Fifty feet above ground, the landing pad lights switched on as motion detectors kicked in.
"'Bout time," Hawke muttered.
He watched the house for lights but the windows remained stubbornly dark and unyielding, giving no indication of occupation or awareness of visitors, though Hawke was pretty sure that perimeter alarms had registered his approach and landing.
Touching down, he shut down the helicopter, scowled at the still dark house and dug into his pack for the .45 automatic he'd stowed earlier. Caitlin had been after him for months to consider switching to a 9mm – less weight to carry, greater capacity -- but the Colt had yet to fail him in the crunch and Hawke knew himself well enough that he would continue to rely upon what he knew from personal experience worked, statistics be damned.
The landing pad was a good quarter mile from the house and Hawke wondered, not for the first time, as he trudged across the grassy landscape, at the vast expense of land surrounding a house so rarely occupied by its owner, and then only for sleep and occasional meals.
Landscaping was minimal: California lilac, scrub oak, and other plants native to the Topanga canyon area scattered the property adding contrast and color, but none grew within two hundred feet of the house.
One hundred feet from the house's stone walls, Hawke grimaced and turned his head as exterior floodlights temporarily blinded him. The floodlights cast broad swathes of light, overlapping so that each square inch of ground was illuminated. The lights themselves, built into the eaves of the low-slung house, were nearly impossible to identify individually, and Hawke was fairly certain that even if one went out – or was deliberately put out -- backups existed to ensure that the house's occupant had clear line of sight to whoever approached.
Squinting, he slowly adjusted to the to light and continued forward. He rounded the corner of the house to its front, eyes professionally scanning the curved walls of the entry alcove for the security cameras expertly concealed. He had been told that there were at least four different cameras, each at a different height or angle, and suspected that there were probably more than four. Grudgingly, he conceded that the security designer knew what he or she was doing; he was only able to identify one potential.
He rang the doorbell and then stepped back so that the overhead light of the entryway clearly identified him.
The front door opened almost immediately, though only a scant inch or two, and Hawke heard the quiet slide of a gun's safety being reset.
One of the side benefits of a working relationship with The Firm's Deputy Director was that unexpected arrivals at 3:43 AM didn't generate a litany of complaints, merely a measured appraisal, a nod, and a step aside to admit Hawke.
"Hawke, I'd say this is a pleasant surprise but we both know I'd be lying."
For someone who'd very probably been soundly asleep before Hawke's arrival, Michael Coldsmith Briggs was surprisingly clear eyed and mostly dressed, though probably in the trousers and shirt he'd removed only hours earlier. Briggs placed his handgun – another .45, Hawke made a mental note to mention it to Caitlin – on the hallway console as he glanced behind him to the stairway.
"It is Hawke," he said, surprising Hawke who hadn't expected anyone other than Briggs to be at the house.
Marella, of course, he noted as the woman rose from a crouch at the bend of the staircase. She tucked her handgun into the pocket of her white silk robe, tightened the belt and descended quickly until she stood just behind Briggs.
Hawke tucked his own gun into the back waistband of his jeans, and reconsidered. No 'of course' about it, he decided. Marella might be Brigg's senior aide, his sounding board and second-in-command in all but official title, but even that demanding a job didn't require a 24 by 7 attendance upon her boss. Factoring in that the robe was too large for her, probably Michael's and the time of night, Hawke concluded that he had just acquired an additional negotiating position.
Briggs lifted the receiver of the telephone set resting on the hall console, tapped three numbers and held the receiver to his ear.
"This is Archangel. Yes. Clear code is Alpha X-ray 8-1-1-2-4-7." He listened silently for a few seconds. "Yes, that's right. Good night."
He turned back to Hawke. "I really should let them deploy some time to give my neighbors something legitimate to complain about. Perhaps then they'd cease their endless carping about the helicopters."
Gesturing to the dimly lit living room, Briggs tapped a number of wall switches to increase the lighting and followed Hawke into the room, taking the couch opposite to Hawke's armchair.
Marella trailed behind them, stopping when she reached a midpoint between living room and kitchen.
"Is it going to be coffee or something stronger?"
Briggs turned to Hawke. "Hawke?"
Hawke just shrugged.
Briggs sighed and turned back to Marella. "Let's start with coffee. Do you mind?"
Hawke felt his eyebrow tick up slightly, wondering the last time that Briggs had even thought about whether or not one of his aides minded fetching his coffee. Impeccable manners usually yielded to exigency and Briggs was long accustomed to a position of authority.
Marella's smile was aimed solely at her boss. "Assuming you actually have coffee in the house, and I can figure out how to use the new machine, it's not a problem." Her silk robe swished softly as she slipped into the kitchen.
Hawke, watching Briggs, noted that the other man's eye lingered for a second on Marella before turning intently on his guest.
"Do you want to talk about it now or wait for coffee?" Briggs asked as he ran a hand through his hair, failing to smooth the sleep-tangled blond mess.
Faced with the subject at hand, Hawke suddenly felt a surprising reluctance and stalled. His eyes flicked between Briggs and the kitchen.
"I doubt that's why you're here," Briggs said, his cool tone and steady glare a clear warning.
Hawke translated that as 'leave it alone" and filed it away for later use. From the kitchen, he heard Marella running the tap for water and filling the pot. He idly wondered what coffee maker Briggs was currently using; the man had an endless fascination with new gadgets, whether they were kitchen appliances, avionic upgrades or breakthroughs in weaponry.
"Dom's missing," he finally blurted out. "He's been kidnapped."
Briggs leaned forward, the look on his face softening with concern. "Are you sure? When was the last time you saw him?"
Marella walked into the room quickly, eyes widened and lips slightly parted as if to speak. Instead she bit her lip and leaned against the wall of the living room, eyes fixed on Hawke.
Under the penetrating gaze of two senior intelligence agents, Hawke stood, agitation driving a need to pace. The living room was large and gave him the space to expend nervous energy.
"Two, three days. We were supposed to meet for dinner two nights ago after his charter to Sacramento, some group of businessmen… Anyway, he didn't show. Thought maybe he'd stopped off to see that lady friend he used to see, in Calaveres…"
"Lucy," Marella said.
"I didn't think too much about it because the dinner plans were a little vague, not a specific time or anything. Then I got a call about 6:00 last night, some guy saying if I wanted Dom back in one piece, I'd better show up with…."
"Airwolf," Marella and Briggs said simultaneously.
Hawke shook his head and focused his attention on Briggs.
"Not Airwolf. They want you, Michael."
Briggs's eyebrows shot up and he leaned back against the back of the couch, one hand rubbing his mouth and chin as if to cover his reaction. A thumbnail scraped at his jaw, testing the slight hint of stubble, left it alone.
Hands in her robe pockets, Marella joined Hawke in pacing the room, apparently randomly until Hawke noticed that she'd positioned herself exactly between Hawke and Briggs.
"That's not an option," she said quietly.
Hawke was pretty sure Marella's right hand was on the handgun in her pocket. He was equally sure she'd use it if she thought it necessary.
The coffee machine in the kitchen gurgled and the smell of brewing coffee drifted into the living room. The note of domesticity contrasted sharply with the tension in the living room. The very idea of trading one man's life for another's seemed far-fetched in the midst of brewing coffee and the contrast unsettled Hawke.
Briggs sat forward suddenly, eye narrowed and focused on Hawke.
"They called you?" he asked.
"Not at the cabin," Hawke answered; the cabin was too remote for telephone service. He relied upon short-wave radio to reach most of the world, and a scrambled satellite phone to reach, or more usually be reached by, Briggs. "I was at the hangar. After I hung up, I went to Dom's house, asked around at the airfield, called a couple of his buddies, even called that lady in Calaveres."
"Are you sure he left Sacramento?" Marella asked, sitting finally, on the arm of the couch Briggs had claimed.
"He made it back to Van Nuys; the Jet Ranger was in the hangar yesterday morning …"
"Someone local then," Briggs mused. "When do they want to do the exchange?"
Marella's gaze settled uneasily on her boss. "Michael…."
"I'm not agreeing to play lamb to the slaughter, Marella. I just want to know the details." To Hawke, he repeated, "When? Where?"
"I don't know where. I'm supposed to have you in the helicopter with me at the hangar and then get on a specific channel at 2:30 this afternoon. The guy said I'd get coordinates then."
"How do you know they even have Dom?" Marella asked.
Hawke hoped Marella would stop shooting daggers every time she looked at him; he rocked uncomfortably on his heels.
"They put him on, for about 3 seconds. He said 'Don't do it, whatever it is.'"
Despite the nagging worry that sapped his spirits, the corner of Hawke's mouth twitched upward at the memory at the memory of Dom's spirited defiance.
Briggs smiled. "I would have thought he'd offer to deliver me himself."
"That was six o'clock last night," Marella said evenly.
"Yeah," Hawke said, all too aware of what she was implying.
He toed the rug, lost in his own grim thoughts about what might have happened in the past ten hours, let alone what could happen in the next ten and a half. He reminded himself that whomever had taken Santini had taken him only as a bargaining chip, but that thought immediately led to the next. The kidnapper or kidnappers had no real reason to keep Dominic Santini alive past a certain point, and had a strong motive to make sure Santini couldn't identify them.
Hawke scowled, his foot seeking something to kick and finding only the edge of the rug.
"What answer did you give?" Briggs asked.
"What do you think I said?" Hawke growled. "I asked him how the hell he thought I was going to drag a goddamn Deputy Director of the Firm out to wherever. For all I knew, you were in Washington, Berlin, or Hong Kong. I told him that there was no way I could deliver you."
Briggs's right eyebrow quirked up in an unspoken question.
"He told me that was my problem. For what it's worth, he knew you were in town."
Marella visibly shuddered and turned to Briggs. "You still want that coffee?"
"Assuming Hawke doesn't plan on abducting me while you're in the kitchen, yes. And I think I'll add some of that 'something stronger' to my coffee."
Throwing a suspicious glare at Hawke, Marella headed for the kitchen.
"Think she'll poison my coffee?"
Briggs rubbed the lobe of his ear and grinned. "I don't think she's planning on making any coffee for you. If you want a cup, you'll have to get it yourself."
Marella returned carrying two steaming mugs and headed across the room to the cabinet Briggs used as a bar. "You're out of everything," she called over her shoulder. "No arsenic, strychnine or common rat poison anywhere."
She added a splash of bourbon to each mug and returned to the couch. Handing one mug to Briggs, she sat next to him, tucking her long legs underneath her, wrapping both hands around her mug and smiling serenely at Hawke.
Smiling back despite himself, and the situation, Hawke headed for the kitchen, looked at the new coffee machine with slight curiosity and poured coffee into the mug that Marella had left on the counter. He sipped it gingerly, burning his upper lip on the steam. He lifted the mug – white, of course – and wondered again how and when Briggs had decided to adopt the color – the absence of color, he corrected himself – as a signature motif.
Returning to the living room, he heard Briggs and Marella speaking quietly and despite his better than average hearing, he only made out a handful of words: "Committee will never…. tell Zeus… Use of Airwolf…compromise every mission…"
Hawke cleared his throat, but neither seemed disturbed by his entry into the conversation.
Tapping his right index finger against the top of his coffee cup, Briggs looked away, his eye slightly unfocused. Hawke recognized it as a sign of serious data collection, sorting, and analysis. The computer in Michael's brain, he'd called it, whenever he gave it a thought.
"What can you tell me about the caller? Voice? Accent? Did he give a name? Background noise? Static over the line?"
Hawke sipped at his coffee to buy time as he tried to remember the conversation. He remembered clearly the shock of realizing that Dom was in trouble, the sudden anger at himself for not realizing the seriousness of Dom's absence, and a cold fury at whoever had taken the other man.
"You mean American?" Marella interrupted.
"California? Midwest? Southern? New York? New England?"
He shook his head. "Hell, I don't know. I didn't hear an accent so that probably means California."
Briggs nodded. "What else?"
Hawke shrugged. "No name. It wouldn't have been a real name if he'd given me one."
"But it might have given us a clue to who it is and why he wants Archangel," Marella said.
Hawke noted the shift back to code name, could see the gleam of the hunt in both their faces, the satisfaction of planning, maneuvering, and influencing events that drove their lives. Hawke would take straightforward strategy, tactics and action any day over this less direct approach.
"One man? Any voices in the background? Traffic? Announcements?" Briggs prompted.
"One man," Hawke agreed. "Which doesn't mean anything. He could have a partner, he could have twenty guys with him."
As for background noises, Hawke tried to remember but all that came to mind was the buzzing in his own ears as his blood pressure rose in response to the caller's threats: the immediate threat to Santini, the implied threat to Briggs.
He shook his head in frustration.
"Okay, let's go over exactly what he said."
Hawke ground his teeth, forcefully reminding himself that he'd come to Briggs' house exactly for this kind of help, because every plan he'd conceived in the last ten hours carried enough risk that either Dominic or Michael, or both, would be killed. Assuming Michael cooperated. Assuming that the Firm didn't whisk its Deputy Director to a safe house, surround him with a protective detail, and wait out the risk.
Head down, staring but not seeing the rug, Hawke tried to replicate the conversation, word for word.
"He addressed me by name, told me that he had my friend, Dominic Santini. That Dom was alive and in one piece and if I wanted to keep him that way, I should listen very closely.'"
"Jesus, B-grade movie dialogue," Briggs whispered in an aside to Marella.
"He said he knew that I knew how a prisoner exchange operates."
Hawke sensed rather than saw Briggs and Marella's increased level of wariness, Briggs's cocked head.
"And then he said that he wanted Archangel, and that if I didn't deliver Archangel to him, he'd kill Dom."
Briggs and Marella remained silent; Hawke felt the weight of their combined watchfulness.
"I told him I didn't know who he was talking about, played dumb …"
"…finally told him there was no way I could deliver you. He said that I had until 2:30 this afternoon to figure out a way to do so, or he'd kill Dominic. Then he put Dominic on."
"Is that it?" Marella asked.
"No," Hawke shook his head. "After Dominic finished, he said not to even try sticking some dumb bastard in a white suit and trying to pass him off as Archangel."
He raised his head and looked at Briggs.
"He said that he'd recognize you, Michael. He also said that if he saw a white helicopter or a single person from the Firm in the vicinity of the exchange, he'd kill Dominic and he'd do his best to kill both of us. And then he said that if I just followed the rules, no one would end up hurt."
"Well, you're not naïve enough to believe that," Briggs said.
Marella frowned, distracted.
"Deauville?" she asked Briggs.
"God, I hope not!" He tapped a bent knuckle against his upper lip, considering. "For Dominic's sake and my own."
"Phillippe Deauville?" Hawke asked, his voice just barely concealing a rising anger. "You playing arms dealer again, Michael?"
"Eduoard," Briggs corrected. "You're a bit out of touch, Hawke. Phillippe died last year. His son has taken over the family business."
"And he wants you dead?" Hawke said tightly.
Briggs looked remarkably unfazed. "Possibly, but he'd hardly need a 'prisoner exchange' to accomplish that."
Hawke glanced surreptiously at Marella, noting the white knuckled grip on her coffee cup and the grim set to her jaw. Archangel might present a convincing lack of concern but his senior aide was far less sanguine.
"He said he'd recognize Archangel?" she asked, steering the conversation away from speculation back to the facts. "He didn't say he knew him?"
With a glare at Briggs and a mental promise to come back to the Deauville family, Hawke nodded. "He said he'd recognize him."
Marella looked back to Briggs. "It doesn't definitely rule out someone you know, someone you've met, someone with history, but probability wise…"
"Or he could have a picture," Hawke interrupted.
"Did he give any indication of why he wanted Archangel? Any hint of his intentions?"
"What Marella is so carefully not asking is whether or not your mystery caller wants me alive or plans to kill me on sight," Briggs clarified.
Registering Marella's almost infinitesimal wince, it occurred to Hawke that perhaps the real reason she'd switched to Briggs' codename was that it was easier to deal with the situation in the abstract, easier to calculate the risk to Archangel, infinitely harder to consider putting Michael in danger. And if, as he suspected, they'd become involved on a more personal level…
"Didn't say," he shrugged.
"What else did he say?"
"That was it."
Briggs turned his wrist, squinted at his wristwatch. "That gives us just over ten hours. I assume you have a plan?"
Hawke scowled at no one in particular, trying to hide his relief. He'd anticipated Briggs' support but he hadn't dare counted on it.
"Yeah. We take a Santini Air chopper, wait for the coordinates, fly there. Caitlin tracks us in Airwolf, stays off radar, stays out of visual range. We do the exchange." He saw Marella's neck stiffen, and continued before she could object. "When you and Dom reach the midpoint, when you've even with each other, you both drop to the ground. Caitlin brings the Lady between you and the guys who took Dom, acts as a shield. You get in, we all go home happy."
Briggs frowned, rubbing his thumb on the rim of his coffee cup. "It could work," he said slowly, a hint of doubt in his voice as if waiting to be convinced.
As Hawke expected, Marella was shaking her head.
"Too risky. Even with a bulletproof vest, you're exposed far too long. As soon as you get out of the helicopter, you're a target."
"That assumes the objective is to take me out," Briggs countered, with what Hawke thought was an unnatural level of composure considering the subject matter.
"Sir, if they want you alive..." Marella hesitated, biting her lip.
Hawke watched her closely. The Firm would never knowingly allow Archangel to fall into enemy hands; he knew too much. With enough time, he would be made to talk and would compromise operations and operatives; it would take the Firm years to recover. Hawke was pretty sure Marella was under direct orders to prevent that from happening, at any cost.
"I understand the risk. Humor me, please, Marella."
Marella nodded and continued briskly. "We've no idea of the range in the exchange area and no idea of the terrain. Caitlin may be a couple hundred yards or ten miles away to stay out of visual range. Even with Hawke providing covering fire, you and Dominic would be totally exposed and there's nothing to stop them from taking you by force or killing you both."
Hawke tried to control his breathing. He'd considered all of Marella's objections, countered with a dozen different scenarios without coming up with anything better.
"Give me alternatives," Briggs said to his aide.
"Hawke gets the coordinates, sends it to us and we send in a team in a Santini Air chopper. They take out everyone but Dominic."
"Standard Firm response," Hawke argued. "They'll be expecting something like that."
"He's probably right," Briggs agreed with a shrug.
"We put a sniper in the back of your helicopter," she immediately responded. You get out of the helicopter, let them think you'll do the exchange, and our guy takes out the bad guys."
"Not before they kill Dom," Hawke objected.
"Okay… They told Hawke that he had to figure out a way to get you there. No offense, Hawke," she said with a glance in his direction before returning her focus to Briggs, "but I don't think anyone would be terribly shocked if you took the bulldog approach."
Hawke wondered for a second if she'd slipped into some type of Firm shorthand, a standard operational tactic code-named "Bulldog."
"Dragging Archangel there by the scruff of his neck," she explained with a hint of smile, "or at gunpoint in your case. You hold the gun on Archangel up to the point of exchange and then use it."
"Preferably not on me," Briggs interjected.
"That assumes he lets me keep the gun and there's no one else with him," Hawke said.
"Hard to control an unwilling prisoner without it," she suggested. "Hawke would be at a point to provide covering fire until Caitlin or other backup could arrive, and more importantly, he could prevent them from taking you."
As Hawke had anticipated, their number one objection was the chance that the exchange might actually happen. The risk of Briggs, in enemy hands for any amount of time, might, in their eyes, completely outweigh the benefit of saving Dominic.
"Hmmm," Briggs replied, frowning. "It appears that we do not have sufficient information for a credible plan." He pulled himself to his feet, set the coffee cup on the side table. "I'm going to shower and get dressed. You, too," he nodded at Marella. "Then we'll see what we can dig up at the office."
"Great," Hawke groused. "Suppose I can catch up on my beauty sleep while you two make yourselves presentable."
"You," Briggs said pointedly, "can make breakfast. See what you can do with whatever's in the kitchen."
Hawke grumbled, mostly because he thought it was expected, and watched Briggs trail Marella up the staircase. If they were up to what he thought, he'd have the give the man credit for excellent taste. Even woken in the early morning hours, with no makeup or time to clean up, Marella was a stunning woman, and one of the few who could keep up with Briggs on almost every level. She was also just as ruthless as her boss, when necessary, meaning Hawke would have to be careful around her if she thought he was putting Michael at unnecessary risk.
Which he was going to do, he conceded. No way to avoid that and still get Dominic back alive.
Sighing, he headed into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
A dozen eggs, a quart of milk, half of loaf of bread, a partial stick of butter, some cheese just going to mold, six bottles of white wine, and a takeaway container from a restaurant.
He opened the freezer with less optimism and wasn't disappointed: a container full of ice, a half empty bottle of Stolichnaya and a small carton of ice cream, surprisingly not vanilla.
"Scrambled eggs, it is," he grumbled and set most of the contents of Briggs's refrigerator on the counter next to the stove and began searching for a skillet.
Michael Briggs had expensive tastes and the money to indulge them. Cabinet after cabinet offered a superior selection of bone china, hand-cut crystal glasses, and professional grade cookware, but little in the way of foodstuffs. Hawke finally located the battered cast iron skillet he sought; the one that he'd seen Briggs use on the rare occasion the other man cooked a meal.
To his surprise, it was Marella who returned first, hair curly and damp from a shower, makeup perfectly applied and dressed in a simple white suit. Hawke raised an eyebrow at her.
"Michael's shaving," she said in reply, refilled her coffee cup, and leaned against the counter to watch him.
"We gonna have a problem?" he asked after a few silent minutes passed.
She shrugged. "If anything happens to Archangel…"
"You'll come after me."
"I won't have to. The Committee doesn't like you, Hawke. Zeus really doesn't like you. You have no idea how much Archangel has acted as a buffer between you and the rest of the Firm these past few years. If he's injured, or killed, and they think you had anything to do with it, they'll crucify you."
"My tax dollars at work."
"And when they're done, then I'll come after you," she concluded without any hint of humor.
"Got it." He met her eyes with an unyielding stare. "You want Michael alive. I want Dominic alive. Now that we're clear, think we can eat?"
Her dimpled smile was as disconcerting as it was bright.
"Sure. I'll set the table."
He heard Briggs' careful tread on the stairs and poured the egg mixture into the hot skillet, listening to the snap of the sizzling butter while he watched Marella collect plates and utensils.
"What are you going to tell Zeus?" he asked with deliberate casualness.
"We decided it would be premature to tell Zeus anything at this point," she replied slowly, as if carefully selecting her words.
Hawke scrambled the eggs a little harder than necessary. "Not what I asked."
"Not a goddamn thing," Briggs said, entering the kitchen, dressed for the office in his customary white three-piece suit. "I see it's scrambled eggs again."
"Try food shopping for a change," Hawke said. "What would happen if Zeus found out?"
"Depends," Briggs said. "Probably give me a direct order to remain at Knightsbridge or ship me across the country for some trumped-up meeting. That assumes he wants to keep me alive, some days I think he'd happily hand me over himself." He shrugged. "You he'd probably arrest on some pretense to keep Airwolf safe, then deploy a team to rescue Santini."
Hawke dumped the eggs on three plates and sat down at the kitchen table.
"Rescue being the current euphemism for shoot to kill?"
Briggs shook his head as he and Marella sat down. "Special Order 11 is used in unusual situations, where an intelligence officer is thought to be a national security risk. It's rarely used for field operatives or contract employees of the Firm."
"Usually just the Senior Intelligence Officers," Marella added. "Zeus wouldn't want to jeopardize the Firm's relationship with you, and our ability to use Airwolf. The team would be ordered to shoot to disable and to kill anyone who threatened Dominic."
Hawke fought back a momentary weakness, a temptation to let Briggs and Marella take over Dominic's rescue, to let the trained assault team take out whoever had taken Santini. He shuddered internally.
"I get him," with a toss of his chin towards Briggs, "killed and you'll take me apart with a pair of pliers. The Firm puts a bullet in his head and you're okay with that?"
"Not okay," she said quietly, "but I'd have to accept it."
"I'd really hoped you two had moved beyond threats," Briggs said with a narrowed glare, fork poised over his eggs. "We do not have time for this."
Hawke glared at the eggs on his plate until hunger set in and he began eating with gusto.
He and Marella often debated, disagreed, outright argued and Briggs tolerated it up until a point at which he somehow managed to shame both into silence with his icy disapproval. The closest comparison Hawke could make was when Dominic was disappointed with him. He could handle Dominic angry, annoyed, furious, or yelling. A silent, disappointed Dominic did things to his conscience that he thought himself too hardened to be affected. He swallowed and the eggs were leaden in his throat.
"You were listening on the intercom," Marella accused.
Hawke raised an eyebrow in surprise. Marella was usually the first to apologize.
"I was not listening on the intercom," Briggs replied with some heat. "You're both extremely predictable in how you react to an external threat to people with whom you're close. That kind of predictability can get you killed and both of you know that, or you damn well should."
Hawke kept his head down but shot a glance over at Marella. He'd bet that in her ten plus years in the field, she hadn't let herself get close enough to anyone to deal with the emotional turmoil of risking someone she loved.
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir" she said, looking stricken.
"Don't be sorry," Briggs said more calmly. "Sorry isn't going to get Dominic back and it's not going to come up with a plan to keep us both alive this afternoon." He stabbed at his eggs with a sharpness that belied his controlled expression.
He's worried, realized Hawke, and his own uneasiness rose.
They finished the rest of the meal in silence, each keeping thoughts to themselves until Marella stood, grabbed her empty plate and reached for Briggs's.
"No, Marella, I'll take care of this," he said, nodding to the dirty dishes. "I need you to get everyone in as soon as possible. I want current status and location on everyone on the Watch List. I want a report on INS entries for the last two weeks, no, make that four weeks. I want to know the names of the businessmen that hired Dominic for that charter to Sacramento and I want his steps over the past week retraced."
"Yes, sir." She headed towards the back room that he used as a home office.
"Track down all helicopter charters, rentals, purchases over the past three weeks," he called after her. "And any police reports involving a stolen helicopter."
Briggs pushed back from the table, stacked the three plates and assorted cutlery and headed towards the counter.
"You're going to do the dishes?" Hawke asked doubtfully from his seat at the table.
"Don't be ridiculous. That's why I have a dishwasher." Briggs bent over, loading plates, cutlery and the whisk Hawke had used into the machine.
"Cast Iron doesn't go in a dishwasher, Michael."
Briggs dumped the skillet in the sink. He turned on the tap just enough to partially fill the skillet and then turned away to empty the coffee machine.
Hawke sighed, got to his feet, and walked over to the sink.
"You are not leaving a seasoned cast iron skillet sitting in water."
Shaking his head in disgust, Hawke grabbed for a scouring pad and quickly washed the pan. As he reached for a drying towel, he scowled at the realization that Briggs had probably done it deliberately.
"Is Eduoard Deauville on that Watch List?"
Briggs paused, in the middle of dumping coffee grinds into the trashcan.
"Yes, I imagine that he might be. Donavan's department maintains the list; I haven't seen it recently."
Hawke didn't believe that for a minute. He finished drying the pan, tossed the towel towards the sink and leaned back against the counter so that he could watch Briggs's face.
"You want to tell me why he wants to kill you?"
Hawke could have sworn that he saw a shadow of a smile play around Briggs's lips.
"I never said that he did, I only said that he might." He dumped the coffee filter and empty pot in the sink "About 14 months ago, the Deauville family business suffered a loss. A business transaction…"
"An arms deal," interrupted Hawke.
"…with a certain paramilitary organization went bad. The payment was $50 million in diamonds, put forward by an African militant group." Here he turned to Hawke. "Did you know that approximately four percent of all diamonds mined on the African continent each year are stolen by African militants?"
Hawke rolled his eyes.
"Anyway, the diamonds never reached the Deauville family and the $50 million in anti-personnel mines and missiles never reached the buyers. All were particularly put out, especially the militant group that was bankrolling the paramilitary organization." He grinned. "Let's just say that the armament and the money ended up in more friendly hands."
"Stop bragging, Michael."
"There was an unintended consequence: shortly after all that, Phillippe Deauville had a massive stroke. He didn't survive."
Hawke nodded slowly. "And it took Eduoard this long to track down who arranged for the deal to go bad."
"Or so we think." Briggs walked back to the kitchen table, sat down and put his feet up on another chair. "Hawke, I don't think Deauville has anything to do with Dominic's kidnapping. Eduoard may be something of a sociopath, but he knows it was simply business. He'd have me shot, not waste his time or money with a kidnapping."
"He may hold you responsible for his father's death," Hawke replied, unconvinced.
Briggs laughed. "Eduoard loathed his father. If he wants me dead – and there's no evidence or suggestion that he does – it would be for redirecting $50 million from his business. I don't consider him a current threat; we're just simply keeping an eye on him."
Hawke frowned. "Just how many people are on this Watch List?"
"Fifty-eight," answered Marella, re-entering the kitchen. "We're getting current statuses on all of them, but the ones we have to worry about are the ones with both a reason and the means to act right now."
"A half-dozen, more or less," Briggs said.
"Closer to nine," Marella corrected, tucking a small sheaf of papers into the briefcase she'd brought with her from the office.
"Jesus, Michael. You've got nine people who are trying to kill you?"
Suddenly the security measures at the house didn't seem nearly enough.
"Nothing so personal, I assure you," Briggs responded with a wry grin. "The Watch List isn't a list of people or organizations with a vendetta towards me specifically. Think of it as potential threats to operations within my division." He turned his attention to Marella, raised an eyebrow.
"We're all set, sir. Do you want me to call for the car?"
Briggs stretched out his bad leg and shifted in preparation to standing. "That depends upon whether or not Mr. Hawke plans to give us a lift. It would certainly save some time."
Hawke swallowed. Here we go, he thought.
"Marella should call for the car," he said, turning carefully to block their view of his right hand, which slid behind him. "You and I are going to stay here." His fingers closed around the handle of his automatic and slowly brought it out of his waistband and down towards his right leg.
In his seat, Briggs had gone very still.
"Hawke, you're making a mistake."
Hawke moved his gaze quickly between Briggs and Marella, whose hand was back in her briefcase. He raised his gun, trained it on Briggs.
"Leave the briefcase, Marella. Just back away."
Angry brown eyes shifted rapidly between Hawke's gun, his eyes, and her boss. Hawke's finger tightened on the trigger and Marella swallowed and moved slowly backwards towards the entry to the kitchen, eyes fixed on Hawke. He'd wager that she was calculating distance, assault tactics and possible weapons.
"I'm sorry, Michael, but I need you to get Dom back."
Briggs eyed Hawke's gun. "Perhaps you weren't paying attention, Stringfellow, but our best chance of doing that is to try to determine who has him and why, and our best intelligence is at my office."
Hawke shook his head. "You go to the office and it's just a matter of time until one of your analysts figures out what's going on or somehow," a quick glance at Marella, "Zeus finds out about this. You'll have a protective detail around you so tight you won't go to the john without an escort and you won't leave Knightsbridge. Not today, not until they think the risk is over."
Briggs pushed himself to his feet. "You shoot me now and you've lost any chance of getting Dom back alive."
Hawke backed up, covering both with his gun. "I don't need to shoot you. You cooperate and she gets to leave in the car." He left the threat unsaid.
Surprise flashed across Marella's face, cold fury across Briggs's. Hawke felt a wave of regret, a loss of something he never realized that he'd had.
Briggs's hand clenched on the head of his cane. "You've crossed the line, Hawke."
Yeah, I know, Hawke thought. He'd once told someone that he couldn't shoot Archangel. He had hoped that Briggs wouldn't put that to the test today. Even with Dominic's life on the line, Hawke wasn't sure he could pull the trigger. So he'd done worse. Briggs took personal threats in stride – or at least worked very hard to project that image – but a threat to any of his operatives or staff invited a proportionate and occasionally violent reaction. A threat to his favorite aide, to someone Briggs cared for, perhaps more than he'd admit, promised something disproportionately painful, possibly lethal.
"Go ahead and make that call," Hawke said to Marella, his voice rough and not giving away anything of his discordant emotions.
"What makes you think I won't come back here with Zebra Squad?" she asked coolly.
"Because you love him." He might as well have slapped them both for the frozen expressions he saw. "And you won't risk getting him killed in the crossfire."
He swallowed. "I'll bring him back in one piece. You have my word on that."