Ezra's eyes turned hard and he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "It makes sense," he said at last. "If Bartinol had the network that your father claimed, he would not have been sure who to trust. He would have cut his contacts down to a minimum, and thus his partner would have been the last person he trusted unless given a reason otherwise. Though the severing of communication at the end would indicate that your father became suspicious. Do you think he suspected Thomas?" he asked.
Alex slumped back against the entertainment center and closed her eyes a moment, relieved that they were at least willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. "I don't know," she sighed as she rubbed her forehead. "He didn't say anything, and I think he would have warned Mom if he did. After Eddie and Uncle Tim left that night, dad told mom about the disks and that he knew someone close to the top was leaking information to Bartinol, but he said he wasn't sure who. He said he had cut all ties to everyone for safety's sake, so maybe he thought that the leak was using Eddie or Uncle Tim, but I don't believe he thought either of them were the actual problem."
"So if your dad didn't suspect anything, what makes you think that Thomas was the leak?" JD questioned in confusion.
Alex's eyes narrowed. "I heard it from his own lips," she stated harshly.
Vin sat down on the arm of the couch beside JD and gave her one of his penetrating looks. "I think you'd better tell us the whole story," he said quietly.
Alex sighed and crossed to the fireplace. She sat down on the hearth and drew one knee up in front of her as she fingered the fire poker absently, gathering her thoughts. "I left one little detail out the other night," she started with another sigh. "You see, dad kept a journal of his thoughts, his suspicions, his personal feelings. He talked about everything in that book, from daily events he wanted to take note of to whatever case he was working on. But no one knew about that journal except for mom and I think grandpa-not even his partners. That night, before we left, he gave it to mom for safe keeping, told her that if something should happen to him, that she was to get it to Uncle Tim or Eddie, which is another reason I don't think he suspected his partner."
"So what happened to it?" JD asked.
"When Dad barred us into that back bedroom and shoved me out the window, he gave it to me and told me the same thing-that if the worse should happen I was to get it to Uncle Tim."
"But you didn't do that," Ezra observed, sitting down on the couch where she had been moments earlier.
She pulled her hand back to her lap and leaned back against the stone with closed eyes. "No," she said softly as she looked down at her fingers and picked at the frayed hem of her shirt. "Not at first. I didn't want to let go of the last link I had to my father. I had nothing of home with me except that journal and this locket," she pulled a small gold chain from under the collar of her shirt. "Of course, I was put straight into protective custody as soon as I got to DC, and wasn't allowed to go home. So I kept the journal. At night, when I couldn't sleep, I'd sneak it out and read it. It made me feel close to him again, like he was there with me, you know?" her expression became wistful.
"What did you learn?" Ezra asked.
She exhaled slowly. "Plenty," she answered, looking back up at them with a somber expression. "But most importantly, I found out where the back-ups were."
Vin raised an eyebrow in surprise, a look that was mirrored on the faces of the other two men. "I thought you said no one had found them."
She smiled up at him wanly. "It wasn't a complete lie. You see, Eddie was on guard that night, and as soon as I read that part, I took the journal to him and showed it to him. It was kind of funny really," she smirked. "Dad hid those copies right under everyone's noses. He had those disks in the files room of the Interpol building."
"You're kidding," JD burst out in disbelief.
"Nope," she grinned. "It was simple. He just snuck back into the building one night, put the disks in an old file that wasn't all that important, and then misfiled it somewhere else, noting where he put it in his journal. Even if someone figured out where the copies were and what file he put them in, they would have had to have searched the entire archives to find it. It was like trying to find a misplaced book in the library-you'd have better luck finding that needle in the haystack."
"Hiding them right in plain sight," Ezra murmured in admiration.
"Well, like you said, sometimes that's the best place to hide," she agreed with a mischievous grin. "Anyway," she picked up the narrative as the smile slipped from her face, "Eddie went that night, got the disks, and brought them back to the safe house. He fed me some cock and bull story about how he didn't want to tip anyone off so he would wait and show them to Uncle Tim that morning and so on. And I believed him-had no reason not to."
"So what changed your mind?" Vin asked.
Alex drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them as she stared at the floor in front of her. "Like I said before," she answered with a shrug, "my Dad was a cautious man. And this being the most important case of his career, he was even more cautious than usual. According to the journal, he had a third copy as well, stashed somewhere else. The journal mentioned an envelope, but we didn't find anything. That evening, I left Eddie downstairs in the study and went up to bed. I needed something from my bag-I can't remember now just what it was I was looking for-but I couldn't find it so I dumped everything out of the bag onto the floor. An envelope fell out with the rest of my things. When I opened it, I found a letter and a key to a locker in a bus terminal in Roanoke, Virginia. It must have come out when I stuffed the journal in there before. When I realized what it was, I grabbed it up and raced downstairs to show it to Eddie. But when I came to the study door, I heard him on the phone, so I waited outside. He was talking to someone on the speaker phone while looking at the information on the disk." As she told the story, the memories of that night came to her mind:
She stood outside the partially open study door and peaked through the crack to see Eddie Thomas leaning back in the leather desk chair, fiddling with an ink pen as he scanned the screen. "It's all here," he spoke out loud toward the phone. "Everything that you say was on the originals is here as well." He spoke in a monotone, as though he had resigned himself to doing something he hated.
"Good. Destroy them." Her heart dropped into her stomach and she had to muffle the involuntary gasp that came to her throat as she recognized the voice on the phone. No-it couldn't be! She thought frantically.
But even as the words crossed her mind, she watched in horror as Eddie-her father's partner, his friend, and a man she thought she could trust- hit the delete key. In seconds, all her father's work disappeared. As the computer overwrote each disk, Eddie popped them out and physically tore them apart. Finally, the fragments of all five diskettes were lying in a pile before him on the desk. "It's done," he said heavily, leaning his elbows on either side of the pile and resting his head in his hands, running his fingers through his mussed hair. Weary defeat radiated from him.
"Now, about the third copy that was mentioned in the journal," the voice on the phone continued.
"I don't know where they are. The journal just mentions them-it doesn't say where the location is," Eddie said without looking up.
"That may be, but it did mention an envelope that was supposed to have been in the back. Where is it?"
"I don't know. The journal was all that Ally brought me."
"Then she must have it somewhere. Get it. I do not want any copies of those disks floating around, waiting to be stumbled upon."
"I've already asked her about it. She says she doesn't know what it was talking about, that the journal was all she had."
"Then search her things, question her again, look for it. I want those disks found!"
"I'll ask her about it. I can search her room, but she never lets that pack alone. I don't know if I can get to it. And I don't want to tip my hand to her. She trusts me-I don't want to jeopardize that."
"Then perhaps I should send one of my men to retrieve the envelope."
Eddie looked up, at that, his eyes wide. "No!" he said sharply. "I-I'll take care of it. Just leave her alone. You've done enough to her. She's just a kid-she can't hurt you!"
"As long as she knows the whereabouts of those disks, she is a danger to me, and I will not tolerate any threat to myself, no matter if it be man, woman, or child. Do you understand me?"
"Yes sir. I'll get the envelope. Just please, leave her alone."
"I expect results, Agent Thomas. You've done good work for me up until now, keeping me informed of Sanders whereabouts, of what he had against me, of where he was going last week. I would hate to have to eliminate you as a source. Get them, or I will take care of matters myself."
She heard the click of the phone going dead and watched Eddie sit back in his chair and rub his face. She stumbled backwards, knowing that she couldn't let him know what she had just heard and that she had to hide the key, but as she turned, she tripped over a hump in the rug and fell to the floor with a loud thud. She rolled over onto her knees and looked back toward the study door-and straight into the eyes of Thomas. Their eyes held for a moment, and his widen with shock as he realized that she knew. "Ally," he said softly, jumping up from his seat and rounding the desk to take a step toward her. "It's not what you think-"
She scrambled to her feet and backed away. "How could you?" she whispered. "You were his partner, his friend! And you betrayed him to the enemy! It's your fault they're dead!" her voice grew louder with each word until she was shouting.
"Ally, you don't understand," Eddie said quickly, reaching for her shoulder, but she pushed him backwards. He lost his balance and hit the floor painfully.
"Don't touch me!" she hissed, turning to run down the hall. "Leave me alone!"
"Ally!" Thomas shouted as he scrambled to an upright position, intent on heading her off.
She reached the front door, terror racing through her as she fumbled with the lock, trying to get it open. She could hear Eddie coming closer and closer .
The latch came undone with a click and she pulled the door open, glancing over her shoulder frantically as she rushed out the door-and crashed into a warm body. A strangled scream escaped from her lips and she pulled back, but felt two hands grab her wrists. She struggled to be let go, aiming a kick for a knee as she looked up into the man's face-and recognized her Uncle Tim. Relief flooded her as she collapsed into his arms, sobs wracking her body as she tried to get air back into her lungs .
"But that was good, wasn't it? Or was Agent Johnson in on it as well?" JD interrupted.
She shook her head. "No, he wasn't-at least, I don't think so. I tried to tell him what I heard, what I saw, but of course Eddie denied everything. He denied the telephone call, the disks, the journal, even the late-night trip to the offices. We went back into the study, but the pile of disks was gone. The journal was nowhere to be seen, and I had no proof that it had even existed. Uncle Tim called security at the building and even had someone go in and check the file room, but there was no record of Eddie's being there, and the files that the journal referred to were just where they were supposed to be. All the vehicles outside had cold engines. He even called the cab company to see if any of the drivers had a fair that evening with Eddie's description, but there was nothing. It was just my word against Eddie's."
"And Johnson believed him," Vin said with a frown.
Alex nodded dispassionately. "Yes. At first, Uncle Tim was inclined to believe me, and launched a full investigation, but nothing was found that could even remotely connect Eddie to anything. He was squeaky clean. And then a week later, they found someone else in the director's office that clearly had ties to Bartinol and who confessed to everything. Since Uncle Tim and Eddie both reported directly to the director, everyone figured that was where the leak was and the case against Eddie was quietly closed."
"But how did this other guy know about the boathouse on Vancouver?" JD asked.
She sighed. "The investigators found evidence that he knew one of the men dad was using as guards. But that was ridiculous! Those men that were waiting for us at the boathouse weren't feds, for one thing, and for another, dad was trusting them with the lives of his wife and daughter! He was trusting them over his own partner and supervisor, both men who were some of his closest friends! If dad was trusting them like that there is no way they would have given anything up to anyone like that! Dad would have warned them about the leak!" she declared emphatically.
"We believe you," Ezra reassured her, holding up a hand in surrender. "Tell us what occurred next."
Alex studied him for a moment then slumped back a little, almost as though she couldn't believe that they truly did believed her. "Like I said, after the other guy was arrested, the case against Eddie was dropped. They hadn't found anything after all, and as Uncle Tim tried to tell me, Dad had kept Eddie in the dark as much as himself. And after I was forced to visit one of the company psychologists, everyone definitely just dismissed my claims." She snorted. "How did he put it? Oh yes. His explanation was that I was suffering from paranoia brought on by the shock of watching my parents' murder, as well as the stress of the run through the woods and the whole case altogether. According to him, that as a child, I couldn't cope with the issues that surrounded me and needed an object to focus my anger and grief on. Because Eddie was my father's partner, I therefore expected him to protect my father, and was blaming him for their deaths out of my own guilt at not being able to stop it. He also reminded everyone that I was suffering from very vivid nightmares at the time, ones that I was supposedly having trouble distinguishing from my real memories. So his explanation for what I saw and heard in the study was that I had dreamed it. And of course, Eddie latched onto that explanation and ran with it." She gave a short, bitter laugh.
"And since you couldn't prove otherwise, everyone took his word for it, and ignored you," Vin finished for her, the disgust evident in his voice.
"What happened to the key?" Ezra asked, shaking his head. He was angry at those who had dismissed the girl's claims as well, but he understood all too well how it happened.
"I kept it with me at all times, and managed to stay away from Eddie as much as possible. Uncle Tim humored me when I begged him not to leave me alone with Eddie, especially when the psychologist said that it was probably the best idea for my mental health. But the morning of the move to North Carolina, Eddie caught me alone and demanded the key."
She packed slowly, preparing for the trip and for the new life she was about to face. Finally, after zipping the bag closed, she sat down on the bed with a sigh and carefully pulled the locket out from under her shirt. She fingered it reverently for a moment before flipping it open to reveal two tiny pictures-one of her grandparents when they were much younger, and the other of her parents. Loneliness and grief overwhelmed her and she allowed the tears to silently trickle down her cheeks as she rubbed her thumb over the pictures.
A sound at the door startled her and she savagely wiped at her eyes in attempt to hide the evidence that she had been crying. She looked up to greet the person but shrank back in sudden fear as Eddie quietly entered the room and shut the door. She scrambled to the other side of the bed, trying to put as much distance between herself and him. He turned to her, his hands held high. "I'm not going to hurt you, Ally. But we both know what I'm after."
"I-I don't know what you're talking about," she stammered.
"Yes, you do. I found the envelope, Ally. It was buried in the garbage can in the kitchen. I know you have the key." He advanced on her slowly.
"No I don't! I don't have any key!" She pressed herself tightly into the corner.
Thomas stopped in front of her. "Yes, you do," he said soothingly. "Ally, let me have it. I'll destroy the disks, make Bartinol happy. Once they're gone, he'll leave you alone. You won't be a threat to him. Everything will be alright then."
She shook her head fiercely. "No it won't! My parents will still be dead and he'll get away with it, be able to hurt other people! My dad gave his life to see that Bartinol pays for what he's done. I won't let that be in vain!"
"You don't understand who you're dealing with, Ally," he said sternly. "Bartinol has no qualms against murder. You've seen that. Those disks could send him to prison for a very long time, probably even get him the death penalty. He can't afford to let them fall into the wrong hands, won't let that happen."
"Then give the disks to Uncle Tim! Have him arrested! End this!" she begged.
He shook his head sadly. "I can't do that."
"I just can't. Give me the key, Ally. Let it end here."
"No!" she declared emphatically, trying to push by him.
"Listen here, girl!" Eddie hissed sharply, grabbing her arm and jerking her around to face him as his patience finally ran thin. He pinned her against the bed and squeezed her arms in a bruising grip. "Bartinol will stop at nothing to have those disks destroyed, and he's willing to do whatever is necessary to do it! He knows you have the key, Ally! That makes you a threat, one that he is perfectly willing to eliminate! Do you want to die? Do you want him to go after your uncle, your grandfather? Do you want to see them dead? Do you? Because that is what will happen if you keep being stubborn!" He shook her in exasperation.
"Let me go!" she cried, struggling to escape.
"Then give me the key!"
"No!" she finally pulled free of his grasp and stumbled to the door and past a startled Tim Johnson.
"He was right, you know," she said softly as she rested her chin on her knees, a melancholy expression filling her features. "If Bartinol had gotten to Eddie, then who knows who else he was paying off. He probably knew exactly where the rest of my family was, and he would have been perfectly willing to use them to get to me. I couldn't let that happen, so when Bartinol's men attacked, I ran."
"What happened to the key?" Ezra asked softly, pulling her attention from her memories and back to him.
She shrugged lightly. "I don't have it anymore."
"Why not?" JD asked, tilting his head in confusion.
"Because I turned it in at the bus terminal," she said as she looked up at them, her blue eyes darkening with purpose.
They all focused startled gazes on her, and Ezra drew in a sharp breath. "Then you have-"
"The third copy," she finished for him with a nod. "Yes, I do." She stood up and walked back over to the couch to where her bag was lying on the floor and knelt down, rummaged around inside. She finally found what she was looking for and slowly pulled a small black case out of the depths. Ezra reached to take it and she held on a moment, looking deeply into his eyes as though she was asking if she truly could trust him with this. He held her gaze firmly in assurance, and she finally slowly let go and sat down on the coffee table. "I headed for Virginia and the bus terminal from North Carolina. Since the journal just mentioned the key and not what it was for or where it was to be used, neither Eddie nor Bartinol had any idea where to look."
"But Bartinol knows that you have the key, and probably the disks, then," JD pointed out as he jumped over the back of the couch and grabbed his laptop from the small table across the room. He plopped back down beside Ezra and quickly powered the machine up.
Ezra handed the boy the first disk. "Though you were the sole witness to the murders, killing you wouldn't have necessarily ended the threat, as the authorities had ample evidence concerning other crimes to ensure a conviction and imprisonment. However, since said authorities had no cognition as to his whereabouts or base of operations, he really had nothing to fear."
"But those disks could lead them directly to him, and since you knew where they were, you became a serious problem for him," Vin picked up the thread as he rounded the couch to lean over the back, peering over JD's shoulder at the computer screen.
JD opened the first file on the disk and let out a low whistle as he scrolled through the information. He quickly opened other files and other disks, perusing their contents as well. "Wow," he finally uttered in awe.
Ezra shook his head slowly as he scanned the computer screen. "Your father had truly done a remarkable job, my dear," he breathed. "Names, dates, places, maps, account numbers-he has everything. It is no small wonder that Bartinol wanted this destroyed nor that he was willing to see it done himself!" He sat back and looked at the girl, a hint of admiration in his eyes. "With the information on this disk, not only would Bartinol be convicted twenty times over for a myriad of crimes ranging from smuggling black market goods to narcotics production and marketing to the sale of all sorts of illegal weaponry, he would also be implicated as the mind behind several high profile murders and as the supplier for several notorious terrorist groups. And with the list of cohorts that your father has compiled, a number of government officials across the world would fall with him!"
"That, along with the lists of all his favorite hiding places, would see to it that there wouldn't be many places he could run," Vin observed.
"Yes. And even with it being six years out of date, this evidence is still quite lethal for Mr. Bartinol," Ezra agreed. "I can understand why he would want to ensure that it never came to light."
"What a minute, guys," JD spoke up suddenly, concern filling his features. "Eddie knew that Ally was here, right? What if he's contacted Bartinol?"
"S**t!" Vin pushed back from the couch as he realized the truth in JD's words.
"Indeed," Ezra murmured. He stood up and began pacing in front of the television, rubbing at his mouth inadvertently as he furiously tried to think of a solution. "That would mean that we are now on guard not only against Randolph but Bartinol as well."
"And Bartinol's a whole lot bigger shark than Randolph," Vin pointed out.
"Shark? Bartinol's a d**n killer whale!" JD exclaimed as he followed Ezra's pacing with his eyes.
Alex stood to her feet in a rush and ran a hand through her hair, resting it on the crown of her head in distraction. "Then I'm not safe here, and I'm putting you in danger just by staying around," she whispered. "I need to leave, now." She went to reach for her bag, but Ezra grabbed her arm, stopping her.
"Hold up a minute," he said quickly. "I don't believe that Eddie has had a chance to contact Bartinol yet."
"But he's known where I'm at since yesterday!" Alex protested.
"Yes, but he hasn't been alone in all that time! Think about it!" he said quickly as she shook her head in denial. "Johnson didn't tell him what was going on until they were on the plane-he said that himself. Josiah and Nathan met them at the airport and brought them here. They stayed here last night and have been in the company of one of us throughout the day. He hasn't been by himself more than ten minutes at any given time."
"That's plenty of time to make a phone call," Vin pointed out.
"Yes, but what happened this afternoon when Johnson had him contact an associate in Berlin?" Ezra asked excitedly.
JD looked up, his eyes wide. "He had to borrow a phone! His wouldn't work out here!"
"Exactly! And he made that call here in the presence of everyone!" Ezra gave the computer wizard a smile of approval.
Vin set a hip on the arm of the couch beside JD and crossed his arms. "He could have swiped someone else's, or just made the call from one of Chris's phones. It would have only taken a minute." he commented.
Ezra shook his head. "No, I don't think so." He resumed his pacing. "He wouldn't have risked using someone else's phone, because of the records that would have been kept there. The same reasoning applies to the use of Mr. Larabee's phones as well. And JD can always check for us to be absolutely sure. No, that's a simple rule you learn quickly while working undercover-when making contact with the team, either use your own device or a pay phone-never something that can implicate you later on, as you never know who could be listening in. So, since his phone isn't working and there obviously isn't a payphone available in this area, unless he has been able to do so tonight, I think we can assume that he has not informed Mr. Bartinol of the present circumstances." He stopped pacing and looked up at them, his eyes burning as a plan took form in his mind. "With a modicum of luck, we should be able to apprise him of our proposal before he has had a chance to do so."
"What proposal is that?" Alex asked suspiciously.
Ezra stopped in front of her and grinned widely, his gold tooth glinting in the faint lamp light. "Why, the opportunity to obtain the disks in exchange for our safety and silence, provided that he remain silent as well concerning the operation on Friday, of course."
A slow grin came to Vin's face as he realized what Ezra was planning. "JD, you think you can have something wired up by morning?"
"Sure, no problem. I've got some equipment out in Buck's truck," he grinned back, understanding Ezra's idea as well. "Given a little more time, I can even get you a video feed."
"Perfect," Ezra directed his smile toward his teammates, his emerald eyes glinting in anticipation. "You gentlemen begin laying the trap while I provide the bait to lure our prey into our hands. Mr. Dunne, can you get me the number for his cell phone? It should be working in the city." He reached for the phone.
"Wait a second," Alex said, putting her hand on his and stopping him from lifting the receiver. "If you're planning to use those disks to get Eddie here so you can get a taped confession of his involvement with Bartinol, I'm all for it. But I'll call him."
"I don't believe that would be a good idea-" Ezra started, his features falling into a frown.
"Look. He knows that I had the key and that I knew about the disks. All I have to do is call him and agree to meet him here for an exchange. If he knows that I told you guys, he's going to be suspicious of any kind of meeting at the least. But if he thinks it's just me and that it's my idea, he'll fall for it."
Ezra shook his head stubbornly. "That would require you meeting him alone. I will not allow that. It is too simple for something to go wrong."
"Nothing will go wrong," she said firmly. "Eddie doesn't want to hurt me, and if I'm willing to just hand over the key or the disks, he'll let me go. Like you said, without the disks, I'm not much of a threat to Bartinol. Besides, you guys are going to be just out of sight to back me up."
"She's right, Pard," Vin spoke up. "He's not going to go for it if he knows we're involved."
Ezra looked from one to the other before finally releasing the phone with a sigh. "Alright," he reluctantly agreed. "But when Mr. Larabee learns of our little covert operation and of her involvement, you will take the heat." He pointed an accusing finger at the sharpshooter, who grinned back at him.
"Sure, Ez. Whatever you say."
Alex shook her head in amusement before picking up the receiver. "Now that that's settled, what's that cell phone number?"
Eddie Thomas drove the rented SUV up the graveled driveway and parked outside the ranch house the next morning, looking around for the guard that he knew was just out of sight as he entered the house quietly. Outwardly, he appeared nonchalant and casual, but inside, he was nervous and apprehensive. As Ally had promised, no one else was around save the guards outside and the man that Larabee had left-wasn't it that kid, Dunne? Yes, that was who Ally had said would be around.
Good. It would be easier to pass off a plausible excuse to him should he stumbled upon the exchange than it would be to any other members of team seven.
The thought did little to sooth his nerves, though.
He again ran through the brief phone conversation in his head as he silently crept through the living room toward the hallway.
He and Johnson had been sitting at the conference table in the FBI offices, going over the coming operation with the agents they were trusting to be involved in the upcoming arrests. He wasn't paying very close attention; instead he was contemplating a good excuse that could take him back out to the ground floor and the bank of payphones there, or at the very least, somewhere secluded so he could make the call that he had been dreading to make ever since Tim had told him where they were going and why.
He didn't want to contact Bartinol, had been avoiding it, but knew he couldn't put it off too much longer. While he hadn't had much contact with the man since the demise of Sanders and Alex's disappearance, Bartinol had made it clear that if she should ever show back up, that he was to be notified immediately. But Eddie had been waiting until the last possible second because while he knew he couldn't let Bartinol be swept up in the sting, he wanted to see Larabee's team get Randolph. That way at least some justice would be carried out.
He ran a hand through his hair, trying to figure out how his life had become such a mess. Just as Tim looked at him to clarify a point, his cell phone rang. He answered it and was surprised to hear Alex's voice on the line, telling him that she was willing to exchange the disks. With everyone's eyes focused on him, he knew he couldn't finish the call here, and told her he would call her back in five minutes. She had agreed and given him her number. He hung up and told the others with a grin that it had been his girlfriend and that he was going to skip out for a few moments to complete the call in private. Johnson just rolled his eyes and smirked but nodded, giving him permission to leave. One of the local feds offered to let him use his office if he wanted to keep it private and he had quickly headed for that room to make his call. Alex picked up on the first ring.
"Eddie?" she asked.
"Yes, it's me. Now what's this about being willing to exchange the disks?" he demanded, getting down to business.
"Just what I said. I have the disks, and I'm willing to give them to you."
"You have the disks?!"
"Yes, I have the disks. The key was for a locker in a bus station in Virginia. There was a letter with the key, explaining the location. After I left North Carolina, I went to Roanoke and got the disks. I wanted to keep them safe, but now I'm willing to hand them over."
"Why? You were pretty adamant against that the last time we discussed this," he pointed out suspiciously.
"Then, I was a kid and had just been through an emotional hell. I was scared and wasn't thinking clearly," she answered.
"Why now? What happened to the desire for justice and all that?"
"Like I said, I'm no longer that naive, thirteen year-old kid. Now, I'm older, wiser and have spent the last six years living on the streets. It's not easy, Eddie, and I don't want to live like that anymore. I'm tired of it all. I want to have a normal life again. I want to be able to sleep at night without being afraid of monsters in the dark. I want to go to college, get a job, do something with my life. I can't do that if things stay the way they are now."
"No, you can't," he mused. "I'm glad you've come to your senses; I'm just sorry it took this to do it."
"Yeah, me too," she agreed. "Look. You told me before that if Bartinol had the disks, then he would leave me alone, that I wouldn't be a threat to him any longer. Do you think that's still true?"
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Yes, yes. With the evidence no longer a danger, you couldn't hurt him. Bartinol's a businessman first and foremost, and he didn't have anything personal against you. I'm sure he'd let you alone."
"Okay. I'll meet you here tomorrow morning, say nine o'clock?"
"Why not give them to me tonight?" he asked.
"No, there will be too many people around tonight. We're better off waiting until tomorrow morning when most of them will be gone."
I don't like meeting there," he disagreed.
"I know, but I can't exactly slip away, now can I?" she pointed out sarcastically. "Besides, like I said, Larabee and his team will be gone by then, except for the one he'll leave on guard, and I think that's the kid. And you shouldn't have any trouble getting past him or the guards outside. You're a member of the case team. Just tell them you wanted to check up on me, or that you came after some papers or something. You're a smart man-I'm sure you can think of something."
"Alright, the guards outside aren't a problem; they know me now and know that I'm working the case. The kid shouldn't be too hard to get by, either, but what about Standish? He's not going to be fooled easily."
"Standish doesn't get out of bed before noon unless he has to. Get here early enough, and you won't have any problems from him."
He hesitated for a moment, thinking it over, before finally agreeing. "Alright. I'll be back out there at nine the next morning. Where will I find you?"
"If you follow the hallway past the back bedrooms all the way to the end, you'll come to a closed door. It leads to a family room. Larabee keeps that room closed off, and no one goes back there, so we should be able to do this without interruption."
"Alright," he repeated. "The family room at Larabee's ranch tomorrow at nine. I'll see you there. And Ally? You're doing the right thing," he said softly.
There was a brief pause for a minute before he heard her mutter, "I hope so." She then hung up the phone.
He heard a sound in the kitchen and stopped, silently peaking through the doorway to see the kid with his back to the door, making a sandwich. Ear phones covered his ears, and he was bobbing his head in time with what Eddie guessed to be some kind of rock song. JD was completely oblivious to everything going on behind him, and Eddie quietly slipped on into the hallway.
He stopped at the first closed door on the right and gently opened it, peering through the dim light at the twin beds across the room. A large lump could be seen on the bed to the right and auburn hair peaked out from under the comforter. Eddie could hear quiet snoring coming from the form, and he watched it rise and fall slowly with each breath. Satisfied that the man in the bed was indeed asleep, he eased the door closed and padded on down the hallway, shaking his head.
A kid that was supposed to be on guard but wasn't paying a bit of attention to what was going on around him. A undercover agent who could sleep like the dead. If those two, along with the rest of the cracked pots on team seven, were supposed to be some of the best agents this side of the Mississippi, then the west was in sad shape.
* * * * * * *
JD continued making his sandwich, pausing only when he saw Eddie's reflection in the toaster disappear as the man entered the hallway. He had headed for the kitchen as soon as Vin had given the word over the radio that Eddie was coming up the driveway and had quickly busied himself, listening on his headset to the occasional rustle as one of the others tried to get more comfortable.
As soon as Eddie disappeared from view, he fingered the mike button on the receiver at his waist and slipped out the back door. "The fox is in the henhouse, and he's headed your way, Ez." He whispered, taking up his position at the end of the deck.
He muffled a small chuckle as he picked up the soft snores that started immediately after his warning, and checked the video and audio feeds coming from inside once more.
It was just about show time.
* * * * * * *
As soon as he heard JD's warning, Ezra pulled the comforter up over his head, leaving a slight crack between the blanket and the pillow so that he could clearly see the door. He grimaced as the ear piece was pressed further into his ear by being caught between his head and the pillow, but he ignored it, concentrating instead on keeping his breathing even as he watched the door open slowly.
When Eddie left, he waited a few seconds before climbing out of the bed and quietly padding to the door, easing it open ever so slightly to make sure the man was out of sight. As soon as Alex's voice came over the earpiece, he slipped out into the hall, intent on being in a location where he could quickly get into the room should something go wrong.
* * * * * * *
Right after he saw Eddie enter the house, Vin left his surveillance position from the hayloft and slipped through the corral beside the barn, making sure to remain concealed from the house itself. He crossed the yard and turned the corner of the addition that housed the family room, coming to a quiet stop behind the team leader. Larabee glanced up and acknowledged his presence before turning his attention back to the conversation coming over the radio.
* * * * * * *
Chris shifted a bit, trying to ease the ache in his knees as he crouched down beside the house right at the deck steps, his gun in hand. Agent Johnson squatted beside him, his face set in a hard expression as he cupped a hand to his ear to better hear the conversation coming from inside the room.
Chris could easily make out the betrayal mingled with grief and anger in the older man's eyes, and he sympathized, imagining how it would feel to find that not only had one of your closest friends been lying to you over the years and collaborating with the enemy, he had knowingly fed information to said enemy that resulted in the death of another close friend.
It must be pure hell.
To say that he hadn't been pleased when the quartet had told him their plans early that morning was definitely the understatement of the year, but by then it had been too late to call it off without jeopardizing the entire case, and he had been forced to go along with it. At least they had seen fit to tell him before it began, instead of waiting until after they had Thomas handcuffed to the corral fence.
That could be considered progress, he supposed.
And after he heard the rest of Alex's story and the details of their plan, he had to grudgingly admit it was a good one. Johnson had protested until JD played the tape of the phone conversation. Any doubts that Thomas wasn't involved with the other side were vanquished after that. The older man had just sat back in stunned silence for a moment before turning to the girl and apologizing profusely, a combination of sadness and regret flooding his voice. It had definitely come as a shock to the older man.
JD had shown them the disks as well, and Chris couldn't believe the depth and detail of the evidence on them. Allen Sanders had been one h**l of an agent, and even though he hadn't known the man, Chris could feel anger welling up in his heart at his death. There were few good men left in this world, and even fewer good agents, and the loss of one of that caliber was indeed a blow to the whole law enforcement community. He could still feel the fury that had swept through him when he heard the evidence of Agent Thomas's betrayal. As far as he was concerned, that put the man on a scale lower than that of the murderer himself. Dirty cops were the lowest of the low, but one that knowingly sold out his own partner, his friend-that one didn't even deserve to be called human. Chris silently vowed to himself that he would personally see to it that the man, his wife, and his daughter received justice, starting with the agent that had betrayed them.
He would make sure that particular roach rotted in the darkest cell he could find.
* * * * * * *
Buck hunkered down on the towel in the bathtub behind the shower curtain and watched in the mirror as Eddie slinked past the doorway with barely a glance into the room before turning the knob and slipping into the appointed room. While Buck had a clear view of the double agent in the mirror, because he was crouched down below the mirror's level, Eddie couldn't see him.
As soon as he heard the family room door close, he slipped out of his hiding spot, thankful that he had the foresight to lay the towel down to muffled the sound. Gun in hand, he crept to the door where he nodded silently to Ezra as he came up the hall and positioned himself just outside the door.
Buck too had been furious when shown the tape of Thomas's betrayal, and he had readily agreed to the plan that the others had come up with to bring Thomas down. He thought back to the weariness and pain in Alex's eyes, the hell she must have gone through over the years, and his face hardened as he gripped his gun a little tighter. He would make sure that the men who had been responsible for the girl's suffering paid for their crimes.
No one hurt a woman and got away with it, not if Buck Wilmington was around.
The man would pay, and pay dearly.
* * * * * * *
Alex looked up from her seat on the piano stool as Thomas entered the room and her heart beat a little faster. Even though she knew that Ezra and Buck were right outside the door, that Chris, Vin, Johnson, and JD were just out of sight around the corner of the deck, and that Nathan and Josiah were even now positioning themselves under the window to cut off any avenue of escape, she couldn't help but feel a bit nervous. She could hardly believe that after all these years, it was finally coming to an end, that soon, Bartinol would be in custody and she would be free. It was hard to take in.
But first, they had to bring down Agent Thomas.
She fingered the floppy disks in her pocket absently as she composed herself. Before giving her the disks for the sting, JD had burned two copies onto CD, ensuring that if something should happen to the originals, her father's work would still live on.
She took a deep breath, put a neutral expression on her face, and stood to her feet to face the man. It was time to end this.
Eddie glanced out the window and the French doors leading to the deck before turning toward her, his face showing his conflict and relief. "You have them?" he asked expectantly.
She nodded. "I do. But I have one question before I give them to you."
Eddie again glanced out the doors while running a hand through his hair, looking as though he were going to protest. "And that would be?" he asked impatiently.
"How did you know?" she questioned softly. "How did you know about Seattle, Vancouver, the yacht? How did you know what dad was planning on doing?"
Eddie rubbed his forehead nervously, debating on telling her or not. Alex saw his hesitation and quickly pressed her point. "Come on Eddie, you at least owe me an explanation. It's not like I can use it against you. You proved that six years ago."
He studied her for a moment then nodded, taking a seat on the arm of the overstuffed armchair sitting beside the door. "At first, your dad was just a minor annoyance to Bartinol, like a fly or something. He managed to get in a blow or two, but nothing that worried Bartinol too much. But Allen was good at his job, and he was determined to bring Bartinol down. He kept digging, kept worrying the situation, kept working at it, and his persistence paid off. Soon, he began getting breaks, taking down large chunks of Bartinol's cartel and getting close to the man himself. And that's when Bartinol realized he would have to do something about him. He tried buying Allen off at one time," he snorted. "I'm sure you know how that went. When Bartinol realized that Allen wasn't going to bend, he began trying other deterrents. And that's when he approached me with an offer I couldn't refuse. There in the beginning, your dad talked the case over with us, kept us informed of his movements, but the closer he got to Bartinol and the more he learned about the man, the more he kept to himself. It was my job to pass information along to Bartinol, but I can tell you that got harder and harder to do. Many of the busts your dad organized, I knew nothing about until after they occurred."
He stood up and walked to the French doors, gazing out into the gloom of the overcast day. "They kept squaring off, your dad and Bartinol. At one point, Bartinol even sent a hired assassin after your dad. The man almost succeeded. Remember when your dad was shot?" Alex nodded, remembering the nightmarish week the September before her parents' death, when her mother had received the call telling them her dad was in a DC hospital with a bullet in his chest. Though her father had recovered quickly and no one had given her the details of what had happened, she knew she had come close to losing him then.
Eddie glanced back at her for a moment. "That was courtesy of Bartinol. But your dad didn't let up. He kept digging, kept hacking away at the man's empire. Then came the day Allen disappeared. He called me and Tim, telling us that he had finally had a break to some inside information that would bring Bartinol down once and for all and that he would contact us as soon as he got it." He sighed. "He was gone for two months. We didn't hear from him again until the night before Seattle. I warned Bartinol, of course. The man was furious, demanding that I find out what Allen had, do something to stop him, but what could I do? I didn't have a clue where he was."
"So how did you find out his plans?" she asked in confusion.
He shoved his hands into his pockets and chuckled bitterly. "I got d**n lucky. Your dad and I had worked a case a few years earlier involving a man and his sister in Italy. They weren't exactly on the straight and narrow mind you, but they were good hearted people. They helped us out of a jam and got us info on the case, and we let them be. We all got to be good friends, and me and Caroline, the sister-well let's just say we were a little closer than that. I was finishing up an Interpol assignment in Athens when I ran across her. During the course of the conversation, I found out your dad had been in contact with her and her brother not three days earlier, asking for a favor. Of course, it was easy getting her to cave in, even though your dad had asked her to keep quiet. All I had to do was put on a little show about being worried about my friend being alone on this without backup, and she told me everything she knew. I traced the brother to Vancouver and after doing a little digging, found out about the yacht. When you dad finally contacted us two days after that, I put two and two together and figured out what was going on."
Alex's eyes narrowed. "And you passed what you knew along to Bartinol."
He averted his gaze from her glare and nodded sadly. "Yes."
"So you were responsible for the death of not just my dad and mom, but another man that you called friend as well." Alex shook her head in disbelief, finding it hard to reconcile this Eddie with the man she had remembered from her childhood, hard to believe that he could be so callous, so uncaring. She fingered the cover on the piano absently as she tried to gather her composure before asking her next question. "What about the guy they found and blamed for the leak?" she asked quietly without looking at him.
"He was a leak for Bartinol, but he didn't know about me. When Bartinol found out about the investigation into me, he set the other guy up to take the fall. Even made it look like he knew one of the guards your dad was using, and since those men were dead, no one was around who could prove otherwise. That neat little trick also got Caroline off my trail as well," Eddie commented as he leaned back against the door frame and ran a hand down his face. "Bartinol definitely did a good job of cleaning up that mess," he sighed.
Silence filled the room for a moment before Alex finally voiced the one question that had been haunting her thoughts for the last six years. "Why, Eddie?" she almost whispered as she finally looked up at him with a piercing gaze filled with grief, anger, and complete bewilderment. "Why did you betray your partner, your friend to what you knew would be his death?"
Eddie shied from her accusing stare and turned to look out the doors as he rubbed his eyes, his posture one of defeat. He ducked his head and squeezed his eyes closed for a moment before finally giving her an answer. "For Lindsey," he sighed. "I did it for Lindsey".
"Your daughter?" Alex asked in confusion.
He nodded sadly. "Yes. She lives with my ex in Texas. You didn't know her, but she was the light of my world then." He smiled fondly as a picture of a carefree little redhead with brown eyes, freckles, and a bright grin that she reserved especially for her daddy flashed across his mind's eye, but the smile quickly faded away as he remembered the events that he was now recounting. "It tore me up when my ex-wife got sole custody of her. I got to visit once in a while, but it was hard." He looked down at his hands. "Nine years ago, when she was fifteen, she became deathly ill. We found out she had a bad heart. She needed an immediate transplant, or she wasn't going to make it. But she was so far down on the waiting list and time was running out. We did everything we could, but it didn't help. Finally, just when I was at my wit's end, Bartinol approached me. He said he could get me a donor, if I would be willing to get him some information. A simple trade, he said." He turned to her, his expression fierce. "Lindsey was my life, my joy. Without her, I had no reason for living. I would do anything, anything for her." He closed his eyes and let out a breath of air in a long, slow sigh as he leaned his head back against the door frame. "Even sell my soul to the devil," he whispered miserably.
"And that's what you did," Alex said softly.
"Yes," he nodded slowly and looked her straight in the eye resolutely. "It came down to my daughter or my partner. There was no decision."
"You could have told dad or Uncle Tim. You could have done something else!" she countered as she crossed the room to face him.
"There was nothing they could do!" he disagreed fiercely. "My daughter was dying, and Bartinol was the only one who could save her. I'm sorry, Ally, but I had no choice."
Alex turned from him and hugged herself tightly, trying to get control of her anger and regret. "Did she make it?" she asked finally, keeping her back to him.
A ghost of a smile flitted across his features. "Yes," he answered fondly. "She graduated college last year and is working in an elementary school in Dallas." The smile disappeared as the clock in the hallway chimed the half-hour, and he glanced at his watch. "We're taking too much time. I answered your questions; now hold up your end of the bargain. Give me the disks." He walked up to her and held out his hand expectantly.
She licked her lips, hesitating, but finally reached into her pocket and pulled out the small case, staring at it for a moment before slowly handing it to him. He flipped it open and rifled through the disks, nodding as he recognized the handwriting on the labels. He snapped the lid closed and slipped the case into the inside pocket of his coat. "I'll check these and then call Bartinol in the morning, right before the bust," he said as he crossed to the hallway door. "That should give him enough time to escape without tipping off Randolph."
"Or you could just let the bust go on and capture Bartinol as well," Alex pointed out softly. "You could let it end here and now, Eddie. You could turn the disks over to Uncle Tim and Mr. Larabee, tell them what you know. Work with them and bring Bartinol down once and for all!"
Eddie paused with his hand on the door handle, his head hanging low. He glanced back at her and smiled wearily, shaking his head at her words. "It's too late for that." he whispered sadly.
"No, it's not!" she insisted as she crossed to him and laid a hand on his arm. "Please, Eddie," she pleaded. "If you won't do it for yourself, then do it for Lindsey."
He turned back to the door, his back to her, and shook off her hand. "That's exactly who I'm doing it for," he declared. "I'm sorry, Ally."
"And I'm sorry as well."
Eddie spun around, recognizing the voice of his friend, to find Chris Larabee and Timothy Johnson standing just inside the French doors. "It's over, Thomas," Chris said simply, pointing his gun at the man. "Give it up."
Eddie's eyes widened in fear and he jerked the door open, only to run headlong into the tall form of Buck Wilmington. Buck shoved him back into the room before spinning him around and slapping a pair of handcuffs on him. "Like the man said," he declared harshly, "It's over."
Eddie struggled for a moment, pulling out of Buck's grasp and stumbling further into the room. "You can't prove anything!" he shouted, backing up against the cloth-covered piano. "It's your word against mine. The disks are fine! Ally was just giving them to me for safe keeping! You have nothing on me!"
It was my job to pass information along to Bartinol, but I can tell you that got harder and harder to do
Eddie looked over at the French doors, his eyes wide at hearing his own words played back at him. He spun around to see JD enter the room from outside, a small recorder in his hand. "I'm afraid we do have something on you, Agent Thomas." JD said as he flipped the machine off.
Eddie slumped in resignation as the rest of Larabee's team entered the room. He looked up to see his boss standing in front of him, anger and bitterness roaring in his eyes. Johnson didn't say a word; instead, he simply reached into Eddie's pocket and withdrew the case. He handed it to Chris before turning to the man he once called friend. Their eyes locked and held for a moment before Johnson turned away in regret, motioning for the two FBI agents standing to the side. "Get him out of here," he commanded.
Eddie allowed them to lead him to the door, pausing only when he passed Alex. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye before facing forward and bowing his head. "I'm sorry, Ally," he said quietly.
"I'm sorry too, Eddie," she whispered back sadly as she slid her hands into her jacket pockets.
Ezra came over and stood beside the girl as they watched the man being led from the room. He didn't touch her, but offered his comfort by his presence. "So what happens now?" Alex asked softly, finally tearing her gaze from the door where Eddie had disappeared.
Chris turned to her, his eyes full of promise and retribution. "Now we take Bartinol and Randolph down."
* * * * * * *
An incessant buzzing woke Chris from the depths of slumber, and he rolled over on the bed, fumbling for the lamp groggily, trying to figure out where he was and what was going on.
After Eddie's arrest, he and the others, along with the FBI agents, other ATF teams, and state police also involved in the case, had worked tirelessly, hammering out the final details of the bust, trying to predict anything that could possibly go wrong and head off anything that would lead to failure. Surveillance at the airport had called in around eight that evening to let them know that Bartinol had indeed arrived and had been escorted to the Randolph mansion. Finally, around 1 a.m. on Friday, Chris had declared it a night and sent all the others home to try and get some rest before six-thirty that morning, when they would reassemble to put their plans in motion for the show down planned for eight. The members of team seven had all opted to stay over at the ranch house that night and were even now scattered about throughout the house, trying to catch a few precious moments of sleep on any available surface they could find. Chris himself had collapsed fully-clothed into his own bed at two after Nathan had chased him from the living room and the warehouse drawings. Thankfully, he fell asleep not too long afterwards, despite the weight on his mind.
Chris finally got the lamp on and blinked his eyes as he grabbed his watch off of the nightstand-and blinked again when he realized that it was 5 am, and that the buzzing was his cell phone. "What the h**l?" he grumbled, reaching for the infuriating device. "Larabee," he growled into the receiver.
Ten seconds later, he was scrambling off the bed, reaching for his boots as he stormed down the hall, cell phone cradled to his head. He pounded on the doors of the two bedrooms further down as he passed them and nudged the sleeping bags in the living room floor none-too gently as he flipped the lights on. "When?" he barked into the phone. "How?"
Vin was instantly awake and out of his bag, watching as Chris paced in front of the fire place in agitation. He quickly pulled on his boots and nudged the covered lump that was JD beside him. "Come on kid," he whispered. "Something's up."
Buck sat up from his spot on the couch and rubbed his face, a huge yawn splitting his features. "What's going on?" he asked no one in particular.
The rest of the house's occupants stumbled out of the hall in rumpled clothing, blinking sleepily in the bright light. "Someone had better have a good reason for arousing me from my slumber a good," Ezra glanced at the clock on the wall, "hour before the appointed time," he growled, absently patting his hair into place.
"I believe Brother Chris is about to explain," Josiah motioned for the man's silence, nodding toward the team leader.
"D**n-it!" Chris cursed as he viciously slammed the tiny phone onto the stone hearth, shattering the small device into several pieces. He leaned against the mantle and squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing at his forehead wearily.
"What happened?" Nathan asked, dreading the answer.
Whatever it was, it wasn't good.
Chris turned to face his men, anger radiating from his very pores. He kicked at the end table near his leg. "That was Johnson," he said in disgust. "Thomas has escaped."