"Turn away from us
days are darker and the winters come
can't remove yourself from what you have done
on the rack where your reputation lies"
Recluse, Neil Finn [Dizzy Heights] 2014
"Do you two have a problem communicating?" Sam asked Callen as they strolled in to the bullpen shortly before 9.30am.
"What? You mean me and the little dummer boy over there?" Callen glanced at Deeks who was already seated at his desk, practicing drum rolls with two pencils.
"You talking about me?" Deeks asked, his face a picture of pure concentration as he attempted to drum faster and faster.
"I am," Callen replied. "But I have no idea who or what Sam's talking about. Personally, I think he's the one with the communication problems."
"No G," Sam rolled his eyes in frustration. "You just choose to play ignorant or dumb or whatever the hell it is you do."
"Ah, sounds like we're all going to have a great morning," Deeks commented as he abruptly stopped drumming and started using a single pencil to baton twirl through his fingers.
"I agree," Callen nodded his head, placing his bag on his desk and easing into his chair. "Did you get out of the wrong side of the bed again, big guy?"
Sam froze half way to seating himself and stared at Callen. For the tenth time that morning he wondered what he had done that was so bad he deserved a partner like Callen.
"Are you actually going to sit down or are you demonstrating how strong your thigh muscles are?" Callen opened the lid of his laptop and suppressed the smile that threatened to break through. Sometimes Sam just asked for it, figuratively speaking of course.
Sam sat down, slamming his palm on the desk, causing Deeks' pencil to spin to the floor. He stared at Callen before asking. "You do know I can kill someone using my legs? I can demonstrate on you now or later. It's your choice G."
Callen leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "Strangely enough Sam, I have no desire to go anywhere near your legs – or any other part of your anatomy."
Deeks grabbed a rubber band and started pulling it through his fingers. "Y'know I'm so pleased to see that your 'bromance' hasn't died."
Sam turned to face Deeks. "I could always demonstrate on you as well..."
"Oooh no no no! I didn't mean that, what I meant was that I miss not having a partner to banter with." Deeks backtracked quickly, snapping the elastic band sharply on to his trigger finger.
Sam held his gaze on Deeks before slowly exhaling. He reached in to his jeans pocket and pulled out his cell. He unlocked the phone, tapped the message icon and turned the screen towards Callen.
"Joelle," he said expectantly.
"Hmm," Callen responded without looking up from his laptop. Recently this is all Sam wanted to talk about and while it was fun to wind Sam up, Callen really wanted his private life to stay that way.
"Why is she texting me and not you?" Sam pressed.
"I don't know," Callen said, his focus remaining on the laptop screen. "Maybe she wants to talk to you about me. Isn't that what you two normally do?"
"See what I mean Deeks?" Sam called for some moral support. "They have a problem communicating. It's been what, a month? I'm surprised you don't still need me to book your restaurants for you and then invite Joelle on your behalf."
"Ok," Callen gave up and closed his laptop. "You have my undivided attention."
"That'll be a first," Sam muttered just loudly enough for Callen to hear. "Joelle wants to know if you're a fan of Alexandre Dumas."
"Ha," Deeks laughed suddenly. "Do you think she's into role play? We know Kensi loves a little bit of dressing up... Maybe she wants you to wear an iron mask."
Sam broke into a smile as he considered Deeks' words for a moment. "He could be right you know. But maybe you want her to wear the iron mask. It wasn't that long ago G, you admitted you would pay a dominatrix to hurt you."
Callen shot Sam a look that could have killed.
"What? No!" Deeks looked to Sam then back to Callen. "Where was I when this gem of information was leaked?"
"Thankfully, you weren't around," Callen answered. "Why would she want to know if I'm a fan of Alexandre Dumas?"
"Well it seems an anonymous package arrived at her door this morning, marked for her attention but with no return address."
"And nothing. Did you order her a book?"
"Why would I do that?" Callen was genuinely puzzled.
"How about as a gift?" Sam shook his head slightly. He had seen Callen go undercover and turn on so much charm and charisma he practically had women eating out of his hands. But when it came to real life; his own life...
"What was the book?" Callen's attention was now fully on Sam and he smiled. He was sure there was some significance to Sam's frustration and about the author that he was failing to grasp. However the journey to his enlightenment was so far quite amusing.
"A dog-eared paperback version of The Count of Monte Cristo," Sam replied. "No expense spared, which sounds just like you."
The smug grin which had been present on Callen's face disappeared as he stared at Sam. "The Count of Monte Cristo? That was Joelle's parcel?"
"Yeah..." Sam noticed the immediate change in Callen and could feel the tension emanating from him. "Why? What does that mean?"
Callen stood abruptly, pulled out his cell and walked to the outside door for privacy as he dialled Joelle's number.
"G?" Sam called after him.
"What was that about?" Deeks asked Sam.
"I have no idea but he'd better fill me in the second he comes back..."
Several minutes later Callen returned to the bullpen. He hesitated slightly and Sam took advantage of Callen's apparent unease and indecision.
"So what's going on G?"
"Nothing's going on Sam. But I need to duck out for thirty minutes, so I'll catch up with you guys shortly." Callen glanced at Deeks and Sam, quickly noting their confusion as he turned away.
Before Callen had walked more than three paces Sam caught him by the arm, halting his hasty retreat.
"Where are you going?" Sam demanded. Deeks had also risen from his chair and stood at Sam's shoulder, presenting a united front against their team leader who was clearly on the verge of ditching them.
"I won't be long," Callen reasoned. "I'll be back before Hetty even knows I'm gone."
"Hetty knows everything, she's like the Eye of Providence," Deeks said. "The all-seeing eye of God."
"Why does this involve Joelle? And what's so special about the Count of Monte Cristo?" Sam persisted in his interrogation of Callen. He was not letting him out of his sight before finding out what was really going on.
"Indeed Mr Callen," the authoritative voice of Henrietta Lange broke through Sam's thoughts and he instinctively let go of Callen's arm. "What is so special about The Count of Monte Cristo that means you have to return before I realise you ever disappeared?"
"Nothing Hetty, I just need to run an errand."
"For your erm, lady-friend?" Hetty peered up at him through her thick-rimmed glasses.
Callen looked at Sam who just shook his head.
"You really think I'm gonna come to your rescue? Have you done something to put Joelle in danger?" Sam raised his voice as he jumped to his own conclusions. "If anything happens to her-"
"It's Ok Sam, I just called Joelle and she is safely at work and is going round to a friend's after. I persuaded her to stay the night there so she won't be going home until tomorrow evening. She has no idea who delivered the book to her."
"Callen, what is so significant about the book?" Deeks asked curiously.
Callen took a deep breath. Hetty, Sam and Deeks were all looking at him expectantly. He wondered how he could word this without Sam wanting to knock him into next week for placing Joelle at risk. Even worse though, could be the reaction of Deeks. He may be hiding it well, but his PTSD from Siderov's torture was still at the forefront of his mind, Callen could tell, and it all linked back to Janvier's hatred of him. He rubbed his hand across the stubble on his chin, unable to delay the inevitable truth-telling any longer.
"When I locked Janvier in his cell, he asked whether I had ever read the Count of Monte Cristo. It's about a man who waited twenty one years to exact his revenge. He blames me for Vasseri cutting off his hand as I traded him for me. He told me that he only lives to kill what I love and I believe he will systematically take out anyone who is connected to me. And the last words I heard from him was that the game was not over." Callen slowly looked Hetty, Deeks and Sam in the eyes. "At best this could be a reminder that he's in control; at its worst, he's already started his campaign to destroy me."
"Mr Callen how do you know the book is from Janvier?" Hetty asked, despite the fact she readily acknowledged that coincidences rarely occurred in their line of work.
"Because written inside the cover were the words 'You are always in my thoughts, MJ'." Callen said.
"MJ – Marcel Janvier," Hetty confirmed Callen's worst thoughts. "I suggest gentlemen, that you all make your way up to Ops, where you can brief Nell and Eric on our new case."
Hetty escorted the team up to the ops centre causing Nell and Eric to turn round in surprise.
"Did I miss something?" Eric asked Hetty. "Do we have a new case?"
"Indeed we have Mr Beale, and Mr Callen will brief you and the team," Hetty looked pointedly at Callen, allowing him no room to manoeuvre out of his responsibilities.
Callen leaned back against the interactive table and retold his short story about Janvier's threats to him and those he cares about, and the significance of Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.
"He's out for revenge and if I'm lucky this is only a reminder not to forget about him," Callen summarised. "But he won't stop until he's killed those I'm close to. Revenge is all he lives for now."
"And since you don't have many people in your life, I guess that means we're all at risk," Sam said, circling his arm to encompass everyone in the room.
"You know that Sam, it's why Janvier betrayed you to Sidorov," Callen resisted from adding that Deeks had merely been collateral damage. Janvier hadn't been interested in Deeks. Deeks had been unlucky enough to have had Sam's back and his rescue attempt and subsequent capture and torture were purely attempts by Sidorov to establish Sam and Quinn as undercover agents.
"And Joelle," Sam added with a tight smile. "Does she count as one of your loved ones?"
Callen stared at Sam. "That doesn't really matter, what does it that Janvier thinks she does, which means she's in danger."
"OK, so Eric can you pull up all the CCTV footage around Joelle's house?" Nell said, keen to get the investigation going and to move on from the sly comments being passed between the two senior agents.
"Do you know who delivered the parcel, which courier?" Eric asked.
"No, not yet." Callen replied turning to his team. "Deeks you work with Nell and Eric, make sure that Janvier is still securely locked up. I want a log of all his visitors, his calls in and out, and profiles on all the prison guards and all the prisoners, the current ones and those who've been released since Janvier was incarcerated. There is a leak somewhere. Sam and I will head to Joelle's."
"On it. Let me know what you find, guys," Deeks called after them as they exited the room.
Hetty watched as her team separated to work on different areas of the case. She was worried. She was extremely worried about the reach of Janvier. He seemed to have an endless pool of information at his fingertips, and a never-ending list of underground lowlifes he could call on. Hetty was beginning to fear Janvier could discover details about Callen's past that was buried so deep the secrets were believed to have been lost forever. And not even she knew what they may be. All she knew was that there would only be one winner and she hoped to God it would be Callen.
To be continued...