*The usual disclaimers apply. Special thanks to Ermintrude for being such a fantastic beta, and to Jan, Cheryl, Lynda and the girls in Wicky Chat for their help, brainstorming and support. Hope you enjoy :)*

Treason and Old Lace-Prologue

First Ladies Tea Parlor, Newport News, VA

Saturday, January 8, 2005

12:30 PM

"I'm glad you agreed to meet me here," the woman told him. "Thank you for being so punctual."

"You're—uh— you're welcome," he said.

"Would you like anything? Tea—or perhaps a biscuit?"

"No—No, I'm fine. Have to say, this ain't a regular meeting place." That was an understatement. James looked around the tearoom at the ladies—it was mostly ladies—in their fancy dresses and floppy hats. It reminded him of the way his grandma used to dress when she would go to her church socials on Sunday afternoon. The ladies stared back at him silently; the looks they gave him made him feel as if he should straighten his tie and check under his fingernails.

"Well I think you'll find that I'm not exactly a regular customer," she replied, red painted lips smiling thinly. "But I assure you that I pay very well. Were you able to get me what I need?"

"Pretty much."

"What do you mean by pretty much? Could you get it or couldn't you?"

"We could, yeah." He fumbled for the right words under her piercing gaze, trying to remember exactly what his brother had told him. "Carl said that he couldn't duplicate it exactly—there were some unknown ingredients—but he said that it should have the same effect." Part of him still wondered what she wanted it for—though he knew better than to ask—that was her business, not his. A mental image of a bunch of ladies in a tea room getting high came into his mind. James suppressed the urge to giggle.

"Since he's a chemist, I suppose he should know," the woman said. You may pass it to me now and I'll give you the money—under the table, please. I don't wish to be seen doing this."

"Right." Looking around furtively he pulled the package out of his pocket and slipped it under the table. "Now if you just give me the—" At that moment her hand clasped around his wrist. James tried to pull away, but her grip was like iron.

"You listen to me." Her lips barely moved as she spoke; pale eyes looking deeply into his own. "I had a disappointing experience with my former supplier, James—and I don't wish to be disappointed again. If you have any thoughts about double-crossing me, I'd really think again. Now, do we have an understanding?"

Just an old lady—that's what he kept thinking to himself as he looked at her—just a sweet little old lady. So why was his mouth so dry? Why did he feel the urge to get the hell out of there and never come back?

"I promise," he managed to croak out. "No double-cross—we're good."

"Excellent." And suddenly she was all smiles again. Letting go of his wrist she took the package and pressed the money into his palm.

"It's all there—feel free to count it."

"Nah, it's all right, I trust you." James placed the money into his pocket, surprised by how much his fingers were shaking. "I uh—I hope we can do business again."

The smile widened. "Oh, you may definitely count on that. Believe me."

SMK SMK SMK SMK

1789 Restaurant, Washington DC

Sunday, January 16, 2005

3:35 PM

"Thanks for coming, Colonel Clayton," General Ham Morrison rose from the table as the colonel entered, grasping his hand in a firm handshake. "I know that this was a rather spur of the moment invitation."

"It's just fine, sir—believe me," the colonel replied. "I really didn't have any other plans."

"Good—that's good." The general took his seat once more, and the colonel took the seat across from him. "I took the liberty of ordering a bottle of the Estancia Winery Pinot Noir—I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all, sir. I love a good pinot." The waiter brought the bottle, already uncorked, to their table, pouring a small amount into each glass. General Morrison took a sip.

"Excellent," he pronounced.

"Thank you," the waiter said. "Someone will be out to take your order in a moment."

"So," the general said. "How is life here suiting you? You moved here to be close to your family, correct?"

"That is correct, yes—my nephew, Lee and his family."

"And how are they doing?"

"Just fine—my great-niece is going to turn sixteen near the end of the month." And getting ready to take her driver's exam—something the colonel knew that Lee was very nervous about.

"Sixteen, wow," the general shook his head. "I can remember when my daughter turned sixteen—sometimes it seems like only yesterday. Time certainly flies, doesn't it?"

"Yes sir—it does." The colonel took a sip of the wine as he regarded his dinner companion. The darting eyes—the pressed-together lips—it didn't take an expert to realize that something was very wrong indeed. Enough beating about the bush—the colonel decided to come right out with it.

"I take it this wasn't a social invitation," he said.

The general let out a sigh. "You're correct," he admitted. "It isn't. I take it that you still do consulting work on the side?"

"From time to time, yes. Generally on matters of base security, but I have worked in other fields as well." The colonel took another sip of his wine. "What is it that you need?"

"That's the difficult part—I'm not exactly sure." A pause. "Just how well do you know Major Sterns?"

"Mark Sterns?" The colonel asked. General Morrison nodded. "Pretty well—we've coordinated on quite a few missions over the years."

"And you did do some work with Air Force Intelligence, is that correct?"

"Some. Why do you ask?"

"It's hard to say this," the general replied. "To be honest, part of me really doesn't want to believe it, but after what's been happening I don't guess I have a choice."

"Choice about what?" More silence. "Sir, what's going on?"

"In the past few weeks, secrets have been slipping out. Secrets about base security, passwords, weapons systems—lots of little things, but damaging all the same."

"And you think Major Sterns is responsible? Sir, with all due respect, that's ridiculous. The Major's a good man—he would never betray his country."

"I feel the same way," the general said. "As I said, I don't want to believe it, but a lot of these things are known only to the major and myself—and I know I'm not the leak. And look at this." He handed him a manila folder. "It's a series of bank statements over this month—an extra $500 each week. Where's it coming from?"

"I don't know." The colonel's lips thinned as he shut the folder and slammed it back down on the table. "But I'll be damned before I'd believe that man would turn traitor."

"It has happened before."

"I don't need reminding," the colonel said. "But I'm telling you, this case is different—there's just no way."

The general sighed again. "That's what I'm hoping," he told him. "What I'd like you to do is pay him a little visit—talk to him and see what you can find out about these leaks. This is the last step before I have to bring formal charges against him."

Formal charges, the colonel thought—even if they were cleared the man's reputation—along with his career prospects—could be irreparably damaged. "I'll see what I can do, sir," the colonel replied.

TBC