It's great to post the last chapter. Thank you to everyone who has seen this through to the end. :) It's been a joy and a fun ride to write. Maybe (someday) I can write a sequel, but with my little man needing me, it may be awhile. Thanks for all the fun!
Juvenile Detention Center
1260 Security Lane
Liz sat herself down in a faded yellow plastic chair, that she was certain at one point years ago must have been stark white. The metal legs squeaked against the linoleum as she pulled herself forward towards the glass window. She settled back into standard operating procedure, just as easily as she settled back into the chair. Top of the line security cameras and well-paid security guards watched from above. Back on the floor there were guards at every station, some giving their absolute attention, some not. The lobby was nice, inviting really. There was green plant life, well-watered, a nice touch if you asked Liz, though of course no one was. The walls and windows were clean. You couldn't see yourself in the floors, but they passed for decent. All in all, as far as juvenile detention centers went, she'd seen much worse.
Liz perked up as she saw her. Casey ambled forward out from double doors, with her hands in her pockets, looking like an overgrown 10-year-old. She was led by a female guard, who looked like she might have gotten the job after recently retiring from WWE Raw. Casey stepped towards the window, knocked on the glass, waved to Liz, and plunked down in front of her. Liz appraised the girl and found herself staring to tentatively smile. Her orange jumpsuit matched her hair and freckles. She looked showered, well-groomed… All in all? The kid looked good.
Casey picked up the phone on her side. Liz did as well. She said, "Hey. You're back."
Liz arched an eyebrow. "You thought I wouldn't be?"
"No, I knew you'd come. It's just …" She chose her words carefully, not unlike Red might have. "Nice to see a familiar face."
Liz smiled. "How's things going?"
She shrugged. "They're going. Shower. Breakfast. High school classes. Lunch. Recreation. Enrichment programs a.k.a. unpaid work. Dinner. Sleep." She swung her index finger around in a circle. "Repeat."
"I thought you liked it here."
"It's a beautiful prison."
Liz watched her. "Do I detect a note of boredom?"
"It's … not exactly a pleasure cruise, but no one's trying to kill me or anything."
"That's a nice change of pace."
"Yeah, breaks things up." She looked at Liz mischievously. "Besides we all know I can leave at any time, so…"
"Isn't that something you might regret?" Liz asked her.
Casey shared a smile with her. "Don't you know I don't do that?"
"What? You don't regret things? Not anything?"
"Well…" She relaxed in her chair and cleared her throat. "Maybe that whole stealing the painting with the war documents inside that one time, but… Other than that, not really."
"That's a neat trick. Not many people can do that."
Casey shrugged. "Well, someone else taught me, so … You really should ask him sometime." She tapped her fingers to a beat on the table in front of her. "By the way, how's he doing?"
"He's…" Liz sighed but smiled. "He's Red."
She laughed a little. Then her face dropped. "Haven't seen him in awhile."
Liz nodded, mostly to herself. She tried to use his exact words. "He thinks it's prudent to create the … impression that you two are no longer connected as far as business goes."
"Why would he want that?"
Liz hadn't needed to ask him. She'd already understood. "We narrowly dodged a world war with both him and you at its center. If he's seen interacting with you in any way at all, it could lead whatever parties are still involved to believe he had more of a hand in things. That he'd planned everything from the start."
"Guess it wouldn't be that big a stretch."
Liz said, "Now you're here, appearing to have cut ties with him. From there, the narrative kind of writes itself." She said, "There's no need for eyes to be on you, if you're outside his circle."
Casey nodded sagely. "Tell him that's pretty smart. I like it."
"We thought you might."
"Also tell him that I appreciate the company around here." Casey did everything but wink. "Helps me sleep at night."
Liz snuck a glance to the pro-wrestler from before who stood with her bulging arms crossed, appearing for all intents and purposes not to be focused on Casey at all. "...I'll pass along that message."
Casey sighed, glancing around, once again looking bored. She focused on Liz. "So… what've you been up to? Anything interesting lately?"
Liz glanced down at her watch and back up at Casey. "I have a meeting in another hour with our director." She sighed and sat back in her chair. "Twenty-five of the most wealthy men and women in D.C. had their identities stolen. Some of their accounts were drained. I don't know if you've had any dealing with the rich and privileged of this city. You might think you're working for your government, but they think…"
Casey nodded. "You're working for them."
Liz relaxed. It helped knowing someone else understood.
She asked. "What've you got so far?"
"Bank records. A list of all their employees, a staggeringly long list of all their employees. I'm starting to wonder if there's anyone who lives in the city limits who doesn't work for them."
"Anyone stand out?"
Liz took out her papers from her briefcase. "We've got a banker we're looking into. A family friend of one of the families who had a long history as a hacker before he supposedly went straight…"
Casey thought for a minute. "Did you check out their limo service?"
"We have their names on file. I haven't talked to them yet."
"Talk to them first." She said, "If I was a limo driver, I'd have to have their credit card, right? Their address? Know things like their schedule, where their kids go to school, basic routines…Some of them have a personal relationship with their driver, too, so. You don't like to suspect someone who think is your buddy."
Liz blinked rapidly. She found herself getting out a pen and paper to write that down.
Casey said, "I mean, if I were a limo driver, that's what I'd do. I'd clean house."
Liz knew she probably should have dropped it there. Casey was a kid who was just getting away from having to think like a criminal. But good help was hard to find, and she found herself asking questions. "What else would you do, if this was you?"
Casey raised her eyebrows and sat more comfortably, giving it some thought. "Well… if I wanted to hack into all of D.C. elite's accounts, it'd take some planning. So we're talking about a long con. A really long con. So you'd have to be.. all in. All the time. You'd have to be someone else to these people to earn their trust." She kept going, "And to get to everybody? You'd have to be highly recommended. You'd have to have something everybody wants. So, what does everybody need? I'd look at things like landscapers, caterers, dentists, hell, freakin' taxidermists... Look for a service every single one of them was using. Maybe because it was a status symbol or something." She shrugged. "I don't know. It's just a thought."
Liz remembered what Red had told her about thinking like a criminal. She was finding that digging into the minds of the criminals around her who were willing to talk paid off in spades. "No, it's a good thought. A different thought." She looked at her. "Thank you."
"No sweat. Gives me something to think about besides what they put in the meat on taco night."
"They have taco night?"
"Yeah, and a movie night, too." Casey smirked. "Hey, it's a detention center, man. Not Riyadh."
A loud, obnoxious buzzer sounded at that exact moment, initiating the end of visiting hours. Liz asked quickly. "Do you need anything?"
Casey searched herself. "No, no, I'm good." She snapped her fingers. "Ooo, actually next time you visit could you bring me a copy of the new X-Men evolution? It comes out on Thursday."
Liz smiled. "Same series as last time?"
"Yeah." Casey got up, as her guard came over to escort her out. "It's supposed to have a surprise ending. I don't want to miss it."
The National Mall
Liz's heels clicked on the sidewalk leading up the National Mall. The streetlights had turned on, but only just. The sun set behind her, casting its yellow and orange rays against her, creating a long shadow. She turned to walk down the gravel road leading up to the Washington Monument. There was a bite of cold in the air, but it wasn't unpleasant. The wind picked up the hair on her forehead and pushed it back. As she reached the middle of the Mall, she looked towards an old, beat-up carousel that could use a fresh paint job. That was when she saw him. Red sat on one of the Mall's many metal benches, staring forward towards the lush grassy lawn, the Smithsonian museums, and in the distance, the courts and Chinatown.
Liz sat down on the opposite end of the bench.
Red took off his sunglasses and turned to her warmly. "Good evening, Lizzie."
His gaze took her in. "You're looking … a great deal more relaxed than the last time I saw you." He asked, "Meditation? Yoga? I'd say Chardonnay, but it's a little early in the evening for you."
She said, "I closed a case today."
His voice perked up. "Did you? Do tell."
"The open fraud case involving those members of the D.C. elite."
Red smiled. "Let me guess," he said. "It was the butler."
Liz smirked. "You'd be wrong, but you're not horribly far off either."
"Which service was it?"
Liz watched him carefully. He'd given the same guess as Casey. "Their funeral director. He did all the families' funerals for the past ten years. For a funeral you need everything. Names, bank accounts, social security numbers, hospital records…"
Red drew in a breath. "A little more imagination than graverobbing, but still effective." He said, "It's an excellent catch, Lizzie."
"I can't take full credit." She said, "I went to see Casey this afternoon. She said it sounded like someone in the service industry. Someone doing a long con."
He sat back on the bench. "Interesting that she'd guess that, considering that she's done neither service industry work nor long cons herself." He postulated, "She must have been keeping her eyes open."
"You don't think her stealing from the MET in New York was a long con?"
"Casey operates on an ever-rolling combination of impulse, cunning, and luck at any given moment. When she's working, that is."
"If she is, right now it's on television privileges and extra Sloppy Joes from the kitchen."
Red shook his head. "It would be about time. I once told her, Settle down, Ahab. There are smaller whales."
"Did she get the reference?"
"She told me that she wasn't Arab, accused me of taking drugs, and asked what was I talking about whales for. Deleting her colorful array of explesives of course."
"Well, she's taking high school classes now. Maybe they'll get to Moby Dick while she's there."
"How long are we anticipating that she will stay there?"
"The way things are going? If she keeps behaving herself? They'll cut down her sentence. Six, seven months tops."
"I wonder where things will take her from there."
Liz let the moment pass and then offered. "Anywhere she wants, I imagine." She watched Red. "You think you already know what she'll do?"
"If nothing distracts her, the same life of crime she left." He said easily, "Which I certainly would never deter her from myself."
"Are you suggesting others might?"
"It would be odd for you to assume that from my simple, rather straightforward comment. If you hadn't already been thinking it yourself."
She locked eyes with him. "I'm not sure what you're talking about-"
"She'd make an excellent starter child. Or in this case, starter adult by the time she's released. Unless she does still have some tricks up her sleeve."
"I thought you wanted to sever ties. Create distance between you and her."
"While that is currently the goal, I'm hopeful that won't be the case in half a year's time."
Liz looked away with a short sigh. Dammit, she had thought about taking the kid in. If Red knew, she wondered who else around her had put the pieces together as well. "This is all assuming Casey's even interested."
"She will be."
"I'd take some convincing to get Tom on board. She was a wanted felon."
"Who has paid her debt to society." Red said, "Let's not kid ourselves, Lizzie. If Tom agrees, it will be because her staying with you with not get in the way of anything he wasn't already planning."
Liz found herself getting irritated with the new track their conversation had taken. So she took control of the train. "Was that your idea all along? Get her involved with me somehow? Find a more permanent home?"
"It's incredible, Lizzie, the amount of influence you imply I have. It's flattering, really. That you think I'm so capable of such of a selfless, philanthropic endeavor. It's a wonder I don't blush-"
"I said you wanted her with me. I didn't say why."
"No, I suppose you haven't." He leaned in closer. "Though once again, you're asking the wrong question."
Liz frowned. She didn't budge when he leaned in. She just watched more closely. "Why are you keeping her so close?"
"Hmm." He offered. "Or what do I already know?"
Liz felt her heart rate go up. "You know who put out the contracts."
He leaned in even closer and whispered. "Bigger whales, Lizzie."
She found herself saying, "You know who hired her. Who conned her into getting the painting in the first place."
"And not only that," he said, sitting back finally. "I know why."
Liz had a number of thoughts. Her eyelids fluttered as she said, "They wanted to start a war-"
"No. They wanted to send me a message, end me, end those connected to me, make a sizable profit themselves, AND start a war." Red said, "They've been very patient. They've waited a long time. They took their moment, except…They misstepped. This moment wasn't theirs."
"Who stands to profit?" she demanded.
"The same ones who always do." Red took out a photograph and handed it to her. It showed a beautiful, exotic woman with dark hair and eyes of steel. She walked among soldiers who carried guns larger and more dangerous than Liz had seen since her FBI training at Quantico. Red looked down along with her and said, "The arms dealers."
Liz looked up at him as the D.C. sun set behind them. "Who is this?"
"Someone who has waited a long time for her revenge. Someone who has waited an even longer time for her war. Someone who may not wait quite so long a second time." Red looked back. "Her name is Paramise. In making the moves I have over the past few days, I've clearly responded to her, and now all we need to do is wait. She will respond in kind."
Liz's mouth gaped open ever so slightly as she frowned, looking at Red as he spoke.
He blinked. "Whatever is that look of shock for, Lizzie?" A smirk curled up on Red's lips. "You didn't really think this was all just about The Cat. Did you?"