She punched a six-digit number into the keypad by the door and the blinking red LED changed to solid green. Once inside, Holly rearmed the system and turned on some lights.
“Nice,” Nathan said. Her kitchen was spotless, cleaner than his, which was saying a lot. Either she didn’t spend a lot time in here, or she was obsessive about tidiness. He suspected it was a combination of both. The blue granite countertops were a perfect complement to the dark cherry cabinets. In the family room, mission-style furniture was arranged at right angles to a big-screen television. Several limited-edition prints of Wyland’s seascapes adorned the walls. He recognized one of them, a pod of orcas, because the original oil was in his La Jolla home. No need to mention that.
She set her purse down on the counter. “I don’t have any nonalcoholic beer, but I’ve got a pitcher of tea in the refrigerator. Glasses are in the cabinet above the dishwasher.” She disappeared down the hall on the right. “I’ll be right back.”
“I like your home.”
“Thank you. Make yourself comfortable. I’m going to check phone messages and email.”
Married to the job, he thought. He grabbed two glasses from the cabinet and poured himself and Holly some tea. He settled onto the couch in the living room and closed his eyes. Sleep would come easily right now. He thought about Holly and her brush against him in the car. Had it been an overture, an invitation? He supposed it could’ve been by mistake, but in his experience, women were acutely aware of that type of contact. It didn’t take much to send the wrong signal to men. He wasn’t presumptuous enough to believe she had given him a green light for anything more than a snooze on the couch, which was looking more and more likely the longer he sat here with his eyes closed.
What a draining twenty-four hours. He ran the events through his mind. The helicopter ride into Sacramento. The ride out to the farmhouse. Henning’s challenging and arrogant attitude. The Bridgestones’ cousins’ dog-and-pony show under interrogation. The buried cash. The long ride into the mountains with Holly. James Ortega’s charred body. The SWAT raid at the farmhouse. The second tunnel. The dead surveillance techs and cousins. And the Bridgestones’ knowledge of Nathan’s involvement. What else might they know? He closed his eyes and sighed. The four hours of sleep he’d gotten earlier seemed like decades ago.
He looked around. Holly’s living room. She stood a few feet away.
“How long?” he asked.
“Fifteen minutes, not too deep. I guess I didn’t realize how tired I was. Sorry.”
“No need to apologize. I checked on you ten minutes ago and saw you’d dozed off. I didn’t want to wake you. I have a spare bedroom if you want a bed.”
He waved a hand at the floor. “Do you care if I stretch out in here?”
“On the floor?”
“Are you sure? It’s no trouble setting you up in the spare bedroom.”
“I’m good right here, thanks.”
“At least let me put some blankets down, that wood is like concrete.” She returned half a minute later with an armful of blankets and a quilt.
Nathan picked up the coffee table and moved it aside. He didn’t want to drag it across the oak floor. Then he helped her spread the blankets out.
“Do you sleep on the floor very often?”
“I usually end up there by morning, so I may as well start there.”
He nodded. “It’s just something I’ve gotten used to over the years. It’s no big deal.”
“I know I keep saying this, but I’ve never met anyone like you before.”
“I’m just a guy.”
“No, you aren’t just a guy. Trust me on that.”
“We had a hell of a day.”
She took a step forward and took his hand. “Yes, we did. It doesn’t have to end just yet.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
* * *
An hour later, after Nathan had fallen asleep, Holly gathered her strewn clothes. Her body still tingling, she padded down the hall, being careful not to make any noise. He looked at peace. She wondered if he was truly asleep. The screams of her surveillance techs still fresh in her mind, she couldn’t begin to imagine the horrors he’d endured at the hands of his sadistic captor in Nicaragua. When he’d removed his shirt, her mind couldn’t register it. She’d betrayed outright shock and it had nearly ruined the moment. The crisscrossing network of scars on his chest and back looked vicious and brutal. She couldn’t begin to imagine what he’d endured. And yet he had a positive outlook on the world. He still cared. Despite how he thought of himself, Nathan McBride was a truly remarkable man. He’d been so aware of her needs during their lovemaking. Granted, there hadn’t been many: She could count them on one hand. But hands down, he’d been the most unselfish lover she’d ever been with. She hoped there might be a future for them. But given their situations and their professions, and given the distance separating them, she doubted it could work long-term. One or the other would have to relocate, and possibly give up the life he or she had built for themselves. She toyed with the idea of transferring to San Diego, but she liked being a special agent in charge of a major field office and was sure the same opportunity wouldn’t be available in San Diego for some time. Such openings were extremely rare and she felt fortunate to have been promoted to Sacramento’s top position.
At least we’ll always have something special between us
, she thought, tucking herself into bed. Nathan was right, it had been one hell of a day.
* * *
Holly awoke with a start. What was that sound? Had an animal somehow gotten into the house? She reached for her gun, but her hand froze an inch from its cold form. She heard a muffled moan followed by a hiss and spitting sound. No, not animal. Human. She tore the sheets away and hurried down the hall. In the living room, she dimmed the overhead light before flipping the switch. Oh dear Lord, Nathan. His hair plastered to his head, he was covered in sweat, moaning and waving his hands in front of his face at invisible demons. He issued a howl that sent a shiver through her body. He was there, in Nicaragua, being tortured. She remembered what he’d said on the ride up to the cabin, how he’d put a girlfriend in the hospital for waking him up, but how could she let this go on? Would he wake up on his own? She took several steps back and called his name from the opposite side of the couch.
She said it louder. Again, nothing. What should she do? Steeling herself, she yelled his name. His eyes snapped open, wild with anger. Gritting his teeth, a growl escaped his lips. He jumped to his feet and assumed a low fighting stance, his hand clutching an invisible knife.
“Nathan, it’s me.”
His eyes darted around the room and returned to hers. Her instincts told her to back away, but she held perfectly still. His expression changed to recognition. She rushed around the sofa and wrapped him up in her arms, ignoring the sticky feel of his skin. They held each other without speaking for several moments.
His voice cracked. “What time is it?”
“Just after four in the morning. You okay?”
“I’m really thirsty.”
“I’ll get you some water.” She returned a few seconds later and handed it to him.
He downed it in a single pull. “The moths came for me again.”
They settled onto the floor facing each other.
“In Nicaragua, my interrogator put a bright light in my face at night. The moths were attracted to it. My hands were tied. I couldn’t bat them away.”
“Thanks for the water.”
She could see he was still trembling.
But he wasn’t okay. An echo of terror still etched his face. She reached over and held his hand.
He half chuckled. “I wasn’t kidding when I said my picture was next to
. I’m sorry you had to see that. I was hoping for the night off.”
“Hey, there’s no need to apologize about anything.”
He looked down at himself. “I think I need a shower.”
“Come on.” She led him down the hall to the guest bathroom. “You want some company in there?”
“Is there a mustache in Mexico?”
She laughed, hardly believing how good it felt. “I’ll take that for a yes.”
* * *
She dropped Nathan off at the Hyatt just before five in the morning. “I’ll make sure Harvey has a copy of the tape before six.”
“You’ve got another long day ahead of you,” he said.
“Will you keep me informed of your progress?”
“You know I will.”
“Nathan… About this morning. ”
She smiled. “I’ll call you later.”
“Stay safe, SAC Simpson.”
She smiled again and pulled away from the curb. He waved when she looked in her mirror, then strode through the lobby to the elevators. Harv would already be up, so he knocked quietly on his door. He saw the peephole darken just before the door swung inward.
“Mornin’, partner,” Nathan said, passing through the threshold. “Get much sleep?”
“A few hours.” Harv grinned. “You?”
“Hey, it was all in the line of duty.”
“Holly just dropped me off, she’s heading over to the office to make sure you have the tape by six.”
“I hope I wasn’t too… you know, overbearing last night about wanting to hear the tape.”
“I made some coffee. It’s not too bad.”
“So who are you bringing up from San Diego?”
Harv stared for a few seconds. “Did someone from the office call you?”
“I guess you figured it’s what I’d do.”
Harv handed him a cup. “You can’t blame me.”
He took a sip. “I’m totally aboard with it.”
“It’s after eight back east, so we should make that call to Thorny. It might take him a few hours to get the visitation logs from the Castle. You still want that chat with FBI Director Lansing?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“I thought as much. He wasn’t real happy about it, but Ortega’s arranged it for you. He sounded like he’s worried about being blacklisted from the investigation. Now that James has been found, he probably will be. You’ve got a very brief window at ten-hundred this morning.” Harv winked. “I’ve been instructed to tell you to lose the phone number after you make the call. It’s a direct line to Lansing’s secretary and she’ll put you through to his cell. He’s in New York City today.”
“What do you hope to accomplish?”
“I want a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
Harv just stared.
“We’re going after the Bridgestones,” Nathan said, “with or without his blessing and we don’t operate within socially acceptable boundaries. Let’s face it Harv, we’re no Ozzie-and-Harriet team. If we have to kick a few butts along the way, so be it. I just want the FBI to stay out of our way.”
“Lansing will want us to stay out of
way. I don’t think he’ll agree to what you’re asking.”
“Since blackmailing him is off the table, he definitely won’t agree. I just don’t want him running interference. Tailing us. Tapping our phones. You know the drill.”
“You really think he’d do that?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“What about Frank Ortega?” Harv asked. “How much do we tell him about what we’re doing?”
“As little as possible.”
“Because of your father?”
“Ortega could still help us. I don’t think he’s been blacklisted yet, and Greg could access the NCIC database for us.”