In this installment... sex and Chinese food in Missoula, a death occurs under suspicious circumstances, Byers gets arrested, Yves stalks Jimmy (But she's not jealous. Really. She's not. Shut up.), shocking ineptitude with a side of actual conspiracies and law enforcement officers abuse the Patriot Act toward their own ends.
Summary: "I've still got this dream that you just can't shake."
I still got this dream that you just can't shake
I love you to the point you can no longer take
Well, all right okay
So be that way
I hope and pray
That there's something left to say
He had the white picket fence dream again.
Two days after meeting with Hassan Naser and discovering that Federal Detainee #10013 was not, in fact, Susanne, he woke up shuddering and sweat-soaked, the taste of sand and ashes in his mouth.
He hadn't had that particular dream in almost three years.
He hadn't dreamed it since a few months after Las Vegas, since Susanne had given him a ring and an almost-promise. More to the point, he hadn't dreamed it since they started sleeping together.
The reality of them had been better, more vital and more complicated than the dream version. It had hurt more too, but, more importantly, it had satisfied him. It had given him something to strive for, something to lose, for the first time in years.
The reality of Susanne wasn't sweet. She was never going to wear a sundress and wait for him by the maple tree in the backyard. She was harder, smarter and sadder than the version of her he'd dreamed about for ten years, and he loved her for it.
She had a grim sense of humor, and the right side of her mouth quirked oddly when she laughed. She was focused and determined, she could be cold and hard, but he lived for the little glimpses of something softer and warmer underneath. He liked the idea that he was the only one who got to see those flashes of the woman she used to be.
He didn't want to start dreaming about her again. He didn't want to start remembering her as a metaphor.
They were never going to have that perfect life together, and the truth was he wasn't sure he even wanted it anymore. He wasn't sure that life could deliver what it promised. Slowly, over these past few years, he'd stopped believing there really was a better way.
New York had been the final blow, the crisis moment, the tipping point. He was really going to have to start dealing with that, but he couldn't think about New York in any kind of detail, not yet. It was still too painful in ways that were about more than just Susanne. So, instead, he thought about the time before that.
They should never have seen each other again, and both of them knew it. Surprisingly, meeting had been Susanne's idea, not his. He would have walked away, never seen her again, never spoken her name again, if it meant she stayed safe. He would have given her a life without him if it meant she could be happy.
He didn't think too much about what it meant that she hadn't done the same for him.
Once she asked him to, of course, he'd come running. She would call and he would drop everything to meet her, in a succession of bad motels in Tempe, Lodi, Charlotte and a half-dozen other cities.
In May, four months almost to the day before New York, he flew into Spokane, Washington, rented a car at the airport and headed east on I-90. Lake Coeur d'Alene fell away on either side of the interstate as he headed toward the Fourth of July Pass, its deep, glacial waters glinting in the sun. The passes were mostly clear, the melt well on its way to the Columbia or the Snake rivers.
He was enthralled and a little intimidated by the sheer scale of the American West. He'd grown up in Northern Virginia and gone to college in Maryland, places that, while occasionally quietly beautiful (at least once you got away from the rampant suburban sprawl) weren't exactly known for their dramatic geography.
The first time he'd ever seen so-called 'real' mountains, he got a little dizzy. Driving through the Idaho panhandle and into Montana was no different. I-90 was braced by peaks and cliffs and places where the road seemed to drop away into nothingness. He found himself taking his eyes off the road, looking out at the rocky riverbanks and giant western hemlocks.
Montana's 'big sky' was more than just a clever tourism slogan. The city of Missoula had been settled in a broad valley, the grasses on the surrounding hills already turning golden-brown despite the fact that it was still the middle of spring. The sky hung low and wide over the valley, ice blue and looking so close he almost felt he could reach out the driver's side window and touch the clouds.
He followed the blue 'lodging' signs to a Comfort Inn just off the interstate. The motel had to have been at least twenty-five years old and was surrounded by gas stations on almost every side. The desk clerk inside greeted him cheerfully, though. The lobby area looked shabby but clean, the smell of singed coffee wafting from the bulk urns in the lounge.
"I have a reservation for this evening for Novac," he said.
"Yes, of course," the desk clerk said, tapping keys on her circa-Windows 95 computer. She couldn't have been much more than eighteen. "Your wife left you a key. She got here earlier this afternoon."
"That's perfect. Thank you," he said, smiling.
She returned the smile. People were so open and trusting in this part of the country. It almost made him feel a little guilty.
"Sure thing, Mr. Novac. Enjoy your stay."
The lights were off in Room 117, save a small lamp on the night table. Susanne was sitting on the bed, the ugly motel comforter already turned down. She was barefoot, her face freshly scrubbed and her hair slightly longer than the last time he'd seen her. She started to her feet as he opened the door.
"John-" She flung herself at him, practically knocking the wind from him. The door slammed shut behind them and he dropped his bag to the floor.
"Hey." He brought his arms around her and pulled her close. She was trembling slightly. "Hey."
"I missed you," she said, reaching up and kissing him hard.
Caught off guard, he lost his balance and they fell back against the door. She had his coat and tie off before he'd even caught his breath.
"I guess so," he said, when she finally let him up for air.
She didn't reply, just kissed him again and started unbuttoning her blouse. She took his hands in hers, pulling him with her. They left a messy trail of clothing between the door and the bed.
It had been months since they'd seen each other. But, even still, he hadn't anticipated this kind of reception.
"Hey," he said softly.
"Don't talk." She kissed him again. "Not yet."
It didn't really take much convincing to get him to shut up.
The sex was raw and hurried, a little desperate and over far too quickly. Susanne didn't seem to mind, though. She shuddered underneath him, arching her back and calling his name softly.
He lay there for a few minutes afterward, a little stunned, until he felt her sit up and swing her legs over the edge of the bed.
"Are you all right?"
She went over to where her suitcase was thrown open and fished out a cotton tank top.
"I'm fine," she said, pulling it over her head. She leaned down, grabbed his discarded boxers and put those on, too. His stomach did an entirely pleasant somersault.
"I'm just fine," she said again, coming back over to lie down beside him. He reached up and put an arm around her. "I'm just glad I have-" someone, anyone... "you," she finished, leaning her head against his shoulder and not looking him in the eye.
He loved her and she needed him. That was how this thing worked; it had been from the beginning. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than the alternative. It was better than a decade of nothing but dreaming. He'd accepted the slightly unequal nature of their relationship -- or, at least, he thought he had. But that didn't explain why he was lying there, next to a content and sleeping Susanne, staring at the ceiling and wondering why he felt so unsettled.
He got out of bed, trying not to wake her. She didn't even seem to notice he'd gone, just turned onto her side and hugged the pillow with both arms.
The shower in the tiny bathroom was cramped, he kept knocking aside the plastic curtain whenever he moved and spraying water onto the floor. The water was so hard he actually felt dirtier for having washed with it, a residue of hotel soap, salt and metal stayed on his skin even after he toweled off.
Susanne was awake when he emerged from the bathroom, sitting cross-legged on the bed, the Yellow Pages open in front of her and the phone resting in its cradle on the nightstand. She looked up and the expression on her face when she saw him went a long way toward banishing his moodiness.
"I ordered Chinese," she said, smiling at him, and suddenly all was right in the world again.
Strolling through the main campus at Georgetown, Frohike began to wonder if he'd missed his calling as a professor.
The Potomac was, in his opinion, one of the uglier rivers in the country. The water was flat and a dirty grey-brown, with a permanent haze of humidity hovering just above the tree-line on either bank. But the students still treated it like Daytona Beach. Swimsuit-clad girls rode jet-skis across the water. The women's crew team rowed past, in navy blue shorts that showed off their tanned legs.
"Coeds," Frohike said with a grin. Byers just sighed, almost inaudibly. "Aw, come on, buddy. Are you trying to tell me that all these lovely twenty-somethings don't make you feel young again?"
"If I were ever to find myself involved with a much younger woman," Byers said seriously, "she would have to be fairly exceptional." He had this faraway look in his eye and Frohike imagined that he was probably remembering a younger Susanne Modeski, a girl-genius who'd gotten her PhD from Cornell at the tender age of twenty-three. "Lovely and twenty-something isn't enough for me. It wasn't even when I was twenty-something."
"So, okay. Susanne? Sure. But the former Mrs. Byers? She was exceptional, too?"
"Yes," he replied, and didn't elaborate.
Frohike was learning to hate the history building like you wouldn't believe. Reg Moncrieff seemed like a good guy; he was certainly an enthusiastic one. He'd provided them with a whole lot of information, more, maybe, than they actually needed. That was part of the problem. They'd spent the better part of two days sorting through all the data he'd given them, highlighting important passages and possible patterns.
That was the reality of what they did. For every computer hack and high-tech B-&-E job they pulled, there were a couple hundred hours of digging through de-classified papers, sifting through abandoned web pages and running from expert to expert gathering information under false pretenses.
Not exactly the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters.
Plus, this time, he had a hunch the story was going nowhere. Byers, though, seemed reluctant to give it up, probably for some reason he wouldn't share with rest of the group. That seemed to be pretty much par for the course these days.
Moncrieff's office was locked, but his research assistant was there, struggling down the hall toward them with an armload of books and dressed in a plaid skirt and knee-socks she must have stolen from Alicia Silverstone circa-1995. Or, more likely these days, Marcia Brady circa-1975. Papers were fluttering out of the messenger bag she had slung across one shoulder. A fat volume of essays slid off the top of the stack and hit the floor.
"Here let me get that for you," Frohike said, bending down to retrieve the book.
"Thank you!" she replied, leaning out from behind the books to smile gratefully at whoever had rescued her. She stopped, mid-smile. "Oh, it's you guys. What are you doing here?"
"We need your boss to shed some light on some of the info he gave us." He held out a hand to hold her books while she unlocked the office door. She ignored him.
"Oh, yeah? Good luck with that." She struggled with the keys, balancing the books on one hip, flipping the key ring onto her index finger and jamming the key into the lock.
"You changed your hair, Kate," Byers said, because he was that kind of guy.
One distracted hand went to her hair, causing the books to shift dangerously, and Kate actually smiled at him. "You're the first person to notice."
"It's very nice," he said, and held the door for her.
She went over to the desk and put down her huge stack of books. "Reg should be right back. Did you want coffee or anything?"
"Sure." Frohike watched her fiddle with an ancient Mr. Coffee. "You don't like us much, do you?"
"It isn't that." She looked up, then over at Byers. "It's like I said before, John, I just worry about Reg. And, frankly? I've been reading your paper for over a year now. I'm not convinced that you guys are on the right track."
"What makes you say that?"
She poured the coffee and looked sidelong at Frohike. "Your cover story this month implied that the CIA faked the USS Cole bombing."
"Hey, you have no idea the kind of elaborate schemes our government gets up to-"
"You'll have to excuse my incredulity, but I have a hard time buying that our government -- the same government that can't do anything about its out-of-control pork barrel spending, overcome intra-agency squabbling long enough to protect us from terrorists or even appear to find its own ass with both hands most of the time -- is organized enough to pull off something like that."
He and Byers exchanged a look. Byers smiled tightly and said, "But that's the beauty of it. Where better to hide a conspiracy than behind a facade of ineptitude?"
"That's one hell of a facade, then," she said, bringing three coffee cups over to the desk. "Are you sure it isn't the other way around? That the government lets these conspiracy stories and urban legends grow legs, just to distract people from their shocking ineptitude? You've got to admit, alien abductions and CIA assassinations make for a much sexier story than cronyism and ineffectual legislation."
Frohike grimaced. "I'm thinking it's actually probably a little bit from Column A, and a little from Column B."
"Shocking ineptitude with a side of actual conspiracies?" She shrugged. "That you might actually get me to buy."
Byers frowned, taking a seat on the edge of the desk and invading her personal bubble a little more than was strictly necessary. "We're just trying to wake people up to how vulnerable they truly are, to get them to look at the world in a different way."
"Think about all the things you take for granted," Frohike said. "Like traveling. Every time you take a plane or a train somewhere, you're on camera. Your bags get searched. Anyone with access can see where you're using your credit card and how much you spend. You stay at a hotel... you're completely available to anyone who wants to watch. Housekeeping is in and out of your room. Most hotels have transparent security surveillance now. And that doesn't even take into account all the ubiquitous things around you; things that could easily be vessels for secret surveillance."
She moved away from Byers, sitting down behind the desk and sliding her glasses off. Byers was right. She'd cut her hair. Frohike never would have noticed on his own, not in a million years.
"What? You mean like a pay phone or a Gideon Bible or something?" she said, and Frohike experienced a moment of intense deja vu.
He was still shaking it off when Byers replied, "Yes, exactly like that."
"But what about the people who actually read those Bibles?"
"Kiddo," Frohike said, "do you know anyone who's ever actually read one of those things?"
"You mean like in a non-ironic way?" She grinned at him. "But if you mean, do I know people who've opened one up? Yes, I do. No electronic devices that I could see. Though, granted, it was Spring Break and there was tequila and a game of 'I Never' involved, so..."
"Nice to see kids these days taking their educations seriously. How the hell did you even manage to get in to graduate school?"
"You'd be surprised," she said, looking amused. "I got my undergraduate degree at a state school that was generally more well-known for its sixty year Rose Bowl dry spell and the fact that it topped Playboy's list of the twenty all-time party schools than it was for academic achievement." She paused thoughtfully. "Also for producing journalists and cheese."
"Cheese?" Byers echoed.
"Cheese, journalists. Who can tell the difference, really?" Frohike said, finally cracking a smile. She was growing on him.
"I was a journalism major, actually, until I did a summer internship at a twenty-four hour cable news network that shall not be named. I came back home, switched into the history department and minored in mass comm and propaganda studies." She took a sip of coffee. "So I do get what you're saying. I'm just not prepared to go as far as you have. I'm not even prepared to go as far as Reg does."
"Not yet," Byers said quietly. "But if you'd seen the things we have..."
"Then? Maybe." She gave Byers a shrewd look, the kind that meant she already had his number. Admittedly, figuring Byers out wasn't that hard -- particularly, for some reason, for the female of the species. "Or maybe I'll just hope it never comes to that."
"I wouldn't go tempting fate like that, if I were you," Frohike quipped.
Byers, though, was scrutinizing the kid with an expression on his face that reminded Frohike of something, he just couldn't quite figure out what.
"Tell me there's coffee," Reg Moncrieff said, pushing the door open. He, too, was weighed down by a large stack of heavy books, his glasses askew and an impressive cowlick of dark hair sticking up on the back of his head. Between the cowlick, the spectacles and his ill-fitting corduroy jacket, he looked vaguely like one of the Lost Boys from Peter Pan.
"There's coffee," Kate replied smoothly, standing up to fetch him a cup, "and you have visitors."
"Do I?" He pushed his glasses back into place. "Oh, so I do. Hello."
Kate handed him a fresh cup of coffee, and Frohike couldn't help noticing that she squeezed Moncrieff's wrist slightly with her free hand when she handed it to him.
"Where have you been all morning, Reg? The dean's been calling."
"I'll just bet he has," Moncrieff said with a smile. "I declined an invitation to lunch with the university president."
"I politely declined." He squinted at Kate through his glasses. "Maybe you should go. You clean up well."
She rolled her eyes. "With a smooth line like that, how can I say no? Let me know when and where and I'll go."
"Come on into my office," Moncrieff said, taking a drink from his cup and gesturing toward the door.
"Why exactly did you tell the dean you couldn't make lunch?" Kate asked, refilling her coffee mug and following him into his office. "Just so we have our stories straight..."
"I'm the middle of writing up a review of Donald Lewis' article on Cold War-era efforts by the KGB to produce EMP weapons powerful enough to influence weather patterns in specific target areas."
Kate snorted. "That's not classified government information. That's the plot of a James Bond movie."
"You keep believing that, kid," Frohike said.
She just laughed and he found himself wondering vaguely if, in twenty years or so, there would be a generation of college kids who looked back at the War on Terror the way kids today saw the Cold War, regarding it as some sort of amusing kitsch: the province of campy spy movies and overwrought t.v. shows starring Keifer Sutherland.
He actually kind of hoped there would be.
She made a couple notes on a yellow legal pad, then said, "All right. I think I'll leave you boys alone to talk about grassy knolls and Soviet superweapons."
"Call Greenpeace for me, will you?" Moncrieff called after her. "They have a whole archive of Soviet-era watchdog files..."
She waved an assent and closed the door behind her.
"So," Moncrieff said pleasantly, gesturing them both to seats, "what can I do for you now?"
Frohike exchanged a look with Byers, and began, "So, the thing is... we're not finding much to go on with this case of yours..."
"Actually," Byers interrupted, "we were wondering if it might be possible for us to speak directly with your friend at the INS."
Oh, really? Well, that was the first Frohike had heard of that plan.
"I'm sure he'd be happy to meet with you, but I don't really know what help he'll be."
"I need to know more about that picture he gave you. The one from New Mexico."
New Mexico? A tiny but insistent alarm bell went off in the back of Frohike's mind. If this was about Susanne (and, face it, what wasn't with Byers) they were potentially in very big trouble. No amount of convincing was going to keep him from following this story through to the end -- or until he got himself killed, whichever came first.
He brooded over this latest development all the way through their conversation with Moncrieff and back to the car. When Susanne had disappeared again after 9/11, without even so much as a 'Dear John' (pardon the pun), he'd secretly been relieved. He liked her, he even felt sorry for her most of the time, but the truth was the woman meant nothing but trouble. Usually trouble for Byers, of the very personal variety.
And for some reason, trouble of the personal variety made him think of the weird vibe he'd noticed between Dr. Moncrieff and Kate.
"So, do you think she's sleeping with him?" he said, breaking the silence. His words echoed around the parking garage, louder than he'd expected them to be.
"What?" Byers said, clearly surprised and probably a little offended. "Who?"
"Kate and the good professor."
Byers gave him a look.
Frohike shrugged. "I got that sense."
"Even if it were true, I'm not sure why it would be any of our business..."
"I like being aware of all the variables. It's plausible, too. It would hardly be the first time a professor took a more than scholarly interest in one of his students. And all that mother hen business about not trusting us...? I'd say that's highly indicative."
"I don't think it's like that," Byers said, frowning.
"Oh, yeah? Why not?"
He shrugged. "I just have a feeling."
"Oh, yeah. 'Cause your instincts about women are stellar."
Byers made a face. "Just get in the car, Frohike."
On the way back from his first meeting with Jenna Clifford, Byers had driven past Meg's house. It wasn't that he was checking up on her exactly, he'd just felt a sudden, insistent urge to make sure she was all right. She'd been fine, of course, but that hadn't stopped him from cruising by occasionally during the following week or so. Somehow he couldn't quite shake the vaguely guilty feeling that by involving her, however slightly, in whatever was going on with Yves, he'd put her in danger.
Besides, her house wasn't that far out of the way.
He dropped Frohike off at the office, making a vague excuse that Frohike clearly didn't buy for a minute, and headed toward Meg's neighborhood. After the divorce, they'd both ended up in Takoma Park -- but in very different parts of town. Meg had moved there first, largely because she'd initially been the one to move out. In Byers' case... Well, he probably wouldn't have picked the town himself, but Langly and Frohike had already been living there.
Meg lived in one of Takoma Park's historic districts. The houses were nicely appointed, well kept up and affordable. At that time of day, her neighborhood was quiet. Most people were still at work, and since the area trended toward singles and younger couples, there weren't a whole lot of kids around. The houses stood silent for the most part, with their tiny patches of lawn and flowers in their window boxes, nothing out of place – except, of course, for the dark blue sedan with government plates parked at the end of the street.
He parked the van hastily on the next block over, jumped out and started to run. He cut through a
well-groomed backyard, a neighbor's cocker spaniel yelping excitedly at him as he vaulted over the fence into Meg's yard. He ducked around the side of the house, found the spare key just where he'd expected it to be and let himself in the kitchen door.
"Meg?" he called. "Meg, are you here?"
He ran through the living room and into the back hallway, calling her name. He'd opened the door to the bedroom, noticing incongruously that the only thing she seemed to have kept from their old house was the 800 thread count Calvin Klein duvet set his mother had given her as a shower present, when the front door opened.
Meg was on her cell phone as she walked in. He heard her voice, but couldn't quite make out the words. He heard the jingle of keys as she dumped them onto the table in the front hallway.
Her voice became more distinct as she walked into the kitchen. "I wish I could, Jack, but not tonight. I have to be in court first thing tomorrow and-"
She stopped abruptly. Byers eased the bedroom door open a crack and chanced a look out. Meg was staring at something just beyond the kitchen window.
"Oh, tell me he isn't out there," she said softly. Then, recovering, she said into the phone, "Oh, nothing. It's nothing. Remind me to tell you about it sometime. By then hopefully it will be a funny story."
There was a sharp knock at the door. Meg sighed heavily.
"There's, uh, someone at the door. I have to go- I know. Me, too," she said, and hung up.
The front door creaked open and he heard her say, "Oh. I was expecting somebody else."
Byers shifted positions behind the bedroom door, trying to get a view of whoever Meg was talking to. When he finally managed it, his worst suspicions were confirmed: two men in dark suits stood on the front steps.
"Megan Halliday?" One of them flashed a badge. "We'd like to ask you some questions about your husband."
"I'm not married," Meg said mildly, surprisingly cool-headed under the circumstances.
The agent flipped open a notebook and frowned at it. "Excuse me. Your ex-husband. One John F. Byers. Have you seen him recently, Miss Halliday?"
"We're friendly enough. We have lunch together about once a month."
"And when was the last time you actually saw him?"
"What is this about, Agent...? I don't believe I caught your name."
"I'm Agent Lloyd, and this is Agent Shelby. We're with the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
"That much I'd guessed," Meg said dryly.
"So you're telling us that you haven't seen Mr. Byers recently?"
"I didn't say that. I didn't say anything, actually, and I don't have to. Unless, of course, you're going to arrest me?"
Agent Lloyd frowned. "I feel it necessary to remind you that this is a matter of national security."
"If I see John, I'll make sure he knows you're looking for him." She smiled and firmly shut the door on them, then turned and leaned against it, closing her eyes and appearing to be trying to gather herself together. He considered walking out into the living room and letting her know he was there. He reached for the doorknob and it squeaked slightly. Meg's eyes flew open.
"You can come out now," she said. "I know you're here, John. I saw your van outside."
He emerged from the bedroom. The van was, in fact, clearly visible from the kitchen window. "Hi, Meg."
"I'm not even going to ask how you got in." She paused. "Actually, on second thought, I'm totally going to ask. How did you get in here?"
"You still leave a spare key under the citronella turtle. I checked because I thought it was worth a try."
"Oh. I guess I'm going to have to stop doing that."
He felt a momentary flash of annoyance. "It's not like I'm going to stalk you or anything."
"I didn't mean it like that…" She shook her head. "Come on into the living room."
He followed and sat beside her on the sofa. "I'm sorry for just walking in, but I saw those two agents snooping around and wanted to make sure you were- Well, I decided it would just be easier to wait inside."
"Why are they looking for you?"
"I don't know." He looked over at her: her expression registered disbelief. "I really don't know."
"You don't know because you haven't done anything wrong? Or you don't know because it could be one of any number of illegal things?"
"There are things it could be, yes. And it's not as though it would be the first time I've been questioned, either."
"There was a time," Meg said, not looking at him," when the prospect of a parking ticket made you nervous."
"Times change," he said simply, staring down at his hands, knowing there was no way to make her understand.
She didn't say anything for a long moment, but he could feel her watching him. After a minute, she said, "Why are you here, anyway? Did you need another favor?"
"No, I came by because I was worried."
"Worried about what?" She sounded exasperated. He knew that tone well. "That I might die of boredom here in my safe, well-lit, middle class neighborhood?"
"I just thought-" He paused. "I worried about my coming here the other day, asking for your help. I was afraid that I'd exposed you, put you at risk-"
"That's a load of crap," she said shortly. "I know who you are, what sort of things you get yourself involved in, and I still wanted you back in my life. So quit playing the martyr already."
"I'm serious," she said. "If I didn't want you around, I'd have kicked you out as soon as I realized you'd broken into my house. Or, better yet, I would have turned you over to those FBI agents. Because, did I mention? You broke into my house."
"Well, I didn't actually break in since I used the key..." he began. Then, at a look from her, he amended, "But I appreciate the sentiment. Look, I know you think I'm crazy, but I do have good reason for worrying about your welfare."
"I'm not the one with the FBI after me."
"You have to trust me on this. This isn't the first time we've been surveilled, and if they're watching us, then they're probably watching everyone we know. Please, just promise you'll be careful."
"Go home, John," she said, standing up.
He stood as well. "Fine. I'm going. But promise me."
"All right, all right."
There was a long, awkward moment while she waited expectantly for him to take his leave.
Instead, he said. "So, what's going on with you and this Jack guy?"
She pushed him toward the door.
Frohike liked to imagine that nothing could surprise him anymore and, mostly, he was right. But then there were days... Like today, just for example. It was a Thursday, and he seemed to remember a wise man somewhere once saying that nobody ever got the hang of Thursdays.
"My hand to God, Jimmy," he was saying, after having to talk down a particularly cranky Langly -- cranky because Jimmy had woken them, in Langly's words, 'near the crack of dawn', "I wonder sometimes what goes through that head of yours."
"It's nine-thirty," Jimmy pointed out, not appearing fazed in the least. "Most normal people are at work by now."
If he was going to wake them up, the least he could have done was bring coffee. Good coffee. A pot of Folgers was slowly burning on their ancient, industrial-sized machine, giving off a less than pleasant aroma.
"Byers called me at seven." He shrugged. "I just assumed."
"Yeah, well, Byers is crazy," Langly said, hefting the coffee pot.
Frohike turned back to Jimmy. "You were up at seven?"
"I'd been at the gym since six-thirty." He managed to sound ever-so-slightly superior about the fact, too.
"Sorry, kid. We don't get in much treadmill time around here. We were up all night trying to find a back door into the archives of this biotech start-up that's suing small farmers whose crops have gotten cross-pollinated with their patented, designer wheat."
"Why are you even telling him?" Langly said, handing over a cup of coffee.
"Were you able to do it?" Jimmy asked.
"No." And that was the other reason for all the bad moods that morning.
"That's too bad," Jimmy said. "Farmers have it rough, especially these days. I worked on a farm a couple summers when I was a kid."
"Yeah, me too," Langly said bitterly.
"Yes, it does."
"My dad said it would build character."
"My dad owned the damned farm."
Jimmy made appropriately sympathetic noises, and Langly ceased hostilities long enough to exchange stories about how much they'd both hated milking cows and de-tassling corn.
"My dad finally let me quit after Derek lost a finger in the combine," Jimmy said. "It's hard to catch a football with only nine fingers, and a scholarship was pretty much the only way I was going to be able to afford college."
"I didn't get to quit until I turned eighteen and moved the hell out," Langly grumbled. "Maybe I should've learned to catch a damn ball."
Jimmy glanced at his watch. "Speaking of which, I've got to get going soon."
"You dropped by just to wake us up and then leave?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Byers told me to stop by after the gym."
No doubt to make sure they got up before ten, Frohike thought uncharitably, and, of course, the kid fell for it.
"Fox Sports is here doing a bunch of pre-season tapings for their Classic College Football halftime shows. They're only here in DC for a couple days and my agent got me a gig."
"On Fox?" Langly said. "Rupert Murdoch's insidious propaganda machine?"
"It's only Fox Sports," Jimmy replied reasonably. "And they're giving me money, not the other way around."
"Sure. Blood money."
"Ease up, Langly," Frohike said, stirring creamer into his coffee. So much for the warm fuzzies of shared farmhand horror stories.
"Anyway," Jimmy said, "you guys are more than welcome to come to the taping. It seems slow here and it might be fun..."
"A bunch of meatheads congratulating each other on kicking a tiny ball through a big goalpost? Count me out."
Jimmy's face fell just perceptibly. Langly could be a real pain in the ass sometimes.
"Sure, kid," Frohike said, a little annoyed at having to be the nice one. Where the hell was Byers, anyway? "I'll go with you. I'm more of a basketball fan myself, but I watch a Redskins game every now and again."
"Great. I'm meeting my agent at eleven-thirty, so there should be time for you to grab a quick shower and get ready."
"I am ready."
"Oh." Jimmy blinked. "Well, let's go then."
When Jimmy mentioned meeting his agent at the studio, Frohike had pictured someone vaguely resembling Jay Mohr in Jerry Maguire. In reality, though, Maile Carballo turned out to be in her late twenties and built like a professional beach volleyball player.
"Whoa," Frohike said.
"Be nice," Jimmy whispered and went to greet her.
"Hey, Jimmy." She smiled fondly at him. "How are you?"
"I'm all right. I'm ready to get this over with, though."
"Hello, there," Frohike said.
"Uh-huh," she said, looking right past him and back to Jimmy. "They're nearly all set, so we'll get you into your mic whenever you're ready." She frowned at his shirt. "I told you to wear blue."
"I didn't have a clean blue shirt."
She sighed. "You look nice in blue, Jimmy. You look younger, innocent, sympathetic. Like someone whose tragic yet compelling life story a major network would pay for the movie rights to. Listen to me next time. Come on. Let's get you into make-up."
"Not so much this time, okay?" But he allowed himself to be propelled toward a make-up chair.
Frohike watched -- not too obviously, he thought -- as Maile walked over to confer with one of the producers.
"She played volleyball for University of Hawai'i, first team all-WAC three years running, broke all sorts of records." Jimmy grinned as the make-up artist dusted powder across his nose. "She could squash you like a bug, so behave yourself."
"Yeah. Sure thing." The girl was way out of Frohike's league, anyway. It didn't mean he couldn't enjoy the view, though. "Hey, she seems to like you, Jimmy. You ever, uh-"
"Maile doesn't get involved with her clients. Besides, you know it is possible for a man and a woman to be friends without sex getting in the way."
Ah, Frohike thought, the innocence of youth. Or, maybe, you could just afford to be pickier when the girls were lining up to have your little future football stars.
Instead, Frohike just shrugged. "She seems like your type is all."
Jimmy looked unusually thoughtful. Scary.
"What do you mean by that?"
"You know: dark, exotic-looking, a little ruthless, able to squash a man like a bug..."
Jimmy opened his mouth to offer a response, but then Maile came back over with bottled water and a crisply-folded blue shirt.
"Change," she commanded, handing him the shirt. He took it meekly. The make-up girl removed his smock, and he shrugged out of his white and grey striped oxford and put on the blue one.
"What's with the bodyguard?" Maile said, finally seeming to notice Frohike's presence.
"This is Melvin Frohike."
"Aw, come on. I've told you about Frohike. From the paper?"
"Oh, hunting and fishing. Right." She looked him over once, then promptly lost interest again. "The questions will be mostly about the '92 game, especially that last touchdown pass, and how you and Novacek were co-captains that year. Tell the story about the speech you two gave before the game, reporters love that one. And they may ask about what you're doing these days. Make sure to mention your charity work." She paused. "You good?"
"I'm good," he said, standing up.
"By the way, ESPN is in pre-production on a scripted NFL drama series. I'm in talks to get you, Bill and a couple of the other guys small guest spots, so I'll keep you posted."
"Maile, I can't act..."
"Neither can most of the people on the WB's fall line-up," she said briskly, twisting the cap off the bottle of water and handing it to him. "There's a specific episode they want you for, but I'll understand if you'd rather not do that one. I'll FedEx you the script this week and you can tell me what you think..."
"Ms. Carballo? Mr. Bond?" one of the clipboard-hugging associate producers was motioning at them. "We're ready."
"Go on, Jimmy," she said, winking at him. "Break a leg. At least it won't be skiing this time."
"Oh, you're hilarious," he said and headed over to the set to greet the sportscaster behind the desk.
The reporter shook Jimmy's hand and offered him a seat. They chatted for a few minutes before shooting got underway. Frohike made himself scarce as the set got quiet and the director called for action.
"All right," the reporter said. "Welcome back to FSN Classic College Football. We've been watching the 1992 Nebraska-Iowa State game. Talk about a classic upset. Here in the studio with us today we have former Cyclone wide receiver Jimmy Bond, who caught that game-winning touchdown pass in overtime..."
Frohike had to admit, Jimmy made for a good interview. He was engaging and friendly, told stories with enthusiasm, looked like everybody's All-American. The camera loved him. No wonder his agent wanted him on regular t.v.
"You were quite the promising talent for the Giants until the playoffs in '97..." the reporter was saying.
Jimmy's expression changed just slightly, but he spouted off some innocuous answer about learning a lot from the coach and offensive line being 'just like family.'
The reporter frowned slightly too, but moved on to another question.
Meanwhile, Maile looked livid, she grabbed the associate producer by the arm and hauled him out of range of the microphones.
"He can't ask about that," she said. "That was part of the deal. No questions about '97. It's been talked to death..."
"All right, all right," the producer muttered. "We'll edit the question out, if you want. Your boy fielded it well, though. Besides, you can't blame the guy for trying. It was a big deal story."
"A big deal story that my client expressly said he won't discuss with the media out of respect for the other players involved. If any of your people do something like that again, I'll pull all my guys, got it?"
"Yeah, yeah. Fine."
She stalked back over to the craft services table where Frohike had stationed himself.
"What was that all about?"
"Reporters," she said angrily. "Ambulance-chasing vultures, the whole lot of them." She paused. "Well, present company excepted, I guess."
"If it bleeds, it leads," he said. "I've published a sensational story or two in my day." He looked over at her. "What happened in '97?"
"That's a question you ought to be asking Jimmy," she said, and didn't speak again until the interview was finished.
Langly was, without a doubt, one of the most talented programmers of his generation.
Or, at least, he had been. Once upon a time.
He'd never been particularly ambitious. He had trouble getting motivated to work on projects that didn't interest him. He had problems (big surprise) with authority. He was a good programmer, but a crappy employee. In short, he just didn't play well with others.
Even before he met Byers and Frohike, he hadn't been all that interested in getting in on the proverbial 'ground floor' of any of the late-80s software start-ups his fellow wunderkinds had made their fortunes launching. It wasn't that he hadn't had offers. He'd had plenty; he just hadn't accepted any of them. If he had, and this was the part he couldn't seem to stop thinking about these days, he might have cashed in some stock options, made a few mill and kept them in printer's fees and cheesesteaks for the rest of their lives.
Their current financial situation was, as far as he was concerned, all on him.
He'd worked off and on, at a tidy hourly consulting rate, throughout the boom during the nineties. But there hadn't been a whole lot of call for his services since the debacle at FPS, a situation he was trying desperately to change.
Luckily, he still had Phoebe.
Using the mightily generous severance package she'd gotten from FPS... Hush money, Langly had called it the last time he'd been out in California. But mostly because, as Phoebe rightly pointed out, he was just pissed that they hadn't offered him any. Using that money, Phoebe set up her own independent game design company. She was currently making quite a name for herself and her team, designing immersive, intensely plot-driven games, heavily influenced by film noir and Japanese anime. Their first three offerings had debuted to critical accolades and more-than-respectable sales.
She'd invited him out to San Mateo the previous year to check the place out, saying that he was one of the only guys at FPS who'd ever treated her like an actual person. He thought she was maybe overstating the case a little. No one had ever accused him of being a sensitive guy, or even a nice one most of the time. But he'd always liked her and he needed the work.
The staff at Robot Cowboy Games was different than any other high tech outfit Langly had ever seen. Young, hip, disproportionately female, most of them had grown up in a world where Bill Gates was emperor of all he surveyed, comic books were 'ironic' and geeky garage bands went platinum. In other words, to the children of the 1990s, not only did geekiness pay off, it had a certain cache.
Phoebe gave him the grand tour, through workstations manned by pierced skater kids and Bettie Page wannabes.
"So what do you think?" she said, reaching into a mini-fridge and tossing him a lemonade.
"I think you've got a good thing going here," he said, leaning against a table littered with concept art and character design sketches. "You should be proud."
"I'm looking for good programmers to keep on retainer. Your work is great, Langly. We can do contract-only stuff if you want, no commitments, nothing that would get in the way of your other work. I'm willing to pay well to keep good people on staff."
He took a drink of his lemonade. "No psycho ninja babes this time, right?"
"I promise, there's almost no chance of that."
"Never say never, Langly."
"I'm glad to see someone got a laugh out of that disaster-"
"Hey," she said, "if I don't laugh about it, it'll just keep being too freaky to deal with. Okay?"
Of course he'd wound up accepting her offer and spent most of the summer of 2001 working on the game engine for a supernatural detective game about a string of cult murders in 1940s San Francisco. The game was due out in time for the upcoming Christmas. He'd already reserved a copy for Frohike. It would be right up his alley.
Phoebe called that morning at what must have been an insanely early hour Pacific Time. That made two mornings in a row he'd been woken up before ten.
"I've got another project for you if you have the time," she said. "We're having some trouble with the AI on our new strategy game."
"Sure," he said, cradling the phone against his shoulder as he rescued a Wi-Fi card from Jimmy's efforts at tidying up.
"Great. I'll send you the project specs and the code. We're having a status meeting Friday at 10 our time. We can video conference you in, if that works for you, and you can tell us what you found."
"Okay. Talk to you then."
He hung up, turned to replace the phone and nearly knocked into Jimmy and a can of Endust.
"Hey, Langly," he said, brightly. "What's up? Was that call about a new story?"
"No. I'm trying to generate some revenue so we don't have to-" Langly stopped, reconsidering before he said something he'd regret. A first, Frohike would probably have said had he been there. "Uh, it's just some work I do on the side."
Frohike was out talking to a lawyer for the USDA about their GMO wheat story, and Byers... Well, who the hell knew where Byers kept running off to these days. Normally, Langly tried to spend as little time alone with Jimmy as possible. It wasn't that Jimmy was a bad guy -- guys like him usually weren't, at least not on purpose. It was just that they didn't have a clue how obnoxious they could be. People had been telling them how freaking great they were since the day it became obvious they could throw a ball farther and harder than everyone else, so how could they possibly know? Guys like Jimmy were Clark fucking Kent, the letterman's jacket-wearing king of the prom, every father's favorite son. He really couldn't stand it; it just got under his skin.
So, yeah, maybe Langly still had some issues to work through. What else was new?
"Don't touch that!" he said, and Jimmy jumped nearly a foot into the air.
The phone ran suddenly, and Jimmy jumped again, looking at Langly like maybe he thought that was Jimmy's fault, too. Langly sighed, switched on the tape and picked up the phone.
"Langly?" It was Byers, but he wasn't calling from his cell phone. It was a 703 number.
"Byers, where the hell've you been? We've barely seen you all week..."
"Look, I don't have much time, so you have to listen." Byers sounded uncharacteristically shaken. "I need you to try and pull together some emergency cash," he paused, "and call Meg."
"Your ex? Why?"
"Because I think I'm going to need a lawyer."
Aw, shit, Langly thought.
"What happened, man?"
"The FBI brought me in for questioning. I haven't been formally charged with anything but... Well, it doesn't look good. I think the only reason they allowed me a phone call is because I mentioned Skinner's name."
"They say what they want you for?"
"Not yet. But they've been looking for me. It's safe to assume they're watching the rest of you, too."
"Okay. Tell me where you're being held and the names of the agents in charge of the case. Oh, and what's the ex's phone number?"
Byers gave him the info and hung up. Jimmy was hovering right at Langly's elbow as he replaced the phone in the cradle.
"Byers is in trouble?" Jimmy said, looking truly worried.
"You'd better believe it," Langly said.
"I want to help. What can I do?"
"Not much, probably," Langly grumbled, but mostly to himself. "Yeah, there's something you can do. Go find Frohike. He can go down there and try to talk to the Feds... and if all else fails, he can call Scully."
"Uh," Jimmy looked hesitant, "why Frohike?"
"Because believe it or not, he's the respectable one."
"Well, actually, Byers is the respectable one. But under the circumstances, Frohike is our next best bet."
Jimmy still seemed vaguely unconvinced, but did as he was told without another word.
Langly picked up the phone again and dialed Meg Halliday's work number. The Legal Aid receptionist seemed less than inclined to put his call through at first, until he mentioned that he was calling on behalf of one of Meg's clients. Well, a potential client, anyway.
After three rings, a not-entirely-unfamiliar voice said, "Megan Halliday."
"Uh, hi there. This is Richard Langly. I'm a friend of Byers'. I don't know whether you remember or not."
"I remember." There was a slight coolness in her tone.
Langly swallowed. His mouth suddenly seemed dry for some reason. "He, uh, wanted me to call you because he's run into a little legal trouble and wondered if you could h-"
"The FBI picked him up, didn't they?" she said briskly, totally disrupting his flow of thought.
"Uh, wha-? Yeah. How did you know about that?"
She ignored him. "Where is he being held?" Then after he told her, she said, "The soonest I can be there is in a couple hours or so. One of you should meet me, just in case. But don't, under any circumstances, actually talk to anyone official. Understand?"
"Yeah, sure." He paused. "Hey, uh, thanks for helping out and all."
"Just don't make me regret it," she said, and hung up with a decided click.
Frohike had only met Byers' ex-wife a handful of times over the years. But on the few occasions he had, he reflected, she'd mostly been wearing the same look she had on her face now. Back then that look had usually been directed at Byers or, on rare occasions, all three of them. This time, however, it seemed to be reserved for the two F.B.I. agents who'd brought Byers in.
As Frohike approached, Meg was arguing heatedly with a U.S. Attorney, while the two agents and a quiet man in a dark suit (who had the stink of the NSA all over him) looked on impassively. This had clearly been going on for awhile. Meg looked tired, her suit rumpled and creased, as though they'd kept her waiting in the reception area for a few hours. It had taken Frohike awhile to get there, too, but he'd expected her to have already been in to see Byers by the time he showed up.
"Either set a date to arraign my client, or release him," she was saying. Frohike decided to keep a discreet distance and try to look as though he wasn't listening.
"Actually, Ms. Halliday, under provision of the Patriot Act we can hold your husband- I mean, client," the son of a bitch actually smirked at her," indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism."
"Terrorism?" Meg said, looking appalled. "You can't be serious."
"Mr. Byers is suspected of providing material support to enemies of the United States." The attorney handed her a file. "I can assure you that everything is in order."
Meg flipped through the documents. "'Providing expert advice or assistance to enemies of the state'? You're kidding me, right? He publishes a newsletter."
"A newsletter that outlines, in a great detail, weaknesses in this country's infrastructure. The publication in question is filled with anti-government propaganda and incitement." He paused. "Mr. Byers is also a known associate of one Hayat al-Jafari, alias Lois Runtz, alias Yves Harlow."
"And Ms. al-Jafari is a terrorist?"
The F.B.I. agents exchanged a look. "Not that we can prove. Yet. But she is a person of interest."
"What exactly has she done?"
"That relates to a separate, on-going investigation. We're not at liberty to discuss that."
"If you've brought my client in to question him about this woman, you'd better start discussing it."
One of the agents held open the door to what must have been an interrogation room. "As I said, Ms. Halliday, we're not at liberty. There are about a dozen things we could question your client about. Ms. Al-Jafari's whereabouts and current activities are most definitely on the list, but that's all you need to know at this point."
They disappeared briefly into the room. Frohike scanned the corridor, making note of where the exits were in case they wound up having to make a hasty exit. He wound up taking a seat on one of the hard plastic chairs in the reception area. After a few minutes, several agents and the attorney came out, presumably leaving Meg alone to talk with Byers. About twenty minutes later, Meg came out of the room herself.
"I assume you have everything you need?" the first agent said, showing her to the reception area.
"For now." Despite the fact that the agent had a good eight inches on her, she somehow managed to convey the sense that she was looking down at him -- and didn't like what she saw. "I'll be back in the morning. I expect to find my client in good shape, Agent Lloyd."
"This is America, Ms. Halliday. We don't torture prisoners."
"Of course you don't."
Lloyd took off and Meg walked into the waiting area. Frohike jumped to his feet, setting down the copy of Jane he'd been flipping absently through. It had Keira Knightley on the cover, so sue him.
She stopped and turned to look at him. "Oh, there you are. I'd wondered."
She took off toward the door and he jogged to catch up with her.
"He's doing well enough, considering."
"That he's in very, very deep trouble." She pushed the door open and headed out into the parking lot. "Look, Mr. Langly-"
"I'm Frohike," he cut in. "Melvin, if that's easier for you to remember."
"This is bullshit, Melvin," she said. "They're just looking for an excuse to hold him until they can find out what he knows."
"Knows about what?"
She gave him a look that actually made him flinch. "Whatever it is you three have gotten yourselves into this time."
"Except for once we haven't done anything." She looked sharply at him again. He raised both hands in surrender. "Swear to God."
"What's this about then? This al-Jafari woman they mentioned... who is she, Melvin?"
"Isn't that the question of the year?" he muttered. "We know her as Yves Harlow. She's a hacker, an occasional source of information. I know she has some sort of ties to Malta, Cypress, possibly Egypt... but a terrorist? No way."
Meg sighed. "It doesn't matter. If she's under investigation..."
"Her passport's British," he offered. "At least the one I saw was. I have no idea if it was really genuine or not. But if it was a fake, it was a damned good one."
"Okay. Thank you, Melvin. That's good to know." She sighed again and dug her keys from her bag. "I'll call as soon as I know something else."
"Shouldn't we... I don't know... be collecting bail money or something?"
"They aren't going to let him out on bail," she said, walking away from him and heading to her car.
"Where are you going?" he called after her.
"To call a judge, and possibly the ACLU."
If nothing else, Byers thought as he lay on an uncomfortable cot in his holding cell, this experience could lay the groundwork for a series of articles on questionable interrogation tactics in federal counterterrorism investigations. Assuming, of course, that they ever let him out.
His day had started off normally enough. He'd dropped Frohike at the USDA, but begged off actually going inside. Instead, he'd gone to try and run down the photos of all staff who'd been at White Stone in 1996, hoping to get a better look at the dark-haired man he'd seen with Susanne and Grant Ellis in that picture of Reg Moncrieff's. It was a long-shot, but after Yves' lead hadn't panned out, he was willing to take what he could get. Besides, he might also make some headway with the other information Moncrieff had given them. Two birds, one stone.
Unfortunately, he didn't make it far. He'd parked and begun walking to find the nearest Starbucks, reflecting that, in this one respect, maybe selling his soul wasn't such a bad idea. Their coffee really was almost as good as advertised. He was saved from a total crossover to the dark side, however, by the appearance of a Dunkin' Donuts. The actual doughnuts were usually somewhat iffy, but when it came to plain old coffee Dunkin' Donuts had Starbucks beat. Hands down. He ordered an extra large, with cream, no sugar, and got a free travel mug for his trouble.
"John Byers?" said a vaguely familiar voice, as he was taking his first sip. "We're going to have to ask you to come with us."
He turned around and came face-to-face with an FBI badge. Beyond it stood the two men who'd shown up at Meg's.
"Can I finish my coffee first?" he said.
"Funny," said one of the agents.
"Can I at least ask what this about, then?"
"There will be plenty of time to discuss that. Trust me."
Oh, great. A threat, he thought, but didn't say out loud.
They'd brought him to a holding cell and left him there for hours. He'd expected to be questioned immediately and was fairly surprised when he wasn't. After the first hour or two, though, he realized it was a tactic. They left him alone for the better part of the day, making him wait, anticipating, jumping every time someone walked past outside.
Finally, Agent Shelby came and took him into one of the interrogation rooms.
"You want coffee or anything?" he asked.
Byers declined, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair.
"So, do you know why you're here, Mr. Byers?"
"I haven't the first clue. I do know that I'm going to wait for my lawyer before answering anything else, though."
"Well, you called an awfully long time ago. Maybe he's not coming."
"She. And she'll be here."
He stared Shelby down for awhile. Eventually, Shelby was called out of the room and replaced by a pair of agents. When the door opened, he could hear a distinctly female voice arguing with someone in the hallway.
The two new agents, LeClaire and Kawamoto, shut the door and the room was quiet again.
"Hello, Mr. Byers," LeClaire said, taking a seat. "Let's try this again, shall we?"
Kawamoto put on a pair of reading glasses, opened up a file and sat down beside her. "This isn't the first time you've been brought in for questioning, is it? There was that business with the computer company out in Vienna last year. Before that some minor breaking and entering, but no formal charges filed. Suspicion of a whole hell of a lot of other things, but nothing that seemed to stick... All the way back to Baltimore in '89. Did they ever find out who killed those people in that warehouse?"
"They never found any bodies in that warehouse," Byers snapped before he could stop himself, "so I'm thinking probably not."
"You know what they say about knowing where all the bodies are buried," LeClaire said with a smile. She couldn't have been much more than a year out of the Academy. He wondered how she'd scored an assignment like this with so many veteran agents.
"What is this about?" he asked. "You can't really be interested in Baltimore. That was thirteen years ago and out of your jurisdiction."
"It's part of the whole picture, though, isn't it? You've been involved in some pretty suspicious stuff, Mr. Byers, and it all seems to start with that warehouse in Baltimore."
"You have no idea."
"Why don't you tell us, then," Kawamoto said. "You really believe all that stuff you write? Enough to break the law to make other people believe?"
The door opened then and Meg walked in, looking frustrated, flanked by Agents Lloyd and Shelby. LeClaire gave them a questioning look and Lloyd shrugged, as if to say he'd tried to stall her.
"Don't answer that," Meg snapped. "Don't say anything."
"Actually, if you have your client's best interest at heart, you'll encourage him to talk to us," Shelby said.
"Don't listen to them, either, John." She looked pointedly around the room. "If I might speak to my client alone, Agents?"
"Unless the justice system has undergone a radical transformation since last September, Agent Kawamoto, I'm still within my rights to speak to my client in confidence. That generally works better without you present."
They left, but Byers could tell they weren't happy about it. Meg sat down at the table.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. They kept me locked up all day and didn't start asking questions until just before you got here, though."
"I've actually been here since three o'clock," she said, "sitting in the waiting area outside. Apparently, the Patriot Act has all sorts of magic powers I wasn't previously aware of."
"The Patriot Act?" he echoed. "What on earth does that have to do with me?"
"I was hoping you could tell me that." She leaned close to him and lowered her voice as though she was afraid someone might be listening. She was probably right. "I'm entirely out of my depth here," she said softly. "I generally wind up defending eighteen-year-old high school drop-outs picked up on shoplifting or minor possession charges... I think you should find a different lawyer, John."
"Yeah, well. You're the only one I can afford."
"Who says you can afford me?" she said with a glimmer of humor. He couldn't help smiling back. "If this had happened a year ago you wouldn't have called me. What would you have done then?"
She raised an eyebrow.
"I probably would have called Mulder." When her expression didn't register any recognition of the name, he said, "My friend at the FBI. You remember."
"Oh. Vaguely, yes. So why didn't you call him this time?"
"There are some," he paused, "complications on that front. We try not to ask for favors much anymore. I've already invoked the name of one of our remaining FBI contacts. I think that's the only reason they let me make a phone call."
Meg's frown deepened at that. "This is bad. They're talking about terrorism, John, and conspiracy. Something about a woman named al-Jafari? Does that mean anything to you?"
"No. Honestly, it doesn't."
"Are you sure? I know you guys have contact with people online. It wouldn't be unheard of. Terrorists use the Internet for recruitment, fund raising. Is there anything you can think of, anything at all? The agents mentioned some of your articles. They also said this al-Jafari woman goes by several different aliases: Runtz, Harlow..."
"Oh, my god... Yves," he said.
"So you do know her."
"Yes, but not by that name."
It made a certain amount of sense, he reflected, the idea of Yves as a terrorist. After Meg had left, they'd returned him to the holding cell. He didn't doubt that they would try questioning him again, probably sooner rather than later. He didn't believe for one second that Yves herself was a terrorist, but given her background he could understand why the newly-paranoid U.S. Government thought she was. His immediate problem, though, was the fact that the government probably also thought he knew more about her than he actually did.
He finally drifted off to sleep around midnight, about ten minutes before Agent LeClaire came to fetch him for a late-night round of questioning. The timing, he realized, was probably not a coincidence.
"Shouldn't my lawyer be here for this?" he said, taking the seat she offered him.
Agent Lloyd was already there with two cups of Starbucks coffee. He pushed one across the table to Byers.
"Here. We went out and got some decent coffee. The stuff they brew here sucks."
It was a little late for good cop, bad cop, but Byers accepted the coffee anyway.
"So now that you've had a chance to chat with your lawyer, maybe take a nice long nap, are you ready to talk to us about Hayat al-Jafari?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"See, you're going to have some trouble convincing me of that." Lloyd slid a glossy, black and white photo across the table: a surveillance still of Byers sitting beside Yves, across from Hassan Naser.
"I don't know anyone named al-Jafari, but that woman is Yves Adele Harlow."
"That's an alias, Mr. Byers. You mean to tell us you weren't aware of that?"
"I wasn't aware of her real name, if that's what you're asking."
Lloyd sighed. "All right then. How do you know her?"
"She's fairly well-known in certain circles. I've met her several times. In the particular case you're asking about, she asked me to come along and observe while she spoke with a man being held on suspicion of terrorist activities. I did so as a journalist. I wasn't aware being a journalist had become a prosecutable offense... yet."
"It isn't. But gaining access to a secure federal detention center using false identification? That is. We're more than willing to look the other way on that count, though. After all, we're big supporters of the First Amendment..."
"I'll just bet," Byers said dryly.
"...we just want to know what you know about her."
"Honestly?" he said, rubbing his hands over his face. "You probably know more about her than I do. I know she's a fairly talented computer hacker. I know she claims that her services are up for sale to the highest bidder. And I know that she has access to information that has been useful to our publication in the past. Beyond that..."
"Beyond that what?"
"I don't think I have the kind of information about her that you're looking for."
LeClaire, standing at the far end of the room, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed, said, "Let us judge that for ourselves. How about starting with how you met her?"
"I knew of her. Just rumors mostly, but I'd seen the results of some of her handiwork. The first time I actually met her, though, she stole 56 million dollars out from under me before I even noticed."
Lloyd looked at him for a long moment, like he wasn't quite sure whether Byers was kidding or not.
"Hey, you asked," he said, feeling a little defensive. Why was it that cops always asked questions they didn't actually want the answers to?
"And how exactly did she pull off this amazing theft?"
"I'd rather not wind up getting prosecuted for any computer crimes, so I think I'll wait to hear back from my lawyer before I answer that."
The door opened and an agent Byers hadn't seen before leaned in. "Take him back to holding, Lloyd. There's something you need to see."
Byers picked up the Starbucks cup. "Can I take the coffee to go?"
Byers' ex had a boyfriend, a tall, athletic guy in his mid-thirties who drove a blue Audi. Langly started running the plates before Frohike even thought to ask, so he just adjusted his binoculars and kept watching the house.
"Well, he looks fine on paper: Jack Creighton, thirty-five, unmarried, works for the Department of Transportation as a civil engineer. He builds bridges. Literally, not metaphorically."
"Thank God for that."
Creighton finally left around ten o'clock. Meg walked him out to his car, leaning down and planting a kiss on him through the open driver's side window. Once he drove off, though, she didn't go back in the house. Instead, she walked across the street and straight over to the van. They'd parked in shadow, away from any of the streetlights and to the lee of a large maple tree. Somehow she'd spotted them anyway.
She knocked on the van's sliding door, saying, "Come on, guys. Open up."
Frohike hopped in back and cracked the door open. "Hey."
"Frohike- Or, uh, Melvin…" she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "What are you doing here?"
"You got the name right this time," he said, pushing the door the rest of the way open. "Both of them."
"How did you know we were out here?" Langly asked from the front seat.
"John showed up here the other day driving this thing." She waved a hand at the van. "I didn't think it was a coincidence."
"You remember Langly," Frohike said.
"Yes, of course," she said, looking as though she couldn't quite figure out how she'd gotten mixed up with all this. "So, is anybody going to tell me why you're lurking in front of my house..." She looked around at the contents of the van, "...with night vision goggles?"
"That much is obvious. The question remains, why?"
The last thing Frohike could tell her was that they were trying to make sure she wasn't about to betray them all. So he said, "Our line of work is dangerous. Now that you're involved..."
Meg frowned. "Dangerous, huh?" Then, "Look, why don't you two come on inside?"
They hesitated, exchanging a look.
"I have hot chocolate."
"I'm in," Langly said, reaching up and taking the keys out of the ignition.
"Your junk food habit is going to be the death of you someday, buddy. Or do I need to bring up the poisoned muffins again?"
"I brought up the poisoned muffins myself enough times, don't you think?"
Frohike groaned at the pun, but, he had to admit, going inside would open up all sorts of avenues of investigation. Like, for instance, the medicine cabinet or Meg's laptop.
The house was nice. Not the sort of place he could ever imagine Byers living, but nice. Cozy, a little disordered, but definitely warm. Byers was the type of guy who made his bed with hospital precision, folded his socks and properly labeled every damned thing. Meg had a basket of clean laundry shoved haphazardly into the hallway, a pile of unread mail on the table and a small stack of unwashed dishes in the kitchen sink.
She made some fine hot chocolate, though.
"So," she said, handing them each a mug and sitting down at the kitchen table, "this isn't about my safety at all, is it? You're checking up on me."
There was an extended and vaguely uncomfortable silence.
"I've known John since I was eighteen," she said, looking exasperated. "He was- We were together for the better part of a decade. What, exactly, do you think they -- whoever they are -- could offer me that would make me betray him?"
"It happens," Langly shrugged.
"It does happen," Frohike said, "and it's not always black and white. Sometimes people find themselves in impossible positions."
She gave them a look that suggested that just knowing the three of them was an impossible position.
Frohike looked away, gazing around the kitchen instead, at the artifacts of what actually looked like a pretty comfortable domestic life: the windowbox herb garden, copper kettles, the hand-painted ceramic cookie jar. It was hard for him to imagine Byers in that context, married and suburban, despite the fact that they'd had pretty much a front row seat for it, right up to the messy end. Of course, Frohike suspected now that marrying Meg had been Byers' last-ditch attempt at normalcy. At the time, though, he hadn't been sure what to make of it.
A little less than two years after Susanne had first dropped into (and out of) their lives, Byers abruptly announced that he was marrying his college sweetheart -- to the surprise of pretty much everyone. Even Frohike, who liked to think he mostly had people pegged, had been shocked. He'd known Byers was seeing the girl, but it hadn't seemed serious. Not that serious, anyway. He'd only mentioned her name a handful of times. He'd never even officially introduced them. They finally met her, of course, about a year after the wedding... but that was an entirely different story.
Their lack of any solid knowledge about her was the whole point of this little visit, anyway. Did she have any secrets worthy of blackmail? A sick parent? Had she ever lied for a guilty client, or bribed a judge? Was she feeding a secret Vicodin addiction? Maybe it was time to check out the lady's medicine cabinet. He excused himself, politely asking where the bathroom was.
His gut, of course, told him that there probably wasn't anything to find. But the paranoid side of him, the one that had saved their asses on more than one occasion, couldn't rest until he was sure.
The bathroom was tiled in bright Italian blues and yellows, the ceiling painted a sky blue that gave him the slightly unsettling feeling that he was peeing au naturale. The hand soap smelled of citrus oil and sugar, like a scoop of lemon gelato, and Frohike began to suspect that Langly wasn't the only one with a sweet tooth. The mirrored door to the medicine cabinet squeaked slightly when he eased it open. He didn't find much of interest: tooth whitening paste, sunscreen, a tube of anti-wrinkle cream that looked like it probably cost as much as your average Wal-Mart employee made in a month, Claritin, cotton swabs and three months worth of birth control pills -- which probably meant that Jack the transportation engineer was getting some action. Good for him. Good for Meg, for that matter.
He snooped through the linen closet for good measure before heading into the hallway. Two closed doors faced him in one direction, the light from the kitchen in the other. He should probably have gone back, but he also knew he might not get another chance. He at least wanted to check out the bedroom, if he could.
So, would it be door number one, or door number two?
The door on the right wasn't the bedroom, after all, but an office. Meg had a nice computer: a Mac, which kind of figured. Byers was mostly a Mac guy.
A set of shelves in one corner contained a bunch of girly knicknacks and framed photographs. One of the pictures caught his eye: a group of college kids (in varying states of undress) jumping off a large rock into the ocean. It took him almost a full minute to realize that the skinny, bare-chested kid in the middle was Byers.
"That one's always been my favorite," Meg said from behind him.
Frohike jumped guiltily.
"Sorry," he said, putting the picture down. "I shouldn't snoop. Old habits."
"Go ahead," she said. "I don't mind. You must be curious, anyway. I know I was always curious about the two of you."
"That you?" he asked, pointing at the girl holding Byers' hand in the picture. She had her eyes closed so she couldn't see how far the fall was. She was laughing, though; so was Byers.
"Yes, it is. That became a yearly tradition for awhile, you know. Jumping off that stupid rock."
She just shrugged. Langly hovered in the doorway behind her.
"Way to back me up, buddy," Frohike said.
"What was I supposed to do? Send up a signal flare? I think she might have noticed."
He walked into the room and looked over Frohike's shoulder at the photo.
"Is that Byers? What a dork."
"Pots and kettles, Langly."
Meg sighed slightly. "Make yourselves comfortable. I baked cookies yesterday. I'll get some."
Langly brightened up considerably.
"Go ahead and snoop while I'm gone." She paused. "Frankly, I'm a little surprised you didn't just break in and do it while I was at work."
So was Frohike. He figured must be getting soft in his old age.
"All the important papers are in the file cabinet." She pointed at a cheap Ikea-style set of drawers. "Just to save you some time."
Langly headed for the files, while Frohike yanked open the closet door. Despite the slightly pleasant sense of clutter throughout the rest of the house, the closet was neatly ordered. Clearly-labeled plastic boxes were stacked one on top of the other. Now that was more what he would've expected from a woman who'd managed to put up with co-habituating with Byers for an extended period of time.
Something colorful on the top shelf caught his eye. It was one of those girly hat-box things, printed with abstract flowers. Inside he found old photos, videotapes, a stack of letters tied together with a hair ribbon. There was also a small cream-colored envelope fastened with a rubber band. Wedding pictures. She'd kept them. After all the crap Byers had pulled (with a lot of help, he had to admit, from them), he was surprised the pictures hadn't wound up in a ritual cleansing bonfire in the backyard.The wedding appeared to have been small and done on the cheap, but otherwise it looked like your typical white, middle class affair: the photos included several different angles of a stiff, frosted layer cake that had probably cost too much and tasted like cardboard held together by paste; a black and white shot of Meg, in a plain ivory wedding dress, standing next to Byers, who was wearing a formal suit, looking impossibly young and too skinny, with truly terrible early '90s hair; a candid of Byers taking a slug from a hip flask offered to him by an equally dorky guy in a matching grey suit; another candid of a woman, who must have been Byers' mom, dabbing at her eye with a handkerchief.
Byers' dad, though, was conspicuous by his absence. Frohike knew they'd been on the outs by that point, but Byers had never mentioned that dear old dad had ditched out on the wedding.
"I don't think you're going to find anything incriminating in there, unless you count the way I wore my hair in 1983," Meg said, coming back into the room with a plate of peanut butter
cookies and indicating the open box on the floor. "John would probably be embarrassed if he knew I still had all that stuff..."
"I don't know if embarrassed is exactly the word I would use." Chagrined, maybe, he thought. A little shamed.
Langly grabbed two cookies and shot Meg a smile. "Awesome."
"I think I have John's senior class picture in there somewhere, if you're ever looking to blackmail him," she said. "I have three words for you: Flock. Of. Seagulls."
She took a seat on the floor beside Frohike and looked over his shoulder at the wedding photos.
"Oh. Yeah. I still have those, too."
"Sorry," he said, closing the folder and replacing the rubber band. "I was just curious, I guess, since our invitations got lost in the mail and all."
"It was fairly small. John didn't want a lot of people there." She almost sounded bitter, just a little bit. "Mostly just family."
"Except your father-in-law. He couldn't even make peace long enough to come to the wedding?"
"Actually, I'm not sure John invited him."
"He did, at least, sign the card that came with the wedding gift, so he's not as big a bastard as you're probably thinking." She offered Frohike the plate of cookies. "Bert and I always got along, you know. I actually think he might have done better with a daughter. He was never… entirely comfortable with John. There was so much pressure with a son. I think he sort of saw John as a legacy rather than a whole person."
"So when Byers met us and decided to drop out of polite society…"
"It didn't go over particularly well," she said.
"But you didn't mind."
Langly, still poking through the box, had picked up an unlabeled video cassette and was staring at it.
"Who says I didn't?" Meg walked over and took the tape from Langly.
"You married him anyway."
"That doesn't mean I had any idea what I was getting into. I was twenty-five and so in love I couldn't see straight. You have to know what that's like."
Langly made a face that indicated he didn't, but Frohike said, "Oh, yeah, and I was never stupider. But I don't regret it."
"Regret's a funny thing," was all she said in response. Then, "I was hoping to get you two to talk about him, but I guess I should've known better."
"Bribing us with cookies? I knew you had an ulterior motive." He paused. "What do you want to know?"
"Everything," she said, with a slightly sad smile. "But I'll settle for how he's doing -- really."
Frohike shifted uncomfortably and exchanged a look with Langly.
"That good, huh?" she said.
"He's got... stuff going on, you know," Langly offered unhelpfully.
"Including a potential indictment under the Patriot Act." She picked up a cookie of her own and took a bite.
"You think they'll really do it?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. My instincts say they won't. They don't really want John, they want this Yves woman you told me about. But if they can't get the information they want, they might settle for the little fish."
"We aren't any kind of fish," Langly said. "We haven't even seen Yves in over a year."
Meg had a much better poker face than her former husband, but Frohike considered himself a pretty good judge of when people were lying -- even by omission. There was a flicker of something across her expression, a twitch -- maybe a half a second's reaction, maybe not even that -- but it was there, and the implication was clear enough. It wasn't just blind luck that the Feds picked up Byers but not them. He knew something about Yves. She'd contacted him, or possibly the other way around.
Damn it, he thought. What had Byers gotten himself into?
Yves kept a virtual eye, for a variety of reasons, on the FBI's counterterrorism task force. A few months back, she'd set up a script that tracked federal warrants being issued under the Patriot Act. So far her own name had yet to show up.
But unless there was more than one John F. Byers in the greater Washington D.C. area, they were in very big trouble indeed.
This scenario (among, if she was honest with herself, more personal considerations) was exactly the reason she'd chosen to drop out of sight in the first place. She had always worked resolutely alone. Allies and associates meant nothing but trouble; they could betray you for more money or trade their testimony for a sweet deal. But somehow, inexplicably, from the moment Melvin Frohike walked in and asked her to help him stop a jetliner crashing into the World Trade Center, she'd been a goner. It was still hard to think about that night. Whenever she tried, she wound up seeing a sunny Tuesday morning instead, somehow superimposing the two events in her memory. Maybe she felt like she ought to have been able to stop them both.
At any rate, that had been the moment she'd lost her status as 'mysterious loner.' She hadn't even noticed it at first -- or maybe she had, but the prospect of some actual human attachments had simply been too appealing after so long. As exasperating as they could be (and as often as she'd been driven to consider justifiable homicide), they were good men and she'd secretly come to like them.
Miami, though, had ruined everything.
Of course, even Miami wouldn't have been irreparable if not for 9/11. After the attacks, Yves found herself actually afraid, for the first time in very long while. She was still afraid, although the reasons for her fears had evolved over the past months. She could hardly leave the U.S. -- that was completely out of the question -- but she was also afraid to stay. So, not knowing what else to do, she hid.
When Byers contacted her, she'd almost been relieved.
Now, of course, she'd managed to get him arrested, which meant his welfare was her responsibility. Langly and Frohike would never actually tell her what was happening. So, instead, she was planning to eavesdrop on them.
If they were really as paranoid as they fancied themselves, she would never have been able to pull it off once, let alone several times. They'd gotten comfortable in their little bat-cave, reliant on their patrons at the FBI. They took risks they shouldn't, acted without regard for their personal safety, and, most importantly, trusted people they had no business trusting.
Like, just for example, her.
She parked her rented Chevrolet near the mouth of an alley where she could see anyone who entered or left their offices but, hopefully, they couldn't see her.
And then she waited.
No lights were visible from inside the warehouse, but she knew they were there. The VW was parked out front, alongside another vehicle that she suspected (and hoped) was Jimmy's. Her suspicions were confirmed when, after an hour or so, Jimmy emerged from the office, twirling his keys, and headed for the second car.
It must have been new, a shiny toy that he clearly hadn't had for very long, judging by the way he slowed down to look it over appreciatively before getting behind the wheel. She turned her own key in the ignition and got ready to follow him.
Jimmy really was, despite the fact that it bothered her somehow to admit it, the weak link in their security.
She followed him to the Whole Foods in Silver Spring. There was a very good chance he might spot her, but it was a calculated risk and one she had to take if she wanted to find out what was going on with Byers.
Yves waited until Jimmy had safely passed through the automatic double doors into the market, then took out a tiny, electronic lock-pick -- the sort favored by car thieves. It took a few tries to find the right frequency, but after a minute she had the doors to his car unlocked.
She slid behind the wheel, opened the compartment above the rearview, clearly designed to hold sunglasses, and pressed a tiny listening device into the back corner. A back-up, just in case Plan A didn't work.
She put the car to rights again, slid on a pair of dark glasses even though it was past dusk, and walked into the store.
She spotted Jimmy near the deli case. He seemed to be putting a lot of care into which foods he selected for some reason she couldn't fathom, given the well-established take-out and burger joint tastes of the men he was shopping for.
It was near closing so only one register was still open. She waited until the only other customers in the store had paid and the cashier wandered off to start cleaning up, then reached over the register and grabbed a 100 recycled paper bag. She slid a wafer-thin device underneath the flap below the handle and pressed the adhesive home. Once that was done and the bag was replaced, she ought to have left immediately. Lingering only increased the chance he would spot her.
She hung around anyway, hiding behind the bottled water machine and waiting for him to finish his shopping.
The college girl at the Jamba Juice counter took an inordinately long time getting his order right and flirted conspicuously with him as he dithered over whether to add a shot of wheatgrass to his orange-carrot juice. When the drinks were finally ready, the girl wrote her phone number on a napkin and handed it over along with the order.
She was far too young for him. Even Jimmy had to realize that.
If he did, though, he didn't give any sign of it, just tucked her phone number into a pocket of his jeans and smiled at her on his way to go pay.
Yves took that as her cue to exit.
Back in the car, she turned on the engine and fired up the laptop, checking the listening devices. Jimmy did indeed have both of them, and both worked. He was driving, singing along to Radiohead on the car stereo and drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. When he got back to the office, he parked and took the bugged grocery bag inside with him.
They would do a sweep eventually and find the device, but hopefully not until after she had the information she needed. Yves parked a block or so away and settled in to listen.
Jimmy set the bag down and began handing out food. Voices crackled to life around him.
"What the hell is this, Jimmy?" Langly snapped.
"It's an energy-boost smoothie. It has gingko biloba in it... You know, it helps you think clearer..."
"What a load of-"
"Good job, Jimmy," Frohike cut in. "It's real tasty. I haven't had carrot juice... well, ever."
"I got soup, too, and sprouted wheat bread."
Langly made a noise that sounded, even through the laptop's tinny speakers, distinctly like gagging.
"It's, you know, brain food," Jimmy offered, but no one appeared to be listening. "You guys said we needed to think hard and figure out how to help Byers..."
"Great idea, Jimmy," Frohike said, distractedly, the sound of tapping keys in the background.
"You really think the ex will be able to get him out of there?" Langly said, clearly ignoring Jimmy and attempting to change the subject.
"Byers seems to think she's a good lawyer." There was a pause. "Of course, she's probably the only lawyer he knows."
"She's also the only lawyer who'll represent him for free."
"If it's about money..." That was Jimmy, of course.
"Nah, kid. Don't jump the gun and bring in Johnny Cochrane yet. We'll see how Meg does first."
"But she's a good person? You trust her?"
"We don't really know her. When they were married, Byers tried to keep her away from all our craziness as much as possible... Don't look worried. We had a chat with her last night. She seems solid."
Byers had been married? That was news to Yves. But, then, she'd never done in-depth background checks on any of them. A sloppy decision maybe, but at first they'd seemed so comical, and then later... well, she'd just figured that they were mostly harmless. After all, they'd had plenty of chances to betray her and hadn't done it.
In light of the current circumstances, though, maybe it was time to get some more information.
As it turned out, it wasn't at all hard to find.
Megan Halliday, currently a member of the D.C. Bar Association, had married a John F. Byers in June of 1991. She filed for divorce, citing 'irreconcilable differences' in December of 1994.
All that information was freely available via Google. It didn't take much more digging to pull her credit report, 2001 tax return and a VIN number on her car from the Maryland DMV. She worked for Legal Aid, gave money regularly to Doctors Without Borders and drove a 2001 Toyota Prius -- Maryland license plate HPG-W97.
A bleeding heart do-gooder. How unsurprising.
She also had a 20-year fixed mortgage on a two-bedroom house in the more fashionable historic end of Takoma Park and, apparently, lived alone.
Yves made it across town in under ten minutes, only to discover that the Byers' ex-wife wasn't actually home yet.
The only thing for it, of course, was to pick the lock and lurk inside until she did come home.
Around ten, a blue Audi pulled into the driveway, and a woman got out. She leaned down and said something to the driver, but Yves couldn't hear anything from her spot near the living room window.
Meg Halliday was attractive but not remarkable, a classic nice girl type. Yves also noted that she had a good three inches and at least twenty pounds on Meg, if it came down to a tussle. She doubted it would, but anything could happen.
The front door opened, but Yves didn't move, just let the curtain fall back into place, blocking the light from the street lamp and plunging the room back into shadow.
Walking into the living room, Meg kicked off her shoes and turned on the answering machine.
"Meg, it's Jenna. Guess who came to visit me today... Two very nice men from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You weren't kidding about your ex, were you? He looks so deceptively average... Luckily, I don't appear to have actually broken any laws, and I never met any of the other people involved so they promptly lost interest in me. Anyway, I thought you'd want to know. Give me a call this week. I can only imagine that you need a drink."
"I could use a drink," Yves said smoothly, standing up and switching on a table lamp.
"What the hell?" Meg spun around. "Who are you?"
"Just relax. I'm not going to hurt you. I need to talk to you about Byers."
"His friends are outside, so if you're here to-"
"No, they aren't. If they were here before, they aren't now and haven't been for awhile. But I said I wasn't going to hurt you." Yves moved over and sat down on the sofa. "I just want to ask you some questions."
"So you broke into my house?"
"I didn't imagine you'd let me in if I just asked nicely."
"That makes the second time this week," she said, looking defeated, and dropped heavily into an armchair. "I have got to get an alarm system."
"That's probably not a bad idea," Yves said, amused.
"You're her, aren't you? Yves Harlow, or whatever your name happens to be at the moment."
"Yes, I am."
"The FBI thinks you're a terrorist," she said bluntly. "They think John's been helping you."
So that was it. It was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. She wondered who'd put them onto her. The timing was suspicious enough that it probably wasn't a coincidence.
"Look, do you want to tell me what's going on here?" Meg said. "I'm being watched, people are breaking and entering all over the place..."
"I just want to make sure Byers is all right," Yves said, choosing her words carefully.
"And to find out exactly what the FBI knows about you."
"There's that too, yes."
"I don't know much," Meg said, "and even if I did know something, I'm not sure how much I ought to tell you."
"Why don't you just start with whatever Byers has told you about me."
"Not much." She shrugged. "His friend Melvin says you're a computer hacker."
"He hasn't told you anything? But you're his lawyer."
"You'd be surprised the things clients don't tell their lawyers," she paused, then said a little wryly, "or the things husbands don't tell their wives. Look, he would never talk to me about this part of his life before. Frankly, I'm surprised he asked for my help this time."
Yves sighed. That sort of wrong-headed chivalry seemed perfectly in-character for Byers.
"If it helps at all, I don't think the FBI knows exactly why they want you. Your name is probably on some list and so they're checking you out for any ties to terrorists."
"I could always go to the FBI myself..."
Meg gave her a long, scrutinizing look. "No. I don't think John would want you to do that."
Yves let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding, embarrassingly relieved that it wasn't going to come that, at least not yet.
"But I do want to help-" Yves began.
"If I'm any good at my job, you won't have to." Meg rubbed at her eyes, looking suddenly very tired. "If I'm not..." She let the words hang on the air for a moment before she shrugged. "Besides, there's no guarantee that turning yourself in will do anything to help John. It might actually make things worse for him."
Yves nodded thoughtfully. She'd considered that, of course, but felt -- irrationally, perhaps -- that she had to do something.
"Just tell me one thing..." Meg said, breaking the silence. "What is John working with you on? He seemed reluctant to tell me, but it might make a difference."
Yves was pretty reluctant herself, especially considering that this was his ex-wife. But Meg had agreed to help him out, so presumably their relationship was amicable enough.
"He's looking for someone, a woman, who disappeared in New York on 11 September." She hesitated. "It's a personal thing. Or, at least, mostly personal. It doesn't really have anything to do with me or his work, not directly. I just said I'd help."
"I see. Okay, that helps." Meg's expression was entirely neutral. "Did either of you break any laws on this personal errand of his?"
"Quite a few I'd imagine."
"In that case, the less I know the better." She reached over a grabbed a notepad out of her bag, jotting down a few things.
Yves watched her curiously for a few moments.
Meg looked up from her notes and caught Yves staring. "What?"
She shook her head. "I just- I have trouble imagining him married."
"Funny," Meg said sharply, shutting the notebook with a snap. "So did he."
As dreams went, Jimmy's were fairly mundane.
Often, they were memories, mostly of football and girls, of the winning point after the touchdown and a redhead named Rebecca. Sometimes he dreamed his childhood, too. Like Thanksgiving back when there'd still been enough family to fill all the seats at the dining room table, or the days when he'd bring his dad slices of homemade bread, wrapped in wax paper and thick with butter and preserves, in the office behind the church.
When he had nightmares, those were mostly memories, too: getting lost in the Stewarts' field of sweet corn when he was six, waiting down in the cellar while tornadoes tore through the town outside, the day his dad died, a lone helmet lying on the Astroturf and exactly what the angle of a
broken neck looked like.
(Though, lately, he'd been having this nightmare about radioactive sharks that he couldn't make heads nor tails of.)
And sometimes, maybe more often than he really liked to admit, he dreamed about Yves. They weren't nice dreams, not usually. He dreamed a lot about the last time he'd seen her. He also dreamed about where she might be these days and what might be happening to her.
Something usually triggered those dreams, something that jogged a memory or made him wonder whether she was all right. So it made sense that he would dream about her that night. Earlier, he could have sworn he smelled her perfume. How he knew it was hers was up for debate. His knowledge of her was spotty, intentionally incomplete, a strange mix of intimate and impersonal.
He knew that her skin tasted like sandalwood and cocoa butter, and what the rhythm of her breath sounded like when she cried, but he didn't know how old she was or her real first name.
She'd been crying in his dream, too, asking him please not to do something but refusing to tell him what.
"Yves, please. I don't understand."
"No, you don't," she said, and that's when he'd woken up.
He woke up on one of the ratty couches in the Lone Gunman office, and couldn't quite remember where he was for a minute. The phone was ringing, loudly, which must have been what woke him. He hauled himself up off the couch and went to answer it.
Halfway there, Langly intercepted him.
"Don't," he said, emerging from a back bedroom, clad only in a t-shirt and boxer shorts printed with the logo of one of the many reincarnations of the Star Trek series. "I'll get it. It might be important.
"Lone Gunman... Oh, hey. Yeah, this is Langly. Seriously? That's good news. I'll tell Frohike. You need us to go pick him up? Oh, okay. So later today probably? Hey, good work."
Frohike wandered out into the office as Langly hung up.
"Good news, man."
"If you tell me that you just saved money on car insurance, I'm gonna pop you one," Frohike said crankily, rubbing his eyes with both fists and heading for the coffeemaker.
"The ex is getting Byers sprung from the big house."
"In English this time?"
Langly wadded up a piece of notepaper and threw it at him. "Meg called. She did some lawyer-fu and got a judge to agree to make the feds release Byers."
"That's great news!" Jimmy said, beating Frohike to the coffee and pouring three cups: one black, one with cream and two sugars, and one with skim milk.
"She said she's coming by here first..."
"Well," Langly went slightly pink in the cheeks, "I just thought maybe we should clean up a little."
He gestured at the take-out boxes and empty cans of Mountain Dew littering the tables. Bags of dirty laundry were stacked by the door for their weekly laundry run. A Playboy lay face down next to one of the keyboards.
"I'll do it," Jimmy offered.
Langly and Frohike both started to protest at once.
"And I promise not to throw anything away without running it past you guys first, okay?"
"All right, Jimmy," Frohike said, giving in. "I'll make us all some breakfast."
Byers' ex-wife showed up a few hours later, while Jimmy was hauling laundry bags out to the van. He caught her hesitating on the steps when he opened the door, the expression on her face unreadable and one foot stepping backward as though she might just leave without coming inside.
"Uh, hi," he said, shifting his grip on the laundry.
She was the tiny sort of girl he probably would have picked up and carried around under one arm in high school, just to prove he could.
She blinked up at him. "Hi. I think maybe I, uh, have the wrong place..."
Her gaze shifted to the number on the warehouse door.
"If you're looking for The Lone Gunman, you're in the right spot. You're Meg, right?"
"I guess I am in the right place then," she said, giving Jimmy a second look.
"Here, let me toss this in the car and I'll let you in."
Jimmy sprinted back up the steps, punched in the security code and held the door for her.
"It's so great that you-" he began, but a voice from inside cut him off.
"Jimmy, what are you- Oh, it's you," Langly said, squinting at Meg through his glasses. "I didn't recognize you at first."
"Yeah. Well, it's been awhile," Meg said dryly, glancing around the office. "Wow, I don't think I've ever gotten to come inside the clubhouse before."
"Security, you know. We don't exactly give hourly tours."
She toyed with the corner of a mock-up of the upcoming issue. The headline read, 'Secret CIA Planes Kidnap Terror Suspects.'
"Uh-huh." She was still looking around, as though trying to memorize what the inside of the place looked like.
"Hey, good job, kid," Frohike said. "We owe you big time."
"Thanks. But getting John released doesn't mean you guys are out of trouble yet, you know."
"Trouble's practically our middle name," Frohike said with a grin.
"I don't doubt it."
"So, was there something else you needed from us?"
Meg hesitated, then said, "Actually, no. To be honest, I just really wanted to see this place -- and the chances of that happening on a day when John's not behind bars are pretty slim."
But Jimmy had the distinct sense she wasn't telling the entire truth.
"So, what should our next move be?"
"For the moment, I go get John and you guys stay here and try your best not to get into any more trouble."
"Oh, yeah," Frohike said. "That's worked so well for us in the past."
"Well, I did say 'try'."
"We'll give it our best shot. You want coffee?"
"Uh, sure. Why not?" she said, taking a seat.
Frohike grabbed Langly by the sleeve and hauled him over to the coffeemaker, where the two spoke in hushed voices while Frohike rinsed off a stack of dirty mugs.
"I'm Jimmy, by the way," Jimmy said, sitting down and extending a hand to Meg. "I don't whether Byers has mentioned-"
"Sorry. He hasn't." She smiled at him, shaking his hand. "But then, he probably hasn't told you anything about me, either. That's kind of his thing. It doesn't mean he doesn't care."
"He doesn't really talk about that stuff. Maybe with Frohike sometimes, if there's beer…"
"What stuff? Girls?" She glanced around the office again. "I guess this really is the clubhouse, isn't it? 'No girls allowed.'"
He wasn't entirely sure whether she was joking or not, but he said, "Aw, we let girls in sometimes."
She laughed softly, and he relaxed. He'd guessed right.
"Oh, I bet all the girls come here to see you," she said, still laughing, and he felt himself blush a little bit. "How did you get mixed up in all of this, anyway?"
"The guys helped me out awhile back. I really appreciated what they were trying to do, how they were trying to help people. So I invested."
"Invested?" she said, looking surprised. "Like real money?"
"Yeah. That's usually how it works, right?" he said, running a hand through his hair. He got the distinct sense she disapproved.
"How much money, exactly?"
"Well, I… uh, don't really know off the top of my head." Which was, of course, a total lie, but he somehow couldn't bring himself to say the amount out loud -- especially not to her.
After a minute, though, her face softened. "You have a lawyer, don't you, Jimmy? And a financial planner?"
"And what did they say about this investment of yours?"
"That charities were a better tax write-off, and that magazines have a high rate of financial failure." He smiled back at her. "But I knew all of that already."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to insult you-"
"You didn't. Under different circumstances, Byers would probably have asked the same thing. He doesn't like to see people being exploited either." He paused. "Which I'm not, by the way. The guys have never accepted anything I didn't offer first."
She frowned, and he worried that he'd said something wrong.
"Are you all right?"
"Just remembering a lot of old baggage." She sighed. "And it seems like there are still just as many secrets. I'm not sure who I'm allowed to tell what."
"Byers told you not to tell us something?"
She hesitated. "Not exactly. There's just a lot of double-talk, which I guess shouldn't surprise me at all. And then there's this business with that woman-"
"Who? Susanne?" Jimmy didn't know much about that part of Byers' life. Just a name and some vague hints.
Meg frowned. "Is that what she's calling herself this week? She certainly fancies herself some sort of super-spy, doesn't she?"
Jimmy blinked. That didn't fit at all with what he'd heard about Susanne, but before he could ask, Meg was talking again.
"You know, I came here partly because I've always been curious. That wasn't a lie. But," she hesitated, "I also thought maybe I ought to ask… or tell… or, hell, I don't know."
She flopped back against the red velour sofa.
"You seem like a normal guy, Jimmy. How do you deal with all this?"
"Here you go, kid," Frohike interrupted, trotting over with a cup of hot coffee. "I couldn't remember how you take it so-"
"That's fine. Thanks." Meg took a sip, made a face, and surreptitiously set the cup on the arm of the sofa.
"I thought I'd buy dinner tonight," Jimmy said, looking first at Frohike, then back at Meg. "You know, to celebrate -- and to thank you for your help."
"You don't have to do that."
"I know. I want to."
"That's a good idea, Jimmy," Frohike said. "We'll chip in for the chow, though. You don't have to buy. How does Star Thai sound?"
"I was thinking maybe Chinese," Jimmy said. "Byers likes Chinese, not Thai."
"Because he doesn't like peanut sauce." Meg shook her head. "I'd forgotten that. You're a good friend, Jimmy. I hope he appreciates you."
Meg didn't exactly seem convinced of that, though.
"Yeah, yeah," Langly said. "We'll all have a big group hug once Byers gets home."
"I think that's my cue to leave," Meg said. "Don't worry. I'll bring him home in one piece, boys."
He never would have believed it, but after awhile even a federal interrogation got boring.
"Come on, Mr. Byers," Agent LeClaire was saying, "we can help you, if you'll just work with us."
She had dark circles under her eyes, her hair frizzing at the ends, and looked like she hadn't gotten much more sleep than Byers had.
"And I've told you... for going on, what?" He glanced at his watch. "Eleven hours now? That I don't have the information you want. You can keep asking, but I really don't know where Yves is or much of anything about her background."
He heard voices out in the corridor then, and the door swung open.
"Meg," he said, relieved. "Am I glad to see you."
"I think you'll be gladder to see this," she said, holding up a folded piece of blue paper and grinning at him. He had a sudden memory of her doing the same once with a backstage pass at a U2 concert.
"What's that?" LeClaire asked, warily.
"Oh, this?" She handed it over. "This is just the opinion of one Judge Judith Maxwell of the Fourth Circuit Court that you're holding my client illegally. Come on, John. We're leaving."
LeClaire looked to the doorway, but the agent standing behind Meg just shook his head.
They processed his paperwork quickly and brought out his personal effects. He sorted through the box, pulling out his cellphone, his wallet, his tie, his keys... Oh, damn it. They'd pulled the hard drive out of his laptop. Damn it. He knew better than to keep anything important on it, but still.
"Typical," Meg said, looking at the computer. "We can file a claim to get you reimbursed for the damage, but you're probably not getting any of your data back."
"It doesn't matter," he said. "I mean, I could definitely use the money, but there wasn't anything on the drive that isn't replaceable."
The sun was setting when they emerged from the building. Meg's tiny, aquamarine hybrid didn't have much in the way of leg room, even when he pushed the passenger's seat all the way back. Meg, of course, was five-foot-nothing in heels so it probably wasn't usually an issue.
"Sorry," she said, watching him struggle. "It's not just you. Jack completely refuses to ride in this car."
"How is Jack?" he said, fastening his seatbelt as she pulled out of the lot.
"None of your business. I thought we'd covered that?"
"You brought him up," he said, unbuttoning his shirt collar and pulling his tie from his coat pocket.
"In passing." She paused as she waited for the traffic signal to change. "You'll notice I haven't asked about your personal life at all."
She said it casually, but there was something in her tone that suggested she knew more than she was letting on.
That represented decidedly dangerous territory, so he decided to change the subject. "Thank you for coming to get me, by the way."
"There's no need for that."
"Well, thanks anyway."
"Like I said, no need. Just for the record, though," Meg said, "this makes twice now that I've managed to get you out of jail."
"Didn't you promise to let me rot there, after the first time?" he said, attempting to fasten his tie by the light of the vanity mirror.
"Things were different then. For one thing, back then you told me you were off visiting Carol when you were actually in an abandoned warehouse in Philadelphia hacking into a government mainframe."
"To be fair, they didn't arrest us for hacking, just breaking and entering -- and they wound up dropping those charges anyway."
"Which might have made a difference if that had actually been what I was angry about."
"What was I supposed to do?" he asked, feeling defensive despite the fact that she'd made the comment lightly. It had been a long time since he'd found himself in this particular situation. Somehow, despite all the time and distance in between, Meg managed to make him feel like as big a jerk as ever. "I couldn't just announce to you that we were about to commit a crime."
"Because-" Because it would have put her in danger, because she could have been arrested right along with him, because he just plain hadn't wanted her to see that side of him. "Just because," he finished."
"Well, it's nice to see that some things haven't changed," she said, never taking her eyes off the road.
"Apparently not," he snapped. "You still resent my work, for instance."
"Resent it? Is that what you really think?" she said, starting to lose her cool a little.
"Well, what else would you call it?"
"Stop," she said. "This isn't going to get us anywhere. We've been doing so well. For the first time in years, I feel like we might be able to really be friends again. I don't want to jeopardize that by bring up old baggage-"
Of course. So she got to be the bigger person, the mature one. This was so typical. It was as though the past eight years hadn't even happened.
"Clearly, it isn't so old that we can't still fight about it."
"We're not fighting. I don't want to fight." She shot a look over at him, as though wondering how the conversation had gone so suddenly and spectacularly wrong.
They drove in total silence for a few minutes. Meg reached over to turn up the radio. He put a hand out and stopped her.
"You never believed, Meg. You never believed in the work, which meant you never believed in me."
"That does it," she said, and abruptly pulled over to the side of the road. "We should have hashed this out a long time ago, but you're the one who never seemed to want to. You've been keeping me at a safe distance for years. So, fine. Now you want to talk about it? Have at it."
And very suddenly he found that he didn't have anything to say.
"Go on. I'm waiting. You were saying that I never believed in you."
"Because it isn't true. I believed in you. I believed that you were a good man, that you were brave and that you loved me." She put the car in neutral and turned to look at him. "It was never that I didn't believe in you. It wasn't even that I didn't believe in what you were trying to do, John. I know there's government corruption and injustice, that there are powerful people who game the system or just ignore it altogether because they think the law doesn't apply to them. I see it everyday. I agree with you there. What I didn't agree with- what I don't agree with is your methods."
He opened his mouth to protest, but she held up a hand.
"That's not even really what I mean." She took a breath, as though choosing her words carefully. "Civil disobedience, outright dissent, those things are valuable. But they lose their effectiveness if that's all you ever do. I don't disagree with your mission; I disagree with how you pick your battles."
He was silent for a long moment, then said, "Why didn't you tell me all this eight years ago?"
"I didn't know I felt it, at least not clearly enough to put it into words. I was too hurt. All I knew for sure was that the only person I'd ever really loved valued something else far more than he'd ever value me. I couldn't look past that to see the logical reasons why you did what you did, or why I thought it was wrong." She shrugged. "Also? I thought there was someone else."
"There kind of was," he admitted. "Not the way you probably thought, just an idea of someone else. A memory, really. But, either way, it wasn't fair to you."
"This woman you're looking for?"
He blinked in surprise. "How exactly do you know about that?"
"I had a chat with your friend Hayat, or Yves, or whatever her name is." At his surprised look, she said, "She contacted me. I got the distinct impression she was worried you were going to get shipped down to Guantanamo Bay because of her. She's... an interesting case."
"And she told you about Susanne?"
"Not details. Just that there was someone you were trying to find, a woman, that it had something to do with 9/11. I don't get the impression that you're one of those nut-jobs who thinks George Bush planned and executed the attacks via the CIA, so I filled in the blanks myself. I could still be wrong, though."
"About Susanne? Or that I'm a nut-job?"
"The jury's still out on both counts." But she smiled a little when she said it. He tried to smile back.
The lights from passing cars went arcing across the interior of the car, reflecting in the mirrors. Something soft and acoustic played on the radio. Meg turned and looked out the window, while he watched her and considered.
"I met her in 1989," he said, after a minute of indecision. "The circumstances of our meeting, the things that happened to her... It changed my entire perspective."
"You were lovers?"
Meg turned back to look at him, chewing slightly on her lower lip, something she'd done when they were younger -- before an exam, after a fight with her mom. Back then, it was how he'd been able to tell when she was really upset.
"Not until years later: '99. I saw her again in Las Vegas."
Meg stopped chewing on her lip.
"I never cheated..." he began.
"It's all right. I didn't really think you had." She'd gotten better at lying, over the years. He could still tell, though.
"I think we've talked enough for one night, don't you? Besides, all this honesty is making me hungry, and you must be starved." She smiled at him again, but there were lines of exhaustion around her eyes that hadn't been there before. "What do you say? Let me buy you a cinnamon roll and some coffee?"
"Sure. But this time, I'll buy."
"Fascists," Langly said, staring at the gutted laptop.
Byers walked over to the worktable, rubbing a towel over his damp hair. The first thing he'd done upon returning home was to thrust his computer into Langly's hands; the second had been to take a shower.
"Is it as bad as it looks?"
"Just about." Langly squinted at the gaping hole where the hard drive had previously been. "We'll have to find a new one somehow, and that won't exactly be cheap."
"Meg said she thinks she can get some compensation from the FBI…"
"Oh, sure," Frohike said. "That'll happen… about two weeks from never."
"Where is Meg?" Jimmy said, from his seat on the couch. "I told her I'd buy dinner."
Byers turned to face him. "You asked my ex-wife out for dinner?"
"Relax," Frohike said. "We were all gonna go to dinner. Which, by the way, I think is still an excellent plan. I'm starving."
"Did you guys spend a lot of time with her while I was in custody?" Byers asked.
"Your wife can bake, man," was all Langly said, followed by a noncommittal shrug.
"Should I even…?"
"Probably not, man."
That was likely for the better. As was the fact that she wouldn't be joining them for dinner. He and Meg had gone through the drive-thru at Kripsy Kreme on the way back to Takoma Park, Meg ordering two decaf coffees and a maple cinnamon bun.
"Try not to get frosting on the seat, okay?"
He had, but she'd had the good grace not to mention it. Much.
They'd also managed to make it the rest of the way home without getting into another fight, much to his relief.
"I think-" he said when they were finally parked out front of the warehouse, "I think it's better if you don't come in."
Meg sighed and made a face that indicated she wasn't especially surprised.
"The others... Langly, Frohike... they don't know about Yves, and I'd like to keep it that way. It's a complicated situation..."
"When isn't it?" She frowned more deeply. "John-"
"It's not that I don't trust-," he began quickly.
She looked away and unlocked the doors. "I'm not sure you trust anybody, John. At least, you haven't for a long time now." Then her expression softened a little. "But thanks for the coffee."
"Thanks for getting me out of federal custody."
"Any time." She still wasn't quite looking at him. "And by 'any time,' I mean never again. Try not to get caught again, okay?"
"Or you'll let me rot there next time?"
She sighed heavily. "I think maybe there's a limit to how involved I can be in your life."
"So… what?" he said, opening the door and getting out. "Lunch is fine, but no violations of the Patriot Act?"
"Pretty much," she said. "I'll call you soon, John. Please try to stay safe, all right?"
She'd driven off before he could reply, though.
And, apparently, while he'd been gone she'd somehow gotten conned into providing Langly with baked goods.
"Peanut butter," Langly said, and Byers realized he was staring.
"The cookies. They were peanut butter." He returned his gaze to the computer screen in front of him. "Oh, hey! Frohike, come take a look at this. I told you I was right."
"Right about what?"
"Somebody hacked into the Maryland DMV yesterday, and guess whose VIN number and driving record they pulled?"
"The Baltimore Ravens," Frohike snapped, leaning over Langly's shoulder. "How the hell should I know?"
"Meg Halliday," Langly said, turning the monitor around so Byers could see as well. "I told you there was a reason she showed up here earlier. Something spooked her."
"Yeah," Frohike said. "Something or someone."
"What are you two talking about?" Byers asked.
"Your ex paid us a courtesy call before she went to get you. We figured it wasn't our sparkling personalities alone that attracted her." He turned to Frohike again. "I told you that Yves turning back up would mean trouble."
"If it was Yves," Frohike said. "We're just speculating."
"The hack had her fingerprints all over it. She's at the bottom of this, man. I'm not sure how or why, but she is. What did the feds say, Byers? Did they ask you if you'd seen her?"
"Yves is back?" Jimmy said, looking up suddenly.
"No," Byers said, a little too sharply.
"What I mean," Byers amended, "is that we don't know for sure whether she's back. Some people seem to think she is."
"Because the evidence is pointing pretty obviously in that direction," Langly said. "Unless you know someone else who routinely hacks into the FBI's counterterrorism database."
"Sure. Lots of people."
Langly made a face. "I mean successfully. And who walks away afterward without leaving a trace behind."
"Wait," Jimmy said, "what are you guys saying-?"
"We don't know anything yet, Jimmy," Frohike began, while Langly started running through all the indications they'd had that Yves was currently somewhere in the D.C. metro area.
Byers, for his part, decided to take advantage of the distraction to slip away.
But before he could make his escape, Frohike grabbed him by the elbow and manhandled him into a quiet corner of the office.
"Not so fast. You know something about this, don't you, buddy?"
"What makes you say that?"
"You've been all squirrelly lately." Frohike paused. "Plus, your ex is a good liar… probably an essential skill for a lawyer… but she's not good enough to fool me. Something's up. So spill."
Byers sighed. He was really too tired to keep fighting this, and, besides, he'd already been through one interrogation on Yves' behalf. He really didn't feel like he owed her another.
"All right. Fine. Yves is back in D.C., and, yes, the FBI is looking for her. But if you're asking me if I know why they want her, the answer is no."
"And you didn't share this with the rest of us why?"
He shrugged. "I needed some information from her. One of the conditions was that I not tell anyone I'd seen her."
"Damn it, Byers-"
"I made a judgment call. Maybe it was a bad one, but I made it and it's done."
Frohike considered for a long moment, then said, "Should we tell Jimmy?"
"I promised I wouldn't. Yves was… especially vehement on that point."
"Well, she would be, wouldn't she?"
Byers frowned. "What makes you say that? Not that I disagree, but…"
"Something happened down in Miami. It doesn't take a genius."
No, it really didn't.
"By the way," Fohike said, finally letting go of Byers' sleeve, "I like the wife. So does Langly. You should have brought her around more, back before… you know."
Byers edged toward the door to his room. "You think that spending quality time with you two would have saved my marriage?"
Frohike made a noncommittal face. "It's not like it could have made things too much worse. Could it?"
Byers just closed the door without answering.
He sat down on the bed, the second-hand mattress sagging under his weight. While he'd been in interrogation, his cell phone had gone dead, its LCD face blank and silver. He plugged the phone into the wall and waited while it charged to life again.
They lived mostly off the grid, thanks in large part to Langly's hacking skills, but the cell phone had been one modern convenience Byers refused to give up. It was actually in his name with a listed number, despite the other's protests.
The phone chirped a voice mail alert. He had four new messages, though two of those were from Langly from the previous morning. There was a message from his dad, something of a rarity, and he made a note to call him back the next day.
Reg Moncrieff had left a message as well. "I have something I think you might like to take a look at. Give me a call back when you get this. It might not be anything important, but it seemed... Well, just give me a call."
Byers hit reply and waited while the phone rang. An unfamiliar voice answered.
"No. This is Detective Mortenson of the Prince William County Police. Who is this?"
"I'm- My name is John Byers. I'm an associate of Reg Moncrieff's. Is, uh, everything all right?"
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Byers. Does Dr. Moncrieff have any family in the area?"
"Not that I know of. I believe his ex-wife lives in Boston."
"We're going to need someone to come down to the station..."
"I can call his research assistant. I know they're close. From what I've seen, she's probably the closest thing he has to family." He paused. "I take it the situation is bad?"
The detective sighed heavily. "Yeah, it's bad. I'm sorry."
Not half as sorry as Byers was.
Kate the grad student was already there when they arrived, white-faced and holding onto a styrofoam cup of police station coffee so tightly her knuckles blanched. Frohike spotted her from across the waiting area as they entered and nudged the other two in her direction. Byers' call must have gotten her out of bed because her hair was pulled messily back and she had puffy circles under her eyes. She was wearing faded blue jeans and an oversize sweatshirt that read "Our Drinking Team Has A Football Problem."
Frohike took a seat across from her; so did Langly. But Byers went over and put a hand on her shoulder. She shook it off.
"Don't be nice to me yet," she said, putting her coffee cup down. "I'll just wind up crying, or something equally embarrassing. Thank you for coming, though. I'm not sure I could deal with this by myself, and he didn't-" She stopped and sucked in a breath. "He didn't really have anyone else."
"I'm so sorry," Byers said, sitting down beside her. "I hope we can help."
She turned to look at him, profiled in the precinct's fluorescent light, and Frohike had that sense of deja vu again, strong as it had been days earlier in Moncrieff's office.
"You've already helped," she said. "Thank you."
"We want to do whatever we can," Byers continued. "Not just to find out who did this, but to ensure your safety as well."
"You think he was killed for a reason," Kate said, her voice flat, as though she was stating a known fact. Just a few days earlier she'd been arguing with them in Moncrieff's office, insisting that the government wasn't capable of pulling off any sort of complex conspiracy. "A reason beyond just a simple robbery."
"It's too soon to be sure of anything." Byers paused. "But the timing is suspicious."
Frohike half-expected her to protest, but instead she just watched Byers with that somehow, somewhere familiar look of concentration on her face.
"This happen to you guys a lot?"
"Not a lot. But there is definitely precedent."
Precedent? Oh, yeah. Off the top of his head, Frohike could list at least ten dead bodies that the three of them shared some measure of responsibility for. Not all of them had stayed dead, but that was an entirely different story.
"Well," she said with something like grim humor, "now you tell us."
Funny how a little spilled blood tended to make people into true believers.
The cops said it looked like Moncrieff had come home and interrupted a burglary in-progress -- as if that wasn't the oldest BS story in the world. He'd taken two to the chest, sloppy and badly-aimed. Or, at least, someone had wanted to leave the impression that he'd been shot in a panic, by someone who didn't know much about how to handle a gun. Frohike wasn't buying it, though.
"Katherine Grey?" someone called.
"I'm Detective Mortenson."
"Detective," Byers said, standing up and extending a hand in greeting. "I'm John Byers. We spoke on the phone."
"Oh, yeah. Right. I'm sorry for your loss, Mr. Byers, Ms. Grey. I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you some questions. I understand that this is difficult..."
"No," Kate said. "Ask anything. I understand you have to do your job."
"He have any family?"
"No, there wasn't anyone," she said.
One look at Byers' face showed that the words hit a little too close to home. After all, it could just as easily have been any of them.
"In that case, there's the question of making a positive I.D.-"
Frohike wouldn't have thought Kate could get much paler, but she did.
"Come on," Langly said. "Cut her some slack."
"Sorry," the cop said, not looking particularly sorry. "It would be better to do this now."
"I'll go," Byers said, "if that's all right."
The cop nodded and Byers followed him. Kate sat back down and wouldn't look at either of them for a couple minutes.
She really reminded Frohike of someone: her mannerisms, her body language, the inflection in her voice when she'd thanked them for being willing to come down there. He'd only vaguely noticed it before, but now the similarity was remarkable. There was something tantalizingly familiar about her slight hardness, about the resignation in her manner. He just couldn't quite place where he'd seen it before.
Byers came back after about ten minutes, looking a little shaken, but he actually covered it fairly well. For Byers, anyway.
"I don't suppose," Kate said, that edge still in her voice, "that there's any chance this is all a horrible mistake?"
"No, there isn't."
She blinked a couple times, then said, "Okay. Now you can be nice to me."
Byers sat down beside her, putting a hand on the back of her chair.
"Shouldn't someone call his ex-wife and let her know what happened?" Frohike suggested.
"Gina?" Kate said, in the same tone of voice that most people used for the word 'terrorists'. "I doubt she'd care. My general -- and admittedly biased -- impression is that she's a hellish psycho bitch who only cares about herself. She left him for one of the assistant professors he worked with at Cornell -- and when she left, she actually told him she didn't care whether he lived or died. So I'm guessing that probably still holds true. Let the cops call her. Hopefully, it will sting a little -- but I doubt it."
"Meow," Langly said, and Kate shot him a dark look. "What? Too soon?"
"Way to soon, you jackass," Frohike said, grabbing him by the jacket and pulling him over to the coffeemaker.
Byers aimed a displeased frown in their direction and sat back down with Kate.
"Nice, Langly. Real nice."
"Emotions and stuff make me uncomfortable," he said, not looking contrite in the slightest. "You know that about me. If you want appropriate emotional responses bring Jimmy next time instead."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Langly poured himself a cup of coffee, and Byers motioned at Frohike, jogging halfway across the waiting area so they would meet in the middle.
"I'm going to drive back with Kate." He looked exceptionally serious, even for Byers. "I don't think she should be alone."
Frohike just barely managed not to roll his eyes. That was Byers: solicitous to a fault, even when he didn't need to be.
"All right. We'll meet you at home." Frohike paused. "Just don't get talked into being a hero, okay?"
"I just want to make sure she's all right."
"She strikes me as a fairly tough cookie."
Byers frowned. "She needs our help."
"Oh, boy." Frohike gave in and rolled his eyes.
"She could be in danger," Byers pointed out reasonably. "I told her to make plans to stay with a friend for a few days until we get this all sorted out. I want to make sure she gets there safely."
"Uh-huh." And the fact that she was a doe-eyed, helpless female presumably had nothing to do with it. Byers was so easy. He did have a point, though.
Langly tossed his non-biodegradable cup of coffee into the trash and walked over.
"We outta here yet?"
"Byers is playing Sir Galahad, so it's just you and me for the ride home."
Langly shrugged. "Okay. I'll be right back. I've gotta pee."
"Well, get a move on."
Byers went over and fetched Kate from where she was slumped in one of the station's plastic chairs. To be fair, Frohike reflected, she did look pretty broken up. Byers offered to take her keys, but she shook her head and they walked out toward the parking lot. Frohike watched them go, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.
They stopped, profiled just outside the wide double doors, speaking seriously to each other. Kate reached out a hand, leaned in close, said something that only Byers could hear. Her face softened when she looked at him, and for a moment Frohike felt like he was standing on a thirteen-years-earlier Baltimore street corner watching almost the exact same scene play out.
Oh, crap. But at least it solved the mystery of who she looked like. He couldn't believe he hadn't seen it sooner.
It might also, he realized with a sinking feeling, be another reason Byers had seemed so reluctant to drop this story. Another goddamned damsel in just enough distress to get them all killed. Or worse. The timing of all this, especially this business with Yves, especially with the subject of New Mexico coming up again, just seemed way too convenient. Events were coming together in exactly the sort of way that made his survival instincts tingle, and he wouldn't put it past Them to have staged this kind of distraction. Byers' weak spot where Susanne was concerned was well-known and a mile wide, even after all this time.
Frohike was going to have to find out exactly where little Katie had been when Moncrieff was shot -- and he was going to have to do it without tipping his hand to Byers. At worst, she was in it up to her admittedly fetching eyebrows. But even the best case scenario -- that the kid just happened to bear a passing resemblance to Susanne and they were the three unluckiest guys in the world -- was still asking for an incredible amount of trouble.
Oh, yeah. No way this ended well, for anybody.
"What's up?" Langly said, coming up behind him.
"We've got a problem," Frohike said, watching Byers climb into the passenger's seat of Kate's car. "I don't trust the kid."
"You think she was involved in the shooting?"
"I think," he said as the car pulled away, "that we'd better find out."
(Continued in Part 4.)