Chapter 33, Next Steps Unknown
[Here's the next installment. Thanks so much for all of your reviews! Teal Moon]
"I know it's not enough." Pamela looked her former boss in the eye. "All I can say is that I'm sorry."
Martin, her old boss, newly released from confinement, shrugged. "The evidence seemed compelling, even to me, and I knew it was all lies. What changed your mind?"
How do you explain your gut instinct? Decades of practice in working in deceit, and in having deceit worked on her had given her a certain perspective. Thoughtful, she returned his shrug. "A flood of data was shoved my way. Overwhelming the analysts, even when I borrowed more. Then, through all of this murk, the researchers find a clear thread tying you to Blackbriar? Once I had time to think instead of react, we all knew something wasn't right. Besides, you were the one who gave me the initial access to the Treadstone files. If you'd really been involved, you've never have let anyone get that close."
"Glad you recognized that." Martin leaned back in his chair.
"Do you want to talk to Kenally?"
The name clearly meant nothing to him. Pamela added, "The auxiliary surveillance I had installed caught him freeing the Blackbriar agent from Germany. He helped him kill Paz, then-"
"Stop there, please." Martin held up a hand. "I've never been good at working backwards. Let's start at the beginning. Go back to Treadstone. Tell me everything."
Pamela didn't allow herself to react visibly. She wanted to scream at him that they didn't have time. Instead, she gestured to her assistant. "You heard him. Start with the earliest summaries."
Pamela's office darkened. An overhead projector powered on and a screen lowered. "Conklin was running a black on black covert kill squad…."
"Nothing?" Jason flipped through the computer screens again. "Can we try another cipher?"
"I've done every possible combination," Nicky said. "There's nothing encoded expect the jpeg formatted pixel mapping and a standard set of metadata. It's just date and time of creation."
"Are the dates meaningful?"
"No." Nicky's voice was flat.
"We're missing something." He'd been certain that he'd found the answer. The last piece of the puzzle. Or they were missing something. Probably something simple. Wait. From Daniels? Nothing he'd ever done had been simple. Encoding pixels and leaving the encoded pictures accessible by anyone? No. It didn't make sense. Daniels was smart enough to know that Langley would eventually find out about his website and he'd have been fired without compunction. It would be to embarrassing for the CIA to have one of their station chiefs to be caught publishing porn. Daniels hadn't even tried to hide it. The man had used his own name. Like he wanted to be caught. It didn't add up.
"You told me that Daniels bragged about his porn web site," Jason asked. "Were you the only one he told about it?"
Nicky blinked, She fumbled for her coffee cup, took a sip. She must have caught something of the tension throbbing throughout his body as he waited, impatient for her answer. "Sorry. Mouth's dry."
He nodded. Jason knew what was making him antsy. All that Treadstone training, mucking around in his subconscious, warning him that Nicky was a liability, that she was slowing him down, that he needed to end her and move on. He was fighting it, but she was making it hard.
"Daniels had permission."
Her answer was short, quick, eager to give him what he wanted. The pitch of her voice was raised. The pulse jumped in her throat. Nicky had known many Treadstone agents, knew he was on edge. Knew that she was in danger. Jason hated it. No matter what they'd been through together, she had that uncertainty, that inability to fully trust him. She knew too much of what had been done to him. No matter what she told herself, her body told him a different story.
Marie's ignorance had helped kept her safe. She didn't respond to him that way Nicky did. Didn't trigger his darker instincts.
Unable to turn his back on Nicky while she was agitated, he retreated across the room to give her some breathing space. Mind racing, he nodded at what she'd told him. "The website was to act as a lure for recruiting local spies?"
"Yes. Daniels pitched it that way. He had up a prototype in a lab at Langley, where the shrinks could pick the best pictures to use."
A shred of hope glimmered.
"We need access to those pictures."
Nicky didn't try to hide her bewilderment, but she didn't ask any questions. She shook her head. "I can't hack in. They've closed all the back doors I had."
"Then we need a friend in the right place."
"Landy?" Nicky's tone was incredulous.
"We'd never be able to get anywhere near her." Nicky flexed her hands in frustration. "Forget about calls, email, texts…"
"It'll be okay." Jason was able to breathe now, the tension fleeing now that he had a clear objective. "I have a plan."