redmen

The Red Man - part 1


He’s dreaming. He knows it, already long familiar with the creep out of deeper sleep to one of fugitive image and sound, and—

Red, everywhere. Red, red, red.

On the walls, on the bed, the floor—splashes still glass-wet in the thready pale sun that inches through the window. He takes a cautious step, then another. He trips and stumbles into a pool of blood and his heel slides forward. He reaches out, grabbing, falling, and suddenly he’s outside in a tangled grey garden that’s rotten with dying trees. Beyond is the ocean, colorless as well. On its edge, far away, is the sun, a dirty orange oval. It’s all unutterably sad and he tells himself to wake up, that it’s just a dream and dreams aren’t real.

He grunts, almost has it, but not…

… he pushes through the dead foliage, edges by a shriveled rose, around a tilting pine. The beach is a bare yard away—he knows if he reaches it, it will be okay because he’s done this before. Been here before.

But before he can step one foot on the sand, a breeze starts up. It’s cold and he shivers, then again because it makes an odd sound, running through the tops of the dead trees like an off-key pennywhistle. The kind you hear at a carnival—in and out, in and out, and not in any way cheerful.

The tune fades as another sound emerges—a breath of laughter, almost a giggle that goes on too long. He freezes, listening harder, his breath caught in his chest. This time the chill that runs down his back has nothing to do with the breeze and if he hadn’t been afraid before he is now, because he knows that when he turns, he’ll see him and there’s nothing, nothing, nothing, he can do about it…

Wake up.

…wanting to do anything but move, wishing his arms weren’t dead weight, he pivots and—

Wake up.

______________


Marin County, California

Wednesday, March 10

 

Mark stuck his hands in his pockets and shifted to the right, using his presence to calm the newbie’s nerves. They were standing close together, just inches apart and he could almost feel the kid vibrate. Could definitely hear the ice clink in his glass because his hand was shaking so. Even his voice, when he’d commented on the performance, had carried the echoes of his jitters and Mark’s worry grew. For all his computer know-how, the kid was too new, too green—it was as simple as that.

‘Kid.’

Hardly a kid, but Peter was so inexperienced, he gave ‘neophyte’ a bad name, and once again Mark wondered what the hell John was thinking. They needed to replace Mathew, yes. They needed someone they could trust around computers and all that shite, but Christ…

It was all because of John’s father, of course. A favor owed or maybe just a fuck you to the old man, he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that Peter was thirty-three, the son of the old man’s childhood friend, and an electronics genius.

Knowing John’s history, it was probably the latter, but one couldn’t really tell. Those two, father and son, had some weird thing going on, as classic a love/hate relationship as Mark had ever seen.

He’d asked Luke about it, years ago when John had finally brought him fully into the fold, but all he got was a crocodile’s smile and a smooth, ‘you really don’t want to know, trust me.’ And that was that.

“Look at that,” Peter unknowingly echoed, gesturing with his drink. “He’s going to do it blindfolded. What a loon.”

Mark made a non-committal noise as he watched Mashburn tie a blindfold around Mr. Jane’s eyes. Both men were loons, as far as he was concerned. He’d watched all afternoon as they tried to best each other. Finally, in an effort to convince Mashburn that he wasn’t a charlatan, Mr. Jane had suggested this bizarre litmus test.

For whatever reason, Mashburn had agreed. Maybe because he was one of those men who hated to lose. Or maybe because he could afford a ding or two on his very expensive car because he was stinking rich. Mark’s cursory Google search brought up a lot of data on Mashburn, something he would tell John when the time was right—a man that wealthy was worth looking into.

But not today. Today was a test to see if Peter could handle himself in a crowd of Americans. His German had passed with flying colors in Bonn; his French was passable in Paris; his Spanish had been truly fucked in Barcelona.

John hadn’t said much when they’d returned to London—he’d just taken Peter out for a walk in Kew Gardens and when they got back, Peter was practically glowing. John used his sexuality like currency, and it wasn’t until you were caught that you realized it was all counterfeit. ‘don’t fall for it,’ Mark had wanted to say, ‘nothing will come of it.’

But of course he hadn’t. He just nodded when John suggested their next foray should be in the States to observe their friend in San Francisco.  As he’d nodded when John sent them off with a smile and a, ‘and while you’re at it, run by Sacramento.’

On the long flight west, he’d debated calling Luke to get his opinion. The side trip, as far as he was concerned, served no purpose and would put a damper on their future plans if anything happened.

He didn’t make the call, but promised himself that as soon as they got back, he and Luke would sit down and have a serious discussion. Interests were all well and good, but not to the point of obsession.

“Wow,” Peter whispered.

Mark looked up, following Peter’s gaze. The men were in the car and it started to move forward, slowly at first, then picking up speed. As they passed the clubhouse, the crowd surged forward and the kid went with them. Mark waited for the boy to break and speak in his unmistakable Welsh accent, but he didn’t.

As the car came to a screeching halt, he turned and said in a passable American twang, “That was amazing. How do you think he did it? Is that the thing you were showing me last week?”

Mark shrugged and got out his mobile. It was, indeed, a variation of the type of mental control—the ability to read body language—he’d been illustrating back in England. Mr. Jane, of course, had distilled the ability down to an art. Better than John or Luke, not that he’d be saying that any time soon. “Of a sort.”

“What now?”

The shake had vanished from Peter’s voice and Mark wondered if he’d been testing himself as well. Confidence, especially self, was imperative in their line of work. “Now? Now we go home.”

“Right.” And then, “Holy Christ!”

Mark pivoted. Mr. Jane might have done a stellar job in reading Mashburn’s physical responses, but he’d done a poor job in applying the parking brake. As they watched, the Lamborghini gently slipped over the cliff. He wanted to laugh out loud at the surprise in the set of Mr. Jane’s shoulders, at Agent Cho’s face as he turned and strode away. Right past them, back to the clubhouse.

He smiled and touched the kid’s arm. “I’ll be a moment.” He dialed as he made his way to the edge of the lot. It took a moment for the call to connect, then another for John to answer.

“Where are you?”

“The Catamaran Club.”

“The connection is bad.”

“I’m using a throwaway.”

“Hmm.” And then, “How is it going?”

“Fine.”

“And Mr. Jane?”

“He’s fine as well. He just wrecked a Lamborghini.”

There was a pause and when John answered, his voice held that timbre that told Mark he was smiling, “Did he now? Too bad I missed it.”

“It was interesting.”

“Is he hurt?”

“No.”

“Good. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to him.”

Mark said nothing, because after all, there was nothing to say.

“And our fledgling?”

“I’d like to run him through a couple more dry runs.”

“He’s been on a dozen.”

“His reaction time is excessive, he hesitates too much, and he stutters when he gets nervous.”

“All that will disappear with experience.”

“Maybe—”

“Mark. You worry too much. He’ll be fine.”

John’s voice was indulgent but with that adamant sting that he recognized from long experience. “Then, yes,” he said reluctantly, “we have a new Mathew.”

“Excellent. We’ve a lot of catch-up work ahead of us. First, Ineed to know if our favorite inspector is taking a jaunt anytime soon.”

“No. Mathew checked last night. He’s scheduled for a visit to the doctor this week, then onto Edinburgh the week after next.”

“No sudden trips to Atlanta, Paris or San Francisco?”

“None that we know of.”

“Good.”

Mark hesitated, then asked, “What job do you want to take on first?”

“I’m leaving for Geneva in the morning. When I return, we’ll sit down and discuss it.”

Mark hesitated again. The words, ‘are you really going ahead with that?’ were burning his lips, but like the other, he knew not to ask. Instead, he muttered a neutral, “Should I telephone Luke?”

“No, Iwill.”

And he thought that’s all it would be, that John would hang up and they’d each be on their way, but then he asked softly, “And the lovelyAgent Cho? I’m assuming he’s there as well.”

Mark looked around. The agent was on the club’s veranda, mobile pressed to his ear. Even at this distance, Mark could see his pained expression. He was no doubt calling his superior to tell her that Mr. Jane had wrecked a very expensive car. “He’s here. He’s none too happy with Mr. Jane right now. I wonder if he’ll be responsible for the damages?”

He’d said it mostly to himself, but John responded with an equally vague, “I would imagine not.”

He’d never questioned John’s interest in Agent Cho. He couldn’t even imagine the conversation; John would either give him that patient, ‘you’re being an ass’ look, or say gently that in his organization, everyone was expendable. Save Luke, of course. “So we’re done here?”

“Yes.” And, just as he was getting ready to hit disconnect, John added, “Wait.”

“Yes?”

“Get pictures, will you?”

He hung up before Mark could object, could say that would be foolish in the extreme, given Mr. Jane’s heightened sense of awareness and perception.

But he followed the crowd as they wandered back to the clubhouse, and as they walked, he held up his mobile, pretending to look for a number, all the while taking photos of Agent Cho.

 

______________

Monday, March 22

 

“One, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door,” Jane sang under his breath as he turned the pages of the newspaper.

The nursery rhyme had been stuck in his head all day, thanks to Rigsby. He’d been whistling it under his breath when he’d gotten in that morning. And later on as he’d done his paperwork, over and over in an endless cycle. Jane didn’t mind, though. He liked the tune. He’d taught it to his daughter when she was learning to count.

She’d been confused, though, until he’d shown her what a buckle was. She’d gotten the word mixed up with pickle and couldn’t understand what a food that she didn’t really like had to do with shoes.

He smiled. It was a sweet memory, untainted by pain or regret. And then his smile died when he realized the path his thoughts had taken. It had been happening more and more lately—the realization that, occasionally, the sharp edges of his grief were getting blunt, as if wearing thin from overuse. He wasn’t sure what he felt about it yet, just that it made his chest hurt every time he realized he’d forgotten to be sad.

“Anything good?”

“Hmm?” He twisted to find Van Pelt behind him, looking over his shoulder. She had a yogurt in one hand, a spoon in the other. “Oh…” He glanced back down to the paper. It was the Local section of the L.A. Times. He hadn’t really been reading it. It had just been something to pass the time because the week had been relatively quiet and he’d been relatively bored. “Nah, same old, same old.”

“Did you read about that woman who was attacked by a mountain lion?” She pulled out a chair and sat down.

He scanned the articles, but his interest was captured by a story on the home invasions of the previous year. The perpetrators had been caught just last week, but not before they’d wrecked a line of terror down the state. “Was she killed?” he asked absently. There was a graphic illustrating the timeline of the invasions. They followed a linear route: from north to south, all involving solitary homes on large estates near Interstate 5. Except—and he bent closer to see—for a lone incident last year.

“No, her dog saved her. Thank God.”

“God had nothing to do with it. The animal was just following its instincts.”

“Jane, how can you say that?”

He folded the paper and looked up. Van Pelt was digging around in her yogurt, scraping the sides in agitation. She had dark circles under her eyes belying her usual wholesome appearance. “It’s easy,” he remarked calmly. “And I’ll say it again. It had nothing to do with God.”

“God has everything to do with it.”

“God has everything to do with what?”

They both turned as Cho walked into the room. His hair was damp and he was wearing one of Jane’s favorite shirts—the pale blue one with a slight sheen that caught the light. When he reached inside the refrigerator for his post-workout Sobe, the fabric stretched tight across his back, delineating every muscle.

Jane watched appreciatively, wondering what Cho would do if he reached out and touched. Jump and ask what the hell he thought he was doing? Slap his hand and not sleep with him for the next two weeks?

He sighed and turned back to the paper. Van Pelt was concentrating on the yogurt container, but her cheeks were a bright pink. Jane cocked his head. She’d been doing that a lot lately, watching him. He’d first chalked it up to her general missishness, then to general self-consciousness because she and Rigsby had started sleeping together some months ago and he knew she was waiting to be found out. But no, it was something else. It was almost as if—

“Well?”

He shrugged and gestured to the paper. “Just discussing the relation between God and mountain lions.”

“In other words, Idon’t want to know?”

“I wouldn’t if I were you.”

“Jane—” Van Pelt began heatedly when Lisbon hurried into the room. 

“Head’s up. We’ve got a hot one. A triple homicide in South Woodbridge. Jane, you want to come?” She checked her gun as she spoke, doing whatever one did to guns to get them ready.

He leaned back in his chair. Cho and Van Pelt had already left the kitchen. “That depends. What’s in South Woodbridge?”

She holstered her gun. “Why don’t you come and find out?”

He hesitated. There was no reason not to go; it’s what he did, after all. But something was bothering him, some odd nagging nothing that tugged on his consciousness in a sly, sneaky way and he wasn’t sure what that thing might be.

“Well?” she asked impatiently.

“Yeah, okay.” He stood up slowly. Lisbon made a face and hurried away. He followed. Then turned and grabbed the paper. He tore out the section about the home invasions, folded it haphazardly and tucked it in his pocket.

***

He hitched a ride with Lisbon and Van Pelt. The trip was quiet—no one saying much. Jane spent the time looking out the window, willing his mind blank so he could remember what he seemed to be forgetting.

It was no use and when they got to Woodbridge, he distracted himself with the view.

Woodbridge was a small town surrounded by vineyards. This early, the vines were nothing more than sticks with a few leaves and they looked strangely sad, as if there was no possible way they’d survive to maturity.

He shrugged off his odd tristesse and touched his pocket.

“Van Pelt,” Lisbon pointed to the right. “There’s the country club. Just keep going— Yeah, there they are.”

He peered over the back seat and sure enough, a half a mile down the pretty, tree-lined road was a small sea of police vehicles, lights flashing. Across the road stood a crowd, obviously neighbors, waiting to see what was what.

“Van Pelt?” he murmured, looking at the crowd.

“Yeah?”

“Slow down. Let’s take a look.”

She reduced her speed, giving him time to examine the neighbors. There was nothing much to see—middle to upper class, dressed for a hot day, with varying expressions of concern mixed and avid curiosity.

There wasn’t space to park on the curb or driveway—Van Pelt had to use the lawn. She frowned as she drove over the curb and Jane could see it pained her, having to deface the homeowner’s property. He wanted to say that they were probably dead and they wouldn’t mind. He didn’t—as she got out, Lisbon had given him a look, the one that said, ‘Mind your manners and keep your mouth shut.’

He shrugged and followed, stretching his arms and legs. He had to walk through a phalanx of cops gathered on the lawn, but when he got clear, he was able to see the house. It was pretty if a little sterile. Fairly new with a tall arched entrance that had been popular a few years ago. It butted up to the golf course and he wondered if the homeowners played or if they’d chosen it for its obvious cost and isolation.

He stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered to the side of the house. The border gardens were modest with the usual roses and lilies, and wound around to the rear of the house. In the backyard, a tall weeping willow lay in the dead center of the bright green lawn. More cops gathered in its shade and as he watched, Rigsby and Van Pelt strode from the house to meet them.

He inspected the area quickly, then returned to the front. Cho was waiting for him on the stoop, trying to make it look like he wasn’t waiting. Jane touched his arm as he passed and went inside.

The interior was as neat as the exterior and had that same blank sterility. The furnishings were tastefully expensive, but not outrageously so. The same for the art scattered about on the mantelpiece, on the side tables. The only thing of any true value was a tiny painting set in an unbecomingly heavy gold frame. He leaned in. It was of a woman and child in a park, delicately beautiful, full of strong darks and lights.

“Is it expensive?” Cho asked quietly at his shoulder.

“Hmm, the market’s down, so maybe three or four?”

Cho stepped closer, brushing Jane’s shoulder with his chest. “Hundred?”

“Hundred thousand.”

Cho’s breath caught and Jane smiled. It really was a lot of money, but well worth it. Even though it wasn’t Hassam’s best work, it was still charming.

“Who’s the artist?”

“Childe Hassam.”

“Childe?” Cho said doubtfully. “It was painted by a kid?”

“No, by an artist named ‘Childe.’ A famous artist who helped usher in American Impressionism.”

“Named ‘Childe.’”

“Hm-mm.”

“Why here? I mean—” Cho gestured, taking in the house, the lack of security.

“Ihave no idea. Maybe they just bought it. Maybe it’s been in storage. Maybe they trust their neighbors.”

Cho made a face and Jane had to agree. It was a risk, even with the nominal security and the gated property.

“So if it was a burglary gone wrong, wouldn’t the burglars have at least taken the painting?”

“I would have,” Jane murmured. He was getting distracted; Cho chest was firm against his arm and he smelled good. It had been, what, four days since they’d made love? Maybe more and he really couldn’t remember—he hadn’t been that busy, had he?

He glanced sideways. Cho was still staring at the painting. There was a broad window to their right and sunlight streamed in, outlining his delicate profile in gold. They were close enough that Jane could see the fine hairs between his brows, could feel the minute his attention diverted as he became aware of Jane and their proximity.

There was a pause, like a plunge into a cold mountain stream—Jane leaned sideways, his own attention on everything but what he was supposed to be doing. Then Cho stepped out of reach and everything went back to normal.

“Jane?” Lisbon called out, her voice muffled by distance.

He shouted back with out turning, “Coming!” And then more quietly, mostly to himself, “Here we go.”

***

The bodies were in the bedroom. He braced for blood and gore, but the scene was quiet, almost peaceful. A man and woman lay on the bed, both shot through the chest. Another woman lay on the carpet near the bed. Jane bent over—she had a small hole in her temple, but even so, there was still very little blood, very little muss.

“Well?” Lisbon asked, her hands on her hips. Behind her was the local sheriff, suspicious and wary. They must’ve had ‘words,’ as the expression went. Probably something to do with jurisdiction.

As if Jane cared anything about that and he pointed between the two women. “They were sisters. See the resemblance?”

“We know they’re sisters,” the sheriff muttered. “We just don’t know why they’re dead.”

Jane cocked his head. “If you look under the bed or the dresser, you’ll find the gun that the woman on the floor used to shoot her sister and brother-in-law. And herself unless you’re going with a second-shooter theory.”

He thought his comment was amusing, but Lisbon frowned and asked, “Why would she shoot her sister?” She didn’t wait for his answer, though—she knelt and lifted the bed skirt, peering under the bed. She sighed, then looked up at the sheriff. “I take it your men didn’t have time to do their job?” She bent back down.

“Of course they did. They—” The sheriff crouched. He made the same face as Lisbon when he looked under the bed. “Damnit. I guess they were careless. We all know Bob and Jessie. The sister was in town for a visit. There was just no reason for this to happen.”

“There’s always a reason,” Jane said softly, distracted again. The scene, the bodies, the sheriff’s words, all increased the feeling that he was missing something important. But what?

Lisbon stood up. “When’s the coroner coming?”

“She should’ve been here a half-hour ago.”

“It appears to be cut and dry.” She pulled off her gloves and gave them to the sheriff. “I suggest you get your people back in here to go over the scene again to see if they missed anything else.”

The sheriff frowned at her dry tone and turned on his heel, presumably to gather up his men and round them up.

Jane stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels, staring at the couple on the bed.

Lisbon paused at the doorway. “What is it?”

“Nothing. Well,” he amended, “nothing to do with this case.”

“You sure?”

He looked up. She was still frowning. Cho stood behind her, arms crossed, still wearing his bright blue gloves. “Yeah, I’m sure. Like you said, it’s pretty cut and dry.” Which was only the truth and the connection his subconscious was trying to make was failing—there was no point forcing it.

“All right,” she finally said. “Let’s go.”

“I’m going to ride with Cho and Rigsby.”

“No.” She turned to Cho. “I’m sure Jane is right, but why don’t you and Rigsby go into town and talk to the Davies’ lawyer. According to the sheriff, they just changed their will and I want to know why.”

Cho glanced at Jane before saying, “Will do.”

His expression clearly illustrated what he thought of the errand. Jane wanted to pat him on the arm but Lisbon would take it the wrong way. So he just nodded goodbye and followed her outside.

The crowd hadn’t thinned down. In fact, he realized as he scanned the area, it seemed to have grown. Out on the street, beyond the yellow tape, a news crew was setting up. Someone must have talked.

“Great,” Lisbon muttered. “Ghouls.”

“They have a job to do.”

“Running to a crime scene isn’t their job.”

“Sure it is. Besides…” They’d reached the car and he opened the door for her. “It’s human nature. We’re all voyeurs in one way or another.”

“I’m not,” Van Pelt piped up.

“Neither am I,” Lisbon muttered.

Jane climbed in and settled into the corner of the seat. There was no point arguing and he didn’t want to. His good mood of the morning was gone and not because of the sadly typical murder scene. So he fastened his seatbelt, closed his eyes and fluttered his fingers, murmuring, “Home, James.”

***

When they got back to the office, Lisbon said something about a report for the AG, Van Pelt opened up her laptop, and Jane made a beeline for his couch. He wasn’t tired, but he needed to think.

He was half asleep, wondering if a return to the Davies estate would help jog his memory when Cho and Rigsby walked in. “Hey fellas,” he called out. “What did you find out?”

“Nothing,” Cho said. “The lawyer refused to speak to us.”

“What a surprise.”

“Yeah, well, it was a waste of time.”

Said with more than a little bitterness and Jane sat up. Cho was at his desk, taking off his jacket. His expression was as usual, but it didn’t fool Jane—something was up and he was going to find out what it was. “What’s everyone doing tonight?”

“Working,” came Cho’s instant reply followed by Van Pelt’s “Same here.”

“Because I was thinking we could go out and get a case-closed pizza. My treat.”

Van Pelt and Rigsby’s eyes brightened, but Cho muttered, “The case isn’t closed and we still need to finish our paperwork.”

Van Pelt sighed. “He’s right. I’ve got a lot to do.”

Rigsby held up a hand, looking like a little kid. “I can go.”

Jane hesitated, then said comically, “Looks like it’s just you and me, kid” hoping it would goad Cho into coming along. But other than a slight tightening of his shoulders, he ignored them all.

Okay. Jane would give him until five. He was sure to change his mind by then.

***

By five forty-five Jane was starving and Rigsby was pacing between the desks impatiently.

“C’mon,” Rigsby urged. “They’re gonna be in there all night.”

He craned his head. Cho and Lisbon were going over something, probably the endless paperwork they both bitched about. He wandered over, but stopped when Lisbon glanced at him and shook her head. So much for that. Might as well go eat.

“Ready?” Rigsby asked with a hopeful look.

“Yep,” he said reluctantly. “Let’s do this thing.”

***

“…and then he said, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’ Which I wasn’t going to do in the first place, but he didn’t know that.”

“What did you say?” Jane asked absently. He didn’t actually care about the answer. Rigsby had been telling him a story about a bust from his early days with the CBI. Before Jane had become a full-time consultant, before Van Pelt.

“I shot the mirror. He flinched. And that,” Rigsby mumbled around the last of his pizza, “as they say, was that.”

“What did Lisbon do?”

“Oh, you know the boss. She said she’d had the shot and there was no reason to damage personal property. It wasn’t like it cost that much, anyway.” Rigsby frowned and picked at the label on his beer bottle. The mirror must have cost a pretty penny, based on his hangdog expression.

“Well, the thing to remember is that she kept you on the team.”

“I guess.”

“And speaking of…” He got out his cell and held it up. He’d been waiting to do this all night. “She asked me to call her. I’ll just step out…” He jerked his head towards the patio and stood up.

“Sure. I’ll be right here. Hey! Do you want another beer?” Rigsby called out.

Jane, already punching the number, waved a ‘no’ and headed towards the double patio doors.

The line rang too many times and he was getting ready to try the loft number when it clicked through.

“Hey,” Cho said.

“Wait a minute. I need to find—”

The patio was as crowded as the inside and almost as noisy. He had to weave his way around the tables to find a space where he didn’t have to shout. He leaned up against the rail and said softly, “There. All nice and quiet. Where are you?”

“Where do you think?”

“Hmm, that’s a tough one. At your desk, in front of your computer?”

“You got it.”

The view was nice—the patio overlooked the city and it was pretty, what with the pale gold horizon, the dark blue sky. “Is there someone there with you?”

“No. Why?”

He shrugged. “No reason. You’re just using the voice you use when you’re not alone.”

“I’m at work.”

Jane ignored that. “When are you going to be done?”

“In an hour or so.”

“Which means two or three.”

“Probably.”

“Why don’t you do something really crazy and leave it for tomorrow?”

“Because it will be better if I get it done tonight.”

He thought about arguing, thought about pointing out that no matter what Cho said, the Davies case was all but closed. Instead, he tried a tactic that usually worked. “C’mon,” he wheedled. “It’ll be just us boys.”

And when Cho didn’t answer, he added, making his voice whisper soft, “Please? It’s so lovely here, and I haven’t seen you all week.”

“You’ve seen me every day.”

“You know what I mean.”

There was a long pause—too long. He switched the phone to his other ear and turned away from the beautiful view. “What’s wrong?”

“What do you mean?”

And for no reason, an irritation that was surprisingly strong worked its way up his spine to his mouth. “Are you avoiding me?”

“No.”

“Because if you are and—”

“Jane.”

“No.” His voice had risen, but he didn’t care. “If there’s something—”

“Jane!”

“What?”

“Lisbon’s here. Send Rigsby back. We have a case.”

And that took the wind out of his sails. “Does she want me in?” He looked around—Rigsby was hurrying across the patio, holding his cell up.

“No, not yet.”

“Okay.” He wanted to tell Cho that they needed to talk. He wanted to say that he didn’t like being brushed off. But Rigsby was too fast, and he had to hang up, the words still burning his throat.

 

____________

Wednesday, March 24

 

…the bark of the dead tree cuts his hand as he turns, as he sees—

Cho grunted and lashed out, hitting nothing but air. He grunted again,  almost a moan, this time rousing fully. He gulped a breath, then another, feeling as if he were going to stroke out, his heart was beating so violently. He took a steadier breath, listening to see if he’d woken Jane.

He hadn’t, of course.

Because Jane wasn’t there to wake.

He sat up. Sweat cooled his cheeks, the back of his neck, and he was suddenly freezing. He fumbled for the t-shirt he’d taken off earlier and drew it over his head, grumbling a little because it had become a habit, stripping down before bed. He always got too hot at night, sleeping next to Jane. Even, apparently, if Jane wasn’t there to sleep next to.

The clock on the nightstand said three-eighteen. Too early to be up, but he pushed to his feet, almost wincing at the chill as he padded to the kitchen. Summer was months away and it still got cold at night.

If Jane were here, no doubt they’d have a discussion about the heat, just as they’d had so many nights before. Jane didn’t like the cold and didn’t understand why Cho refused to turn the thermostat past sixty-eight. Central air, he’d said loftily as he’d wandered into the bedroom one night while he brushed his teeth, had been invented for a reason and there was no point in freezing if one didn’t have to.

Cho had replied that it was hardly freezing, that his heating bill had doubled since Jane had come into the picture, and that he’d gladly turn the heat up if Jane would help with the utilities. Jane had snorted and mumbled something to the affect that paying utilities for two places was foolish.

Cho hadn’t been sure what to make of that comment. If it had been any other person, he’d assume it was a lead-in to a conversation about moving in.

But Jane was direct about those things—if he wanted to move in, he’d just do it and ask for permission after the fact.

So, when he complained about the heat again, some weeks later, Cho ignored him.

But he couldn’t help the little tug of guilt—it made him feel bad, that Jane might truly be cold and he’d toyed with the idea of loosening his own rules, just a bit. He didn’t, but later on when he thought about it, he realized it was a little disturbing. That his routines of many years were starting to bend, to shift—all around Jane, of course.

Which meant he should be grateful that they’d settled on a sketchy routine of two nights on, five nights off, right? Just as he should be grateful that Jane hadn’t gone any further than bringing a few suits over and a pair of sky blue pajamas.

And that was good, Cho had told himself—it meant he could still come and go as he pleased, could live his life as he wished.

He frowned, got a bottle of water out of the refrigerator and took a sip. The cold eased the knot in his chest and he took another, this time relaxing back against the counter.

In the nine months since the Mathias incident, they had made little progress with the Red Men case. Blount had long since returned to England. Luckner had gone back to New York with his crew.

Blount called Lisbon a few months later, saying that Interpol had set up a sting but it hadn’t worked—the Red Men had stayed firmly underground. He’d led the operation and after its failure, had received a reprimand for wasting money and was directed to move onto other things. And he had—he’d informed Lisbon of his orders and they hadn’t heard anything more.

Until three months ago when a hacker’s lair in Prague was raided. The thieves killed everyone and burned the place down. They got away with data on six major European pharmaceuticals and access to several facilities that specialized in high-tech data storage. Next, just four weeks later, three biochemists on a fact-finding junket were murdered in Rome, their computers and data stolen.

Blount had been cautious when he’d notified Luckner, then Lisbon, saying he didn’t know who was behind the thefts and it would be a mistake to assume anything. Because the murders were brutal, even vicious—beyond the usual scope of the Red Men.

That didn’t matter to Jane. Lisbon had passed on Blount’s intel and Jane immediately began speculating what the Red Men would do next because he was sure they had committed the crimes.

At first, he tried to reason with him. Blount had been right—the crimes could’ve been perpetrated by anyone. But like the other, Jane wouldn’t listen and their arguments grew heated. Jane accused him of being willfully blind because it was convenient, and in turn, he accused Jane of ignoring logic and common sense because he was bored and frustrated.

Finally, truly worried that their disagreement would push them to a place they couldn’t back away from, he stopped responding when Jane talked about the case and eventually, Jane withdrew into himself.

Up at all hours, poring over Blount’s notes on the Red Men not to mention Bosco’s notes on Red John when he got frustrated with the former.

He wasn’t sure if Jane was fully aware of the amount of time he spent on the two cases.

On the nights Jane stayed over, he would get up in the morning to find him long awake, in the kitchen with a cup of tea and his notes. He’d nod and say good morning, then go back to the reports, staring at them as if they held a secret.

Cho liked to think he wasn’t a man easily scared, but it was starting to worry him, Jane’s obsessions, his single-mind drive to solve the two mysteries. He always reminded himself that he’d known how Jane was from the very beginning. Known, understood, and sympathized and there was no use complaining now.

It was just…

He thought it would be different, that’s all.

Last year, after they’d wrapped up the Red Men case, they’d returned to Sacramento and settled into what would become their routine. Jane would come over a couple times a week—they’d eat dinner, have sex and go to bed. Sometimes Jane would stay the night, sometimes not. And it was good, fantastic even. Enough that it took a while for him to realize that he was waiting for a transformation, some change that would make good on the promise made at the Carina Luna, that would take them from then to now.

But things hadn’t changed. They’d, in fact, become more of what they were. Distance but not distant; intimacy but not intimate.

It would be okay, he thought more than a few times, if it was just Jane, but it wasn’t. He was having the same problems, unable to be completely honest and say, ‘I love you,’ or, ‘stop this and be with me.’

Because men didn’t say those words. Or, if they did, they said them to women because that made everything okay.

One day, frustrated with Jane’s obsession and his own indecisiveness, he’d sat down at his computer and researched statistics among gay couples even though he and Jane could hardly be called a ‘couple.’ He wasn’t surprised at the figures but they had depressed him nonetheless. 

So maybe it was just that his thing with Jane had reached its peak and neither were invested enough to change it. Maybe he was too frightened to make the next logical move. Maybe Jane was.

Whatever, he felt like he was stuck in neutral and no matter how much gas he gave the engine, he couldn’t drop into drive.

He grimaced at the stupid metaphor and finished the water. He was cold—too cold to be standing around in bare feet.

He was turning to toss the bottle into the recycling bin when he heard a noise, faint and distant. He froze. It was probably from a boat on the river but whatever it was, it lilted up and down, and his dream came rushing back.

It was another thing he was trying to get used to, that dream.

More times than he could count, now. Always the same, down to the location, the amount of blood. The sense of dread.

The last time, just a few days ago, he’d actually hit Jane on the back of the head when he’d jerked awake. Jane had complained and demanded an explanation. Which he wasn’t able to give. All he managed was an abbreviated lie followed by a hastily contrived non-verbal apology—he’d pulled Jane close and distracted him with his mouth and body and eventually Jane stopped talking.

The next morning he’d avoided Jane’s glance and kept the conversation to the mundane. Jane had answered in kind, but Cho knew that he was just biding his time, knew the questions would start up again and he’d either have to lie or tell the truth. Either was unimaginable.

He grimaced again, the thought of the waiting conversation somehow worse at three o’clock in the morning, and made himself move.

In the short time he’d been in the kitchen, the sheets had grown cold. If Jane were here, they’d be nice and warm and he sighed. If he were lucky, he’d fall asleep quickly, too quickly to remember the dream, the way it had felt—

… and damnit, there it was, so clear—the house, the garden. And Jane without his vest for once, standing hip-deep in the gray plants with a knife in one hand and blood splashed across his open white shirt, his chest, his ecstatic face. Smiling and smiling and smiling. As he held something up, like a gift, something slippery and wet—

“Shit!” Cho kicked out of the sheets and sat on the edge of the bed, scrubbing at his face, trying to scrub away the horrible image.

It refused to budge and he finally gave up. He ignored his latest Dickens—Martin Chuzzlewit—and got out of bed. He might as well call it quits and go to work—at least there he’d be too busy to think.

***

He got to work at five.

The office was dark and it was nice, making a cup of tea, taking his time. When he logged into his computer he had a stray thought that he could call Jane and ask him if he wanted to meet for breakfast. But then Jane would want to know why he was in so early and there wasn’t a good answer for that.

So, he put away his personal concerns, got out the folders for the last two cases and lost himself in the minutiae of work.

***

“Hey, what are you doing here so early?”

He didn’t look up as Rigsby walked by. He’d finished the work on the Kingman case and was reviewing the Stohlman sheet. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“Just trying to catch up.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Yeah. My review is in a couple weeks and Iwant to make sure I don’t screw up.”

He wanted to remind Rigsby that it was his own fault that he was on thin ice with Lisbon. If he would’ve just shut up about Van Pelt, she would’ve been able to continue ignoring their affair. Or maybe she honestly hadn’t known. It was hard to believe that anyone that worked so closely with Rigsby and Van Pelt couldn’t know, but she’d had a tough few months.

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Why are you here so early?”

“Just catching up,” he intoned with a hidden smile.

“Ha-ha. No, seriously.”

He put down his pen and turned. Rigsby was tossing a nerf football up and down, already not working. “Seriously? I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d catch up on my paperwork.”

“Why couldn’t you sleep?”

He closed his eyes briefly. Damnit. He hadn’t heard the elevator—Jane must’ve used the stairs.

He put his game face on and turned. Jane was standing in the doorway, hands in his pockets, rocking on his heels the way he did when he was on the hunt.

He was wearing his grey pinstripe with a new blue shirt. He looked beautiful and Cho told himself not to stare. “No reason.”

Jane raised one eyebrow in perfect disbelief. “Really?”

He picked up his pen and tried to remember what he’d been doing. “Yes.” Oh, yeah. The follow-up on the Stohlman case.

Jane drew a breath, but before he could say anything, the elevator chimed, bringing Lisbon and Van Pelt as well as the new gang unit director, a woman Cho vaguely remembered from his days on the street. Lisbon stayed behind to talk to her while Van Pelt strode in with a cheerful, “Morning.”

He nodded. Rigsby muttered something under his breath. Jane just kept staring.

There was a tense few seconds as he pretended to work, as he tried not to shrug or fidget. Then Lisbon finished up her conversation and came in—he breathed a sigh of relief. She was carrying her usual cup of coffee and a white paper bag. “Nice to see everyone so bright and early. Jane, to what do we owe this honor?”

Jane finally looked away and laid his hand on his chest, like something out of Masterpiece Theater. “Lisbon, I’m crushed. You make it sound like I stroll in around eleven every day.”

“You do stroll in around eleven every day. But,” she waved her coffee and added, “I’m glad you’re here. I meant to remind you that your contract is up soon and I need to start drafting a new proposal for the bean counters. Do you have those receipts from the Stohlman case?” She was walking away as she spoke and Jane followed her, but not without a throwing speaking glance Cho’s way, telling him that they weren’t done yet.

Cho sighed and looked at his watch. It was seven-thirty. Too early for a break.

He was finishing up his report, trying not to imagine how Jane would ferret out the information he was trying to hide when he realized that Jane and Lisbon were talking loudly, almost shouting.

He glanced at Van Pelt and Rigsby—they’d both stopped working and were trying to see what was going on. He made a face and returned to his work.

He lasted all of ten seconds. Jane said something about ‘the house…’ and he twisted around, sitting tall in his chair so he could peer over the half-wall.

Lisbon was on her feet, pacing back and forth, pointing her finger at Jane the way she did when she was really frustrated. And he, he was leaning over her desk, jabbing his finger in return, something he only did when he was even more frustrated. It was never a good tactic with Lisbon—she always reacted poorly.

“What’s going on in there?” Van Pelt whispered. “Do you think he bought something really crazy and is trying to expense it?”

They didn’t have time to guess. Lisbon threw up her hands, then made a sharp shooing gesture. Jane hurried from the room.

“What’s going on?” Cho asked as Jane came in.

He smiled brightly. “What’s going on is we might have our first real lead.”

“In what?” Van Pelt asked with a frown.

“In the Red Men case, of course.”

There was dead silence. Van Pelt glanced at Cho just as he looked at her. He didn’t know what she thought, but his surprise told him that no matter what he’d told Jane, he’d assumed the case was too cold to resuscitate.

“What’s the lead?” Rigsby asked.

“Nope,” Jane said with a theatrical gesture. “I can’t tell you. Ineed to show you.”

Cho stood up and looked again. Lisbon was on her phone, but she had sat down and was nudging a stack of folders back and forth. That wasn’t a good sign, either. “Where?”

“Ah…” Jane held up his finger and took a paper from his pocket. He unfolded and held it up. Like it meant something.

“What is that?” It was just a torn piece of newspaper.

Jane came over to his desk and pushed his miniature motorcycle out of the way, spreading the paper open. They all crowded around it. It was a map of California showing the progression of the recent home invasions. “This, my friend, is the key. I knew there was something odd about it.”

Van Pelt edged between Rigsby and Jane. “That’s the article I was reading the other day. What do you mean? I don’t see anything.”

“No, not the story about the mountain lion. See? The one about the home invasions.” He tapped the article.

“Oh,” she said with a frown.

“See this house? On Sunset Drive?” He pointed to the location near the coast, marked with a number 3. Beside it was a small graphic that showed a photo of a happy couple and underneath, ‘Home of Thomas and Lily Johnson.’

She drew a quick breath. “Hey, that’s near the Carina Luna? See?” She drew a line between the hotel and house with her fingertip.

“It is.” Jane nodded happily.

“And the crime was committed three days before the conference. How weird. But…” She straightened up, frowning again. She was as confused as Cho, apparently. “That’s not weird, is it?How is that a lead?”

“That’s where the showing not telling comes in.”

“What I want to know,” Rigsby said, “was how you got from your expenses on the Stohlman case to this.” He jerked his head to the paper.

Cho wanted to know that as well, but Jane called out over his shoulder, “Do we have clearance or an okay, or whatever you call it?”

They all turned. Lisbon was in the hall, checking her clip. “We do, but we can’t fly; we have to drive. I called the locals and informed them of our visit.” Jane rolled his eyes in annoyance and Lisbon’s look of irritation sharpened. “And it’s just you and me. The rest of you are staying here. In case a real case comes up.”

Her words were firm, but Jane cocked his head. “I think Cho and Van Pelt should go with us. After all, they were on the scene the whole time.” And then, “Right?” when Lisbon didn’t respond.

Finally, she sighed and nodded. “Okay. I’m staying. Cho, you’ve got the lead. You know the drill.”

Which meant trying to keep Jane from doing or saying anything that would cause an incident. He nodded and didn’t say, ‘like that’s gonna happen.’

“Van Pelt, I’ll send the details to your cell. And call me as soon as you know something. Whatever that is.”

“We will,” Jane answered for Cho, already out the door. “Can we stop for fruit?”

Cho exchanged another look with Van Pelt. She smiled. He tried not to smile back.

***

They ended up driving straight south on I-5. Van Pelt had wanted to go 80 but Cho hated that route—the traffic was a pain in the ass and there were always delays. When it looked like there was going to be an argument, he reminded her that he was driving so it was his call. She backed down, not happy. But soon, with Jane’s help, she was smiling again as they each pointed out the sights to the other.

They stopped once so Jane could buy fruit and then again for coffee. By the time they turned west on 152, Cho regretted drinking the coffee so fast. His stomach was knotting up and his chest felt weird, like it was stuffed with cotton or something. He tried to shrug away the feeling and when that didn’t work, he rolled down the window.

Van Pelt leaned over and asked quietly, “Do you want me to drive?”

“No. I’m fine.” He looked in the rearview mirror. He’d thought Jane had fallen asleep, but he was watching, his eyes barely open.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” And then, “Thanks,” because she was trying to be nice.

“Sure.”

Cho chanced another quick glance in the mirror. Jane had closed his eyes again. Which should have been a relief but wasn’t.

Because the closer they got to the ocean, the more the pressure grew. Maybe he was sick or maybe it was a drop in altitude. But that wasn’t right—if there had been any shift in elevation, it would’ve been so minor that he wouldn’t even—

Van Pelt touched his arm and nodded to the right. “There’s our turn.”

He jerked the SUV to the right and took the exit too fast. “Thanks.”

“Sure.” She peered down at the GPS. “We’ve got three miles, then we turn left through the gates.”

“Okay.” The horizon had changed to that pale blank blue that meant they were curving towards the ocean again. He rested his elbow on the doorframe, letting the cool air soothe his warm face.

“It’s really pretty here. If we have time, do you want to stop by the hotel to see how it’s doing?”

“No.”

He regretted the sharp retort as soon as it left his lips, but Van Pelt just shrugged. “Okay.”

She was silent for the last mile, then leaned forward when they rounded the side of a hill. “The gate is supposed to— Oh.” She pointed. “There’s the sheriff. He doesn’t look happy, does he?”

No, he did not. Even from the distance, he could see that the sheriff was kicking a rock back and forth, one hand on his hip, the other holding something. Probably the folder with the case notes. “What’s his name?”

Van Pelt looked at her phone. “Sheriff Peterson.”

“Okay.” When they got within a hundred feet of the gate, the sheriff shaded his eyes, then pushed it open, standing back to let them through. Cho waved as they drove by, slowing down as he got his first look at the house.

It was big. Big and impressive and all by itself at the crest of the hill. It was also ugly. Well, not to most people, probably. Most people probably would give their right arm to live in such a place.

He pulled up next to the sheriff’s vehicle and turned the ignition off.

“We here?”

He turned. Jane was stretching, arms and legs all over the place. Cho told himself that it wasn’t cute, it wasn’t sexy. “Yes.”

“Good.”

Van Pelt murmured, “I’ll see what Peterson has for us.” She got out and headed back down the drive.

“Are you going tell me why we’re here?”

“In time.”

“Because you don’t know, right?”

Jane grinned. “Right. And, thanks, by the way.”

“For what?”

“For not giving me any grief about the trip. Lisbon thinks I’m nuts.”

“She always thinks you’re nuts.”

Jane’s smile broadened. “You’ve got me there. C’mon.” He touched the side of Cho’s neck with his fingertips, just above the collar, then got out.

Cho followed, not rubbing his neck.

Van Pelt and the sheriff were waiting for them on the sidewalk. Jane wandered off without a word, looking up at the house as he strolled. Peterson frowned as if to say, ‘What’s with him?’ but Cho ignored the look out of long practice.

Peterson was mid-fifties, clean-cut and lean. He didn’t look much like a local sheriff—he looked more like he just came from a round of golf or tennis. “Thank you for meeting us, sheriff. Agent Lisbon informed you of our—”

“She did, Agent Cho,” Peterson interrupted with a wave of the folder. “I can’t say I’m happy about this. Tom and Lily Johnson were buried nine months ago. Their kids won’t stand for an exhumation.”

Cho wanted to roll his eyes. Exhumation—they hadn’t gotten anywhere near the point of an exhumation. “Did you ask them?”

“No, and I won’t. Not until I have good reason.”

“Sheriff,” Van Pelt began in a conciliatory tone, but the sheriff cut her off, too.

“Look. Those kids have been through a lot, what with trying to sell this monstrosity and all. The last thing they need is more heartache.”

Cho had no idea why they were here, but the day he let a local tell him his business… “At this point, Sheriff, we just want to examine the scene. We weren’t planning an exhumation. May I?” He held out his hand and after a quick, non-verbal tug of war, Peterson gave him the folder.

The evidence photos were straightforward. Images of the house, the bodies. He called out without looking around, “Jane?”

“Yo!”

“You’ll want to hear this.”

He waited until he heard Jane walk up behind him, then said, “Can you go over the details, Sheriff?”

Peterson glanced at them all, then said gruffly, “The details are simple, Agent Cho. We got a call on July sixteenth from Amanda Hunter—that’s Tom and Lily’s daughter. She hadn’t heard from Lily in weeks and was getting worried, so she asked us to take a look. When we got here, the gate was locked, and so was the house. There was no sign of forced entry. Nothing stolen, no damage.”

Peterson turned to look briefly up at the house. “Tom, he was into fancy doodads, so the whole house is wired. Digital this, that, and the other. But he was careless, according to my computer guy. Apparently, he used the same password for everything, including the gate and the doors, so it wouldn’t be hard getting in. The security company says that there were no alarms tripped or anything like that. I’m thinking someone either hacked their way in or got Tom to let them in.” He turned back around and held up the folder. “It took us a while to find the bodies. They were stored in their own freezer.”

His disgust was palpable and Cho looked at the pictures again. Tom and Lily Johnson were listed as seventy-two and sixty-five, respectively, but you couldn’t tell that from the photos. They were covered with frost, their skin a sickly blue. Each of them had a bullet in the forehead. They must have been placed in the freezer immediately after death—the blood had frozen in place.

“Doesn’t sound simple to me,” Jane murmured over Cho’s shoulder. He was standing too close, his breath warm, and Cho forced himself not to pull away.

The sheriff put his hands on his hips. “According to everyone I talked to, it was easier than it should have been, Mr. whoever-you-are. They were killed quickly and the murderers left no trace, no leads. Which makes it easy. For them.”

Jane reached around Cho and touched one of the photos. It had been taken from a helicopter and showed the house and maybe a ten-mile radius. “It’s ‘Jane,’ sheriff. I’m a consultant with the CBI, and,” he tapped the photo. “Doesn’t that tell you anything?”

“Like what?”

“That this wasn’t any ordinary home invasion. That the Johnsons were targeted for a very specific reason.”

“No, Mr. Jane, it tells me nothing. The Johnsons were just unlucky, that’s all.”

And before Jane could respond, Peterson gestured to the house. “Come on in and see for yourself.”

They trooped after, Cho, Jane, Van Pelt.

Peterson was right, in a way—on first appraisal, the house was clean, with no immediate signs of foul play. The huge foyer they were standing in was innocently pristine, as if it had never seen even a harsh word. Cho looked at the photos again. “You dusted for prints?”

“Some. It’s a big house, Agent Cho.”

“Which means?”

“That, yes, we got what we could and ruled out most of them.” The sheriff frowned. “There were a couple, however…”

He trailed off and Cho asked sharply, “However, what?”

“However, we were never able to match the other sets. Now that the thieves have been caught, maybe we’ll find a match.”

“How many?” Jane interrupted.

The sheriff shrugged. “Fingerprints? Three in all. They were all over the place but mainly in the kitchen, the upstairs study and the living room.”

Jane opened his mouth, but Cho got there first, “Did you send them to the FBI?”

“We did. They came back inconclusive.”

Jane stuck his hands in his pockets. “And did you follow up?”

“No, Mr. Jane, we did not,” Peterson answered succinctly. “We had work to do. Real live crimes, not ghosts chasing.”

“Ghosts,” Jane murmured with a sideways glance at Cho.

He shrugged. They were obviously thinking the same thing: big house or no, it sounded like the Carmel police hadn’t put much effort into the investigation.

Peterson’s frown deepened as if he knew what Cho was thinking and he waved an arm. “Well? Do you want to see the rest?”

He nodded and they continued on.

Through the foyer, past the curved marble staircase and two smaller rooms, onto the sunken living room that looked out over the courtyard.

He scanned the room, too aware that Jane, hands clasped behind his back, was rocking on his heels as he examined the room, taking it all in.

Jane tilted his head back to look at the ornate ceiling. “Where’s the kitchen?”

“You hungry, Mr. Jane?”

Jane turned. His face was alive with curiosity and happiness, as if he’d just discovered a buried treasure. He raised his eyebrow; the sheriff jerked his head and growled, “Over there. On the left.”

Jane nodded and headed to the left. Cho closed the folder. “Can I see the freezer, Sheriff?”

“It’s in the basement.”

He didn’t move and Cho waited, patiently. Finally, he growled something under his breath and stomped off. Cho turned to Van Pelt. “I’ll go with him. Take Jane upstairs and see what you can find. Make sure to look in the study.”

She nodded and hurried off after Jane.

Peterson was waiting at an open door on the far side of the foyer. He turned on a light and began to descend. “This way. Tom was into trains. Last year he had the basement redone to add more room. You can get down here in two ways, through that door,” he jerked his thumb. “And from the kitchen.”

Contrary to what Cho was expecting, the basement was elegant, bright and cheerful. And almost as extensive as the upstairs—the open floor plan held a media center, the train area and taking up one end, a full-fledged kitchen with stove, dishwasher and a floor-to-ceiling, built-in freezer.

Still scowling, Peterson pulled the doors open and gestured. Cho held the photos up to get an idea of how the bodies had been situated.

“Yep,” Peterson said darkly, “they were on the floor like they were slabs of meat. No care, no respect.”

“And they’d been there at least three weeks?”

“Three weeks and one day.” At Cho’s startled glance, Peterson pointed to the folder and said, “Tom had a real fancy watch, but it couldn’t hold up to a deep freeze. It stopped working on June twenty-third at ten-fifteen p.m.”

Cho looked at the pictures again, shuffling through them until he found the one he wanted. “How long does it take for a watch to freeze?”

“I asked that very same question. I was told less than two hours, give or take.”

“Huh,” he murmured.

“That’s what I said.”

***

They went back upstairs. Jane and Van Pelt were nowhere to be seen. He hesitated, then gave Peterson the folder. “I want to take a look at the grounds.”

Peterson nodded to the far side of the living room, then turned to the stairs. “I’ll go see if the rest of your team needs help.”

‘No,’ Cho wanted to say, ‘you just want to make sure they’re not finding anything you didn’t.’

He shook his head, then made his way through the living room, winding around the sofas and chairs, trying to see what Jane had seen—everything in the same position, but the murderers using the place like they owned it.

He couldn’t. The house was too normal, too quiet. He reminded himself that plenty of murder scenes seemed just as bland and that plenty of murderers were neat-freaks.

He unlocked the French doors and went outside. The expansive veranda was flanked by the wings of the house and continued on to broad steps that led to the lawn. The yard was lined with pine trees and plants, probably for privacy, but from who, Cho couldn’t guess—the nearest house was at least a half-mile away.

He walked across the spongy grass until he was stopped by the steep cliff. He hadn’t realized they were so close to the ocean. He crossed his arms and scanned the area. Was this why the house was chosen? Because of its proximity to the ocean and the hotel?

It had to be, because Jane was right—there was no way the criminals responsible for the string of home invasions had included this house. It was too far from the highway—there were equally big homes with better escape routes, no doubt filled with equally expensive objects.

He walked closer to the cliff. There was a long, sturdy staircase down to the beach and he pictured descending the steps, then heading south. If he remembered the diagram correctly, the Carina Luna was just behind the spur of land that blocked his view—he could be there in a half hour if he walked fast and the tide was low.

He closed his eyes. Even though the day was overcast and grey, the clouds were breaking up and he told himself that the pale sunshine was nice. That it didn’t remind him of anything, that he didn’t feel a sick sense of deja vu, because the minute he’d stepped out into the courtyard, the odd pressure from before had returned, this time ten times worse.

He wasn’t clueless, he knew what it was, knew that the house was a reminder of the hotel, of the dream, but why now, why—

“Hey?”

He jerked. And didn’t turn. His heart was racing and his palms were wet with sweat. “Yes,” he answered, hoping Jane wouldn’t hear the dryness in his voice.

“You okay?”

“Yes.”

“Van Pelt thinks she’s got something.”

“Yes?”

He heard the soft crush of weight on grass and the pressure increased as Jane came closer.

“You want to take a look? It’s better if she explains it to you.”

“Okay.”

Jane paused and then murmured, “You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.” He turned, making sure he met Jane’s eyes calmly as he returned to the house.

Peterson and Van Pelt were waiting for them at the French doors. Van Pelt was holding a silver laptop in an evidence bag and her smile was bright, excited.

So excited that Cho felt the leftover unease fade and his sense of equilibrium return. “What have you got?”

She raised the laptop. “I found this in the study upstairs. It was in the desk in a specially made cavity. Apparently, it was missed the first time around. My dad has one so I knew where to look.”

She didn’t glance at Peterson and her voice held no accusation, but he crossed his arms tight across his chest and scowled as if she had, muttering, “Not even their kids knew it was there.”

“So it’s the Johnson’s?”

“Yeah. I booted it up. The password was the same password for all the other stuff. The browser’s history was wiped, but not the network history. It shows that the computer was last used on June thirtieth of last year.”

Cho frowned. “Which means that someone was using it after the Johnson’s were murdered?” Beside him, Jane hummed softly.

“It looks like it.”

“Can we find out who?”

“I’ll contact the Johnson’s ISP and pull the records.”

“How soon?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know; maybe a day, maybe two?”

Jane asked, “Can the CBI’s forensic guys see what else they can find?”

“You mean on the computer or the house?”

“The computer.”

“Yeah, I’ve already called Lisbon. Our people will go over it with a fine-toothed comb.”

“Good.” Jane rubbed his hands and smiled at Cho, then Van Pelt, as if saying, ‘Finally.’ He turned to Peterson and held out his hand. “Well, Sheriff Peterson, it’s been a pleasure.”

Peterson nodded stiffly. “If anything comes of this nonsense, let me know. Amanda will sleep better if she knew her parent’s murderers were caught.”

“We’ll do that,” Van Pelt said gravely.

As they were walking away, Cho murmured, “How did you know?”

“Know, what?”

“That this house meant something?”

Jane shrugged, the back of his hand brushing Cho’s. “The case the other day. It reminded me of the article on home invasions. And I remembered that the home invasions followed a pattern of direction and date—this one didn’t fit the pattern. It was too much of a coincidence, that someone would choose this house, at that time, so close to the conference last year.”

“Why didn’t you think of it earlier?”

It was a rude question, but Jane just shrugged. “Sometimes it just works that way. The facts have to sit and percolate.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

This time around, Cho let Van Pelt drive. He stared idly out the window, avoiding Jane’s glance in the mirror as they drove east, wondering if the Johnsons had died without fear, knowing they hadn’t.

 

_____________

Friday, March 26

 

John folded the newspaper in half and picked up his coffee cup, not bothering to hide his irritation. The music had only gotten louder in the last few minutes and it hit his eardrums, almost a wall of noise. If it hadn’t been for the fact that he was working, he would have long since left. English pubs were all right if you were in England, but when one was in Geneva, one expected a bit more class.

Of course, the Pickwick wasn’t a dive precisely, but it was crowded with young people of all nationalities and they were very careless—he’d had beer spilled on him twice now. Which was two times too many and he looked at his watch again.

Villapaldo was late. He usually stopped by the Pickwick between six-thirty and seven and it was going on eight. It wasn’t anything detrimental to the plan, John assured himself. Mostly, he thought sourly, because the plan didn’t really exist. Not yet, anyway.

At seven fifty-five, he admitted defeat and stood up. He got his wallet and dug out a few francs, then tossed them on the table and made his way around the small tables to the door.

It was still sunny outside, but the traffic had died down and the quiet was an instantaneous reprieve. He stretched his arms and sighed. If he had to be at loose ends, he might as well be in Geneva in late March. It was warm, but not hot. Perfect.

He pulled out his mobile, then crossed the street, jogging to avoid an on-coming car. The park would be pretty this time of day, the school children and old men long since gone. He’d take the lake path while wrapping up business. Such as it was.

He dialed without looking and pushed ‘talk.’ It took nine rings for Luke to answer. Not a good sign.

“Where are you?” Luke asked, without a greeting.

“Where do you think?”

“Geneva.”

“Hm-mm.”

“No luck?”

“That remains to be seen. What about you?”

“Just on my way to the airport.”

“Did you go over the data I sent?”

Luke sighed. “It’s pointless, John. I reviewed it yesterday and there’s just no profit in these companies. Not until global warming becomes a fact recognized by all authorities. Until then, we’ll just be stealing their seed money, not the real deal. Do you really waste our time on that?”

“Do you have a better idea?”

“You know I do. I’ve only told you a half dozen times. We shift our focus to our investments and stop taking these stupid risks. We could live the rest of our lives on what we’ve got now.”

“But where’s the fun in that?” He’d reached the path—he took a left, heading for the lake.

“It’s not all about fun, John. I know you’re bored and I know why.”

John tightened his lips, but didn’t rebuke. Luke was the only one he allowed to talk that way. In the past it had given John a warm, almost cozy feeling. Now it just irritated and he said quietly, “That may be as may, but it’s my call. As always.”

There was a long pause, then Luke muttered, “Of course.”

Besides,” John added, forcing his voice to lose any sting, “we’ve got the one job and you’re taking care of that. After that, we’ll regroup and talk it over.”

“Fine.”

“When are you arriving in Caracas?”

“At midnight.”

“And you’ll call when it’s done?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” John hesitated, then hung up and pocketed the phone. After all, there was nothing more to say.

He’d reached the beach and he stopped for a moment to admire the view. It was very lovely, very serene. Even with the bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians that moved to and fro. He leaned his elbows on the railing and let the view fade to one preserved by insistent memory. Of another beach,  this one many miles away, many months ago.

Unlike most of the operations before, he hadn’t forgotten a detail of the failed job. The ridiculously overblown mansion they’d commandeered. The waiting as Mathew proceeded to fuck up one thing after another.

His glee when Agent Kimball Cho came on the scene because at least there’d be something pretty to look at. The way it had felt, the cool breeze as he’d shadowed his quarry along the beach, never getting too close or too far away.

His disgust, aimed mostly at Mathew when he’d realized what he was going to have to do. How the tree had creaked and swayed as he’d climbed to get the best shot.

And later, at the end of it all, the fierce anger that had burned his chest as he watched Mr. Jane and company leave, as if nothing had happened. As if thwarting the plans that had been almost a year in the making meant nothing.

He was still angry. But time had turned his anger tepid and stale. He’d considered an immediate reprisal but had run up against the hard fact that for any such job, he needed a new Mathew. An undertaking that took more time than he’d originally accounted for, their first candidate turning out to be too righteous and ethical. Luke had solved that problem by taking him on a trip and dumping his body in the Thames, down by Tilbury.

After that, it had been one thing after another, but he’d never forgotten that Wallach still owed him, as did Mr. Jane.

As for Agent Cho…

John touched his pocket, then took out his phone and quickly opened it again. Really, the cameras on mobiles were getting better and better. The pictures Mark had sent were crisp, clear.

Agent Cho looked much the same, if a tired. He seemed a little thinner, too, as if he’d lost weight. Perhaps it was the suit. Or perhaps Mr. Jane wasn’t treating him right. Megalomaniacs made the worst lovers.

He smiled. Luke would probably say the same thing and John would only agree—it was one thing to fool others; an entirely different thing to fool oneself.

He put the phone away, then turned back to the path, walking quickly.

Luke was right. This job, a rather idiotic idea of trying to cash in on the global warming frenzy was pointless. If he’d been thinking clearly he would never have given it a second thought. But the week wasn’t a total loss. He’d managed to make a few contacts, make a few decisions. The main being that now that they had Mathew, what they needed was a swift success. Something that would bring in a large amount of quick cash with relatively little risk. And he had the perfect project in mind.

Atlanta.

 

______________

Monday, March 29th

 

“Jane, do you know the story about the watched pot?”

Jane didn’t look up from his Sudoku. “You mean how it never boils if one is actually watching it? That’s an axiom, Lisbon, not a story, but,” he held his hand up as he conceded, knowing she’d be glaring, “you’re right. Sitting here waiting for the forensic guys to do their thing isn’t helping any. I should go home and let the professionals do their work. I should concentrate on something else. I should relax and get some sleep. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” He looked up. “Lisbon, if I go home, I won’t sleep, I won’t relax. I need to be here.”

She tapped the file folders she was holding, then sighed. “I know. I’m anxious too. If they needed it, I’d be out helping Cho and Rigsby on that shooting.”

Jane wrote a ‘three’ in the bottom right hand corner of the puzzle. “It’s after five; do you want to get dinner?” He craned his neck to look around her and added to Van Pelt, “We can all go.”

“No, thanks,” Van Pelt muttered. She’d been working on the Johnson’s case all afternoon. “I think I’m finally getting something.”

Jane nodded, already losing interest. She’d tried to explain what she was doing with the information that the Johnson’s internet provider had sent that afternoon, but it had gone right over his head. Or rather, he had let it go over his head; he wasn’t really interested in the process, just the results.

“C’mon.” He stood up and smiled coaxingly, willing her to agree. “We might as well be full while we wait.”

She hesitated, then shrugged. “Sure. Why not.”

“Can I drive your car?”

“What do you think?”

Jane smiled. It was an old, comfortable routine and he needed that. Contrary to what he’d assumed when they’d left the Johnson’s, things were moving, but very slowly and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was still missing something.

It didn’t help that the CBIwas also undergoing changes—the new boss was to arrive in a couple weeks. Lisbon knew who it was, but even Jane couldn’t wheedle the information out of her. It was frustrating.

And on top of all that, something was going on with Cho. It didn’t help that he couldn’t seem to pin him down, either. In the last week, every time he suggested dinner, a walk, or whathaveyou, Cho said he either needed to work or was tired.

And Jane was missing the whathaveyou—it was almost two weeks since they’d made love.

“You coming?” Lisbon called out from the hallway.

“Right behind you.”

***

They ate at the sandwich shop around the corner. Lisbon got a salad because she said she’d been eating too much crap. Jane smiled and got a meatball sandwich, just to make her feel bad.

She finished before he did and she sat there, looking out the window, slowly moving her coffee this way and that.

She looked tired. Tired and a little down. But she wasn’t the type to ask for help and he wasn’t sure if he should offer. She was so thorny that way.

“What are you staring at?” Lisbon said without taking her eyes from the passersby.

“You.”

“What about me?”

“You seem depressed.” He finished his sandwich and wiped his fingers with his napkin.

“I’m fine.”

“Okay.”

“Jane.” She turned with a sigh. “I’m fine.”

“I get it. You’re fine.” He bundled the leftovers for later. “You’re fine. Cho’s fine.”

“What about Cho?”

Damnit. She was frowning, distraction gone, and that’s what he got for letting his mind wander. He shook his head, mostly at himself.

“So you’re not going to tell me what you meant?”

“There’s nothing to tell because there’s nothing wrong.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment and he hoped she’d leave it alone, but no such luck.

“If there was something that would interfere with his work, you’d tell me, right?”

“Lisbon,” he said with a little laugh, “of course I wouldn’t. Why would you think I would?”

“Dammit, Jane—” she started to chastise, but lucky for him, her cell rang. She looked at the display and raised her eyebrow as if to say, ‘speak of the devil,’ then picked it up. “How’s it going?”

She listened for a while, interjecting little ‘hmm’s’ and ‘okay’s,’ finally saying, “Okay, but make sure the locals know.” Another pause. “Then come on back. We’ll let them sort it out.”

She waited, then said firmly,  “No, it’s okay. You’ve done all you can.  It’s not your fault they’re not listening.”

After the next pause, she looked up at Jane. “No, I’m at Rico’s. With Jane. You hungry? I’ll get you something.” She got out a pen, but then put it away. “Yeah, okay, I’ll tell him. Should we get something for—? Okay. See you in a few.”

She hung up. “Cho and Rigsby are on their way back. They got in an argument with the lead detective about jurisdiction and finally gave up.  He wants you to get him a sandwich.”

Jane raised an eyebrow. “The lead detective wants me to get him a sandwich? I don’t even know what he likes.”

“Cho, jackass. Cho wants you to get him something to eat. He says you’ll know what he wants.”

She stated it matter-of-factly, but a faint streak of red had colored her cheeks. Other than a few quick back-and-forths, they’d never spoken much about his relationship with Cho. He figured it was like the Rigsby and Van Pelt thing—if she didn’t know about it, she didn’t need to do anything about it.

Although, he thought as he got up to get an eight-inch roast beef sandwich with extra horseradish, it wasn’t quiet the same thing. Since he was a consultant, he could sleep with whomever he wanted and no one could say boo.

The thought made him grin and he turned his smile on at the wrong time and made the girl behind the counter blush and blink. It took several tries for her to get what he was saying.

He was leaning on the counter, waiting for the order to be filled when Lisbon’s cell rang again. He couldn’t hear what she said, but this time the call was brief and good news because her expression changed, going from glum to—

“What is it?” Jane asked as he hurried over.

Lisbon got up and gathered up her trash. “You’ll never believe it, but it looks like we’ve got a solid lead. Finally. Your friend, Mathias, apparently had a Facebook account.” She dumped the trash with a flourish.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

***

Jane almost ran back to the office. Or at least he tried. Lisbon kept slowing him down, refusing to hurry, and since Van Pelt would never go into the details without her…

By the time they made it upstairs, his mind was working furiously, heart beating too loud, all the aggravation of the last few months disappearing. He felt alert and focused, like he hadn’t in months.

Van Pelt was waiting for them, as were Cho and Rigsby. The rest of the staff had left and the place was dark, intimate. Perfect for thinking and plotting.

He smiled broadly and tossed Cho the bag from the deli, then hurried over to the conference table where Van Pelt waited with her computer. She had that gleam in her eye, the impish one that said she had something really good.

“Okay.” She turned her laptop so they could all see. “It wasn’t easy, but the guys and I managed to get into his account. He had set up some security that was—”

“Boring,” Jane interrupted with a singsong voice, because, really, who cared?

Lisbon and Rigsby glared, but Van Pelt just shrugged. “Yeah, sorry. Anyway, he was good, but for some reason he didn’t cover his tracks as well as he could have. See?” She pointed to a string of numbers that meant nothing to Jane. “This leads us to…” She bent over her computer and typed in something and up popped a page. “We contacted Facebook and they said we’d need a court order to give us his information, but by then we’d decrypted his password.”

She hit a few more keys, the page changed and there he was.

“Yes,” Jane whispered. The picture was at least fifteen years old, judging by the clothing, but it was him. “Mathias, as I live and breathe. Or rather…”

He leaned closer, bending over Van Pelt’s shoulder, but Rigsby got there first. “Joseph Littlefield? Who’s Joseph Littlefield?”

“Another alias?” Van Pelt guessed.

“Hmm, maybe, maybe not,” Jane said. “Not unless he started using aliases when he was just out of college. Lisbon?” He turned to her, but she was already on the phone, walking quickly to her office.

“Who’s she calling,” Rigsby asked.

“Inspector Blount by way of Director Luckner, I would imagine,” Jane murmured. “I hope he can dig up more information. Isn’t Facebook supposed to tell you things?” Because other than the old photo, the page was bare of details. “He hasn’t updated it in a while. Years, in fact.” He touched Van Pelt’s shoulder. “Is that all there is?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s a disappointment.”

“Well,” she said with a shrug, “Now we know his real name. That’s something.”

“True.”

“Maybe he used it to keep track of his friends?”

“Who are they?” Cho spoke for the first time. He was halfway through his sandwich and Jane remembered the Sobe he’d meant to buy.

He jogged to the kitchen and got a bottle of water. When he got back, Van Pelt was saying, “…nobody. A man in IT, a teacher. Nobody important or high up in the government.”

“Something else Blount can tell us,” Jane called out. “Here.” He handed Cho the water.

“Thanks.”

“De nada.”

“Jane?” Van Pelt murmured, chin on hand.

“Yes?”

She enlarged Mathias’s photo with a couple taps. “The thing I don’t get is why so careless? He had to have known we’d find the computer.”

“But we didn’t find it,” Cho said. “Not for nine months.”

“Yeah, but still, it’s weird.” She turned to look at them all. “Isn’t it?”

Jane sat on her desk and clasped his hands together. She was still so naive, even after almost two years with the CBI. “Based on Cho’s report and my personal experience, it’s clear that Mathias’s kind of arrogance didn’t allow for the acceptance that others were as smart as he.”

“So, he figured that if anyone found the computer, no one would think to check out the hard drive?”

“That, and the assumption that if they did, they wouldn’t know how to break his security code.” She didn’t look convinced, but he shrugged. He knew what Mathias/Littlefield had been thinking as if he were standing there, smirking at them all. “It all adds up.”

“What does?” Rigsby asked.

“Why Mathias was killed.” He didn’t look at Cho. It was still a sticky subject, the day he’d let himself be taken hostage by a man he knew to be dangerous. It made Cho grumpy, that nine-month old memory, and there was enough of that going on.

“I thought someone killed him to keep him from talking,” Van Pelt said, with a quick look between Jane and Cho.

“That was part of it, but dollars to donuts, the other part was that he’d become a liability. I bet, once we catch the leader of the group, we’ll find out that he or she killed Mathias because he’d become a loose cannon.”

Rigsby chuckled. “You really think a woman could be the leader of the Red Men?”

“Why not?” Van Pelt asked sharply.

Rigsby’s smiled died. “Huh?”

“Why couldn’t a woman be the leader of the group?”

Rigsby shook his head and stuttered, “I, I— I just meant—”

“Kids!” Jane called out, stopping them before they could get going—they’d be at it all night if he didn’t. Their on-again, off-again love affair looked to be mostly off and they were constantly snapping at each other. It had been entertaining at first, but now? “All I was saying was that it’s becoming clearer, the way the group operates.”

None of them looked pleased by his declaration, especially Cho. Jane opened his mouth to explain when Lisbon came back.

“Okay.”She held up her cell. “I just got off the phone with Luckner. He’s going to relay the news about Joseph Littlefield to Blount’s office. Van Pelt, anything else?”

“No, sorry. I’ll see where his Facebook network takes me, but I don’t have anything now.”

“That’s fine. I didn’t expect it to be easy. Cho?”

“Yes?”

“Dig up that profile you started last year. Take a look at it and see if the new information leads us anywhere.”

“Sure, boss.” Cho threw his trash away and began to type quickly.

“The rest of you,” Lisbon said to Jane and Rigsby. “Let’s go over the facts again and see if anything new shakes loose. It’s been almost a year. Maybe we’ll see something that we didn’t see before.”

***

It was nine when Lisbon tossed her pen down and muttered, “Yeah, okay, I guess it really won’t be that easy.” She ran her hands over her face. “Looks like we’re going to have to wait for Blount, after all. It’s…”she looked at her watch and frowned. “Damn. He probably isn’t even at work yet. Let’s call it a night.” She pushed away from the table and stood up. Van Pelt and Rigsby followed suit.

Jane stayed put and watched Cho, still staring down at the profile they’d been working on for the last three hours.

Three hours. He leaned back in his chair and stretched. If it had been up to him, they would have quit hours ago. It had been clear from the get go that they didn’t have enough information and were simply guessing. Not that he minded guessing—a lot of his theories were born from guessing. But as the night had progressed—and as everyone began to get frustrated—the theories became pointless and so far off the mark, even he didn’t find it useful.

He stretched his arms again and swallowed a yawn.

“Sleepy?” Cho asked softly, still looking at the report.

He raised an eyebrow. Normally Cho didn’t use that voice in public—he generally saved it for the bedroom. “A little.”

“And since it’s been almost four hours since you ate, you’re probably hungry.”

He grinned. “A steak sounds great right now, doesn’t it?”

Cho finally looked up. The half-light made the circles under his eyes deep and dark; he looked exhausted and Jane remembered the day had included a six-hour drive. He touched the back of Cho’s hand, not surprised when he drew away. “C’mon,” he urged. “My treat.”

Cho snorted softly. “You mean I’ll buy dinner and you’ll pretend you’re going to pay me back?”

“I’m wounded.”

Cho pushed to his feet. “No, you’re not.” He went to his desk and began to put away the folders, his gestures efficiently smooth, and once again Jane wondered what the hell was going on.

***

He didn’t ask if he could spend the night—he just assumed. When they left the restaurant and walked to their cars, parked side by side, he told Cho he’d meet him at his place and pretended that he didn’t see Cho’s hesitation.

And when they got to the parking garage, Cho didn’t chastise him for using Lisa’s second space as he expected. He just waited by the elevator and they went up together.

Still in that odd state of calm, they went through their usual routine: He took off his jacket and vest, then headed for the couch where he sprawled comfortably in his corner. Cho tossed his bag on the kitchen table, flipped through the mail, then went to the bedroom to change.

He was watching one of the CSIs when Cho returned. He was wearing sweats and was pulling on an old black t-shirt that was so threadbare it was almost indecent. Jane’s belly tightened with desire and appreciation and he tapped the seat cushion restlessly. There was something endlessly endearing and incredibly sexy about the fact that Cho, usually so particular about his appearance, was comfortable enough to wander around in clothes that were practically falling off him.

Or maybe it wasn’t comfort? He’d been in such an odd mood; maybe it was that he just didn’t care anymore. That happened to all couples, of course. They all went through that period after courtship where the bloom rubbed off and things subsided into the everyday.

Cho sat down and picked up the remote. Without asking, he began to flip through the channels, one by one. He stopped where Jane thought he would: on one the many ESPN baseball channels. Still without a word, he settled back and put his feet on the coffee table.

“Long day?” Jane asked facetiously. He took off his shoes and pulled off his socks.

“Yeah.”

“And you’re thinking that you should go over that profile again, just to make sure you haven’t missed anything.”

Cho didn’t look at the bag like Jane expected. He just shrugged and muttered, “Yeah.”

“I wouldn’t.”

“Yeah?”Cho said for the third time, still speaking to the TV. “What would you do?”

“Let the details sit, let them simmer until they all blend together to form a perfect picture.”

“Is that what you do?”

“You mean generally?’

“Uh-huh.”

Jane shrugged. “Generally, yes. I sift and rearrange, keeping an open mind as to all possibilities.” He touched Cho’s knee with his foot. “I thought you knew that.”

Cho shifted, not really away, and muttered, “I guess I don’t know as much as I thought.”

That was the second time he had said in so many words that he didn’t know Jane well, and it was as surprising as the first time. He straightened up and leaned sideways, bending to see Cho’s face. When Cho flipped the channel again, he took the remote away. “Stop that.” And then, “What was that supposed to mean?”

Cho sighed, finally looking over. “Nothing.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Really. I’m just frustrated. I don’t want to re-open the Red Men case if all it’s gonna do is lead us back to where we are. It’s a waste of time and resources.” He took the remote back.

‘Liar,’ Jane wanted to say, but Cho’s face had closed up again. He wouldn’t get anything out of him now except more evasions and half-truths. “Okay,” he said quietly. If words wouldn’t work, actions would. Cho always responded better to the non-verbal and besides, it would be fun—it had been a while since he’d seduced him into anything.

He slid across the sofa and caressed Cho’s arm. He made his movements measured, heavy with purpose, because he didn’t want to spook him, didn’t want to do anything that would make him run. Still with that same methodical touch, he tugged the remote away, hit the power button and dropped it to the floor. All without looking away because he couldn’t—Cho’s eyelids had lowered, his lips had parted, and Jane didn’t want to miss a moment.

He pressed closer, whispering, “Okay,” against Cho’s rough cheek, his own breath coming sluggish and thick in his effort to take it slow because he thought he knew what was wrong. Maybe familiarity was breeding a little contempt, causing Cho to draw away because he was bored. Maybe it was time to try something new.

He smiled in anticipation, hummed with approval when Cho turned his head, when he opened up to Jane’s mouth.

‘That’s it,’ he said to himself and he wondered if he could get away with an endearment or two like, ‘Sweetheart,’ or ‘Baby.’

Probably not, but the thought made him smile anyway, made his chest warm and he wanted to kiss Cho and never, ever stop.

Cho started to say something, but he murmured, “No,” and bit his chin, just to make him forget about words for a while, just to make him tip his head back in pleasure.

When Cho tried again, he twisted and slid onto his lap, kissing him in earnest, long heartfelt kisses that soon had him moaning softly in the back of his throat, something he only ever did when he was completely in the moment. It was time. He stood up and held out his hand. “C’mon.”

He walked backwards to the dark bedroom, not letting go once and when he got to the foot of the bed, he sat down and pulled Cho to him, nuzzling his belly through the ratty t-shirt, rooting and licking and nipping gently on the smooth muscle.

Cho moaned, louder this time, and clutched at Jane’s head, his hair.  “Jane?” he muttered, a question in his voice.

“It’s okay,” Jane whispered, forgetting why he was reassuring the second he spoke, not even sure what the words meant—he’d shoved Cho’s t-shirt up so he had better access and the valley where hip met stomach was surely made for his mouth, his tongue, and he wanted…

He wanted.

Images paraded through his mind, a confusion of desires, passing so quickly that he only comprehended bits and pieces—Cho above him, broad shoulders cutting the light as they made love. Cho on his back, legs spread wide, hands fisting the sheets as Jane mouthed him…

It was all too much, the things he wanted, and he shook his head, making sure his hair rubbed against Cho’s stomach.

“What is it, what’s wrong?” Cho asked, his voice and hands suddenly so tender.

And it came to Jane that it had been a long time since he’d been that tender, and he spoke without thought, without preparation, “I want to make love to you.”

There was silence and then there was silence. This was definitely the latter and he looked up, a sick certainty as to what he’d find.

And yes, Cho was staring down, his face a mask, his mouth open in such surprise, it was a wonder Jane didn’t hear the crack as blood froze in his veins.

He sat back and cocked his head. “Did you think I’d never ask?”

“I thought you liked things the way they were.”

“I do.” And he punctuated his assurance with a smile and a squeeze. “I do, but don’t you want to—” He shrugged. “Mix it up a little?”

Cho didn’t answer but answered all the same by distancing himself without actually moving a muscle.

So much for trying something new—Jane felt his smile die. “Does it bother you so much?”

“I don’t know. I never thought about it.”

‘Liar,’ Jane thought again, but this time bleakly because Cho might lack some imagination in the bedroom, but no one was that vanilla. Besides, his reaction wouldn’t be so extreme if he hadn’t wondered… “Is it because you were in a gang and bangers don’t get—”

Cho pulled out of his grasp and shook his head sharply, “Don’t.”

Jane’s hands and chest were cold and he laced his fingers together. “Do you want me to leave?”

Cho did that thing with his fingers, something he only did when he was nervous or unsure, and turned in a sharp circle. “No! No,” he said, softer the second time. “I just need a minute to think.”

Jane gave him a moment, then said gravely, “This isn’t something you can rationalize, Kim. You either want it or you don’t.”

“Jane, getting fucked is something most men never want, period.”

“Eh,” Jane said with a little shrug. “Most men don’t have a clue about their own desires or motivations. I made a very good living on that fact.” When Cho jerked his head up, shocked, he added, “What, you think all of my marks were women? No, a lot of them were men who wanted the same thing from me, only they were generally less open about it. In some cases, they didn’t even know it.”

He smiled. A tiny river of anger was coursing through him, white hot. It was be so lovely to open up to it, but he couldn’t—it would consume them, burning them both alive.

But Cho, he was already on the edge of that same anger—his hands were curled into fists, every line of his body was taut. “You’re not saying you seduced them are you?”

“Not sexually, no.” Now, who was the liar? “But emotionally? Of course—I did it all the time. I do it all the time. You’ve seen me.” Said insistently, because surely this wasn’t a surprise?

He waited a heartbeat for Cho to get it, to see reason. Because there was no way to fix his past or the way he operated and he wasn’t going to try. He was what he was and Cho needed to accept that.

And after a moment, he did. He nodded, a little stiffly, and his fists uncurled.

“Come here,” Jane said with a firm gesture. When Cho got close enough to touch, he gathered him in, arms around his hips. He rested his cheek where he’d just kissed, pushing away everything but the way Cho felt. He knew what the result would be if he thought about what just happened and he wasn’t ready for it. He had no intention of giving Cho up, just as he had no intention of letting Cho give him up, but they needed to be equal in this or it wouldn’t work.

He waited until Cho’s flight or fight response died, until his own emotions were checked. Then, without a word, he stripped them both and got them in bed so they could begin again.

 

_________________

Thursday, April 1

 

Cho shifted from side to side, trying to ease the strain on his thighs when a heavy weight landed on his back, pushing him forward. He was pissed but not surprised—he knew who it was.

“Hey,” Jane murmured, his voice breathless with excitement. “Ask Clive if he knows where Jenkins put the stash. I bet it’s in the house.”

“Jane?”

“Yeah?”

Cho elbowed him, not gently. “Will you get the hell out of here? You don’t have a vest on.”

Jane hesitated, then said, “Yeah, okay. I’ll be behind my tree.” He patted Cho’s shoulder, then scuttled away.

He wasn’t taking any of this seriously. Had, in fact, dubbed the case, ‘the case of the dirty money launderer’s dirty laundry.’ Cho couldn’t blame him. If Clive Pearson hadn’t been on elementary school property, if he hadn’t run, they would have left this one to the locals who would eventually contact the Feds. But Pearson had run and it was too late to do anything but see it through.

He held his breath and took a quick look around the corner of the shed.

The scene hadn’t changed—the small, dusty-yellow house with its sagging veranda was empty of everything but a refrigerator and a sofa. The screen swayed in the light breeze, half torn off its hinges.

It was supposed to be simple—flush him out and bring him in. Pearson had taken refuge in the house and though he was unarmed, they’d decided to wait for Chief Harrison as he knew Clive from when he was young.

But Pearson had been surprisingly quick—the second Cho had called out, saying the house was surrounded, the front door banged open and he’d charged out to the middle of the yard. Before he could even blink, Pearson had dropped to the ground and slithered under the crawl space. Like a snake.

They’d taken cover, Cho behind the shed, Rigsby behind a rusted out Ford. Van Pelt was somewhere to the left, on the other side of the shed, waiting for his signal.

He looked around, making sure Jane was behind one of the big oaks that circled the property, then yelled, “Pearson! It’s over! We’ve got you and you know it. Make it easy on yourself!”

He heard a muffled noise, then a shout, “I didn’t do it! I swear!”

He rolled his eyes—they all said that. He nodded to Rigsby, who nodded to Van Pelt. A few seconds later, she fired a smoke grenade.

It was a sweet shot, perfectly placed—it landed just under the porch and a plume of grey smoke poured out from all sides.

Pearson shouted something unintelligible, and came scrambling out. And that should have been easy too, but the wind picked up and sent the smoke cloud out towards the yard, away from the house.

Cho straightened and took a deep breath to yell a warning when Pearson surprised him again—he came running out of the cloud, waving his arms, running like a jackrabbit with vertigo.

Cho holstered his weapon and hurried to meet him, thinking to block his path. But Pearson stumbled to the right at the wrong moment and bypassed his outstretched hands. He took off again, this time heading for the road, straight towards Jane. Who was somehow not behind his tree anymore. Who was somehow frozen in place, hands up. As if that would do anything.

Cho shouted and ran, but it was already over. Pearson plowed into Jane, they went flying back, down in a tangle of plaid and wool. He was on Pearson in a flash, jerking him back, dragging him off Jane. “You okay?” He got his cuffs and quickly fastened them around Pearson’s wrists.

Before Jane could answer, Pearson nodded and whined, “Yeah, man, but you didn’t need to do that. All that smoke and stuff? I was coming out, honest.”

Jane choked on a laugh and Cho growled, “I didn’t mean you, you idiot.”

Rigsby and Van Pelt ran up—she had gotten a good dose of smoke and was squinting and blinking, her eyes watering.

Pearson pulled on his cuffs, trying to twist around. “Well, how was Ito know that? I couldn’t see who you were talking to. I was just answering in general, you know?”

This time it was Rigsby that snickered. Cho glared and pushed Pearson towards him, saying, “He’s all yours. I’ll wait for the chief. Van Pelt?”

She was blinking and squinting. “Yeah?”

“You okay?”

“I’m fine. I’ve got eye drops in my purse. I’ll be fine.”

“You and Rigsby get going. We’ll meet up in town.” He turned. Jane had wondered off towards the house. His back and hair were covered with dirt and weeds and he was waving the smoke away while peering into it. “Hey?”

Jane didn’t turn around. “Yes?”

“Don’t go in there, okay? Wait for Harrison.”

Jane gestured vaguely, which Cho took to mean either, ‘okay, okay,’ or ‘how stupid do you think I am?’ Whatever. As long as he stayed outside.

He turned back to the SUV—Rigsby was cuffing Pearson to the door handle. Even from the distance of a hundred feet, Cho could hear him complaining. He sighed and walked back to Jane.

Who was standing in front of the veranda steps, craning his head to look inside as he absent-mindedly brushed off the debris.

Cho gave him a minute, then asked, “Are you really okay?”

“Yep.”

“Seriously, Jane. He hit you pretty hard and this place is full of junk.”

Jane turned. “No, I’m fine. I’m going to need to get this suit dry cleaned, but I’m fine.”

Cho shrugged and stepped closer. “I should’ve had you go with Rigsby. No way do I want you messing up my car. Here…” He reached for Jane’s shoulder, holding him in place while he brushed off the worst of the leaves and dirt.

Later on, when he had time to think about it, he wondered what the hell got into him because he did something he’d normally never do—he held on and let his touch become personal, intimate. Even as he told himself to stop, he exchanged back for head, brushing his hand over Jane’s hair, letting his fingers slip through Jane’s curls.

And Jane, he leaned back, almost purring and Cho stepped closer, pressing his chest into Jane’s shoulder, pretending to comb out twigs and leaves that were no longer there.

It had been four days since That Night—and he couldn’t help it, he thought about it in caps—and although neither had talked about it, it was there between everything they did, everything they said. So much so, that he’d taken to avoiding Jane’s gaze and last night, he’d actually said he was busy when Jane asked if he could come over.

He was embarrassed for Christ’s sake, something he hardly ever was. And he couldn’t stop his reactions, couldn’t help feeling that a barrier had descended, deep and impassable, sealing them off from one another.

But for all that, for all he wasn’t sure what was going on and how to fix it, they still had this. Whatever that was worth and he pressed harder, wishing they were anywhere else so he could kiss the side of Jane’s face. “I’m glad that asshole didn’t hurt you,” he whispered.

“Yes?”

“Yeah.”

“How glad?”

There was a smile in Jane’s voice and Cho was about to answer when a noise, like an indrawn breath, made him jump around. Rigsby had returned and was standing by the corner of the shed, staring with his mouth open in shock.

Cho froze. And remembered he was holding Jane, almost wrapped around him. He dropped his hands and stepped back, dully noting that Jane had turned as well. No one spoke and he suddenly wished for Rigsby’s normal motor mouth because he sure as hell couldn’t say anything.

Finally, Rigsby stuck his hands in his back pockets and stuttered, “Er, I just wanted…” He shrugged. “Lisbon just called Van Pelt. She’s got some news about the Johnson’s computer or something like that. She wants you to call.”

“Van Pelt?”

“No, Lisbon. Lisbon wants you to call her.”

Said almost angrily and Cho nodded, unable to make it easier. Thankfully, Jane was there. With a smooth, “I’m on it,” he got his cell out and began to dial.

Rigsby pivoted and stomped off.

“Well, that cat’s out of the bag.” Jane said cheerfully, the phone still pressed to his ear. “I’d like to be a fly on the wall for the conversation he’s having with Grace.”

Cho turned, his neck stiff with accelerating shock. Jane was bouncing on his toes as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

“Hey, Lisbon. You called?” There was a pause, then Jane rolled his eyes. “No, I’m fine. What’s going on? I— He’s here, but you can— Oh, all right.” He reluctantly handed the cell to Cho.

He took it with fingers that didn’t want to work right. “Hi, boss.”

“Rigsby said Pearson tried to make a break for it. Are you guys okay?”

“Yeah, we’re fine.” He glanced sideways at Jane. “Jane got knocked over, but that’s business as usual.”

Lisbon snorted. “You got that right. Listen,” her lighthearted tone changed, became serious. “I’m waiting on a call from Blount. We might have some interesting news. When will you be back?”

“Harrison should be arriving any minute. He’d wanted us to wait for the arrest, but Pearson had other ideas.”

“Okay.”She paused then, said, “Okay, give him thirty minutes. If he doesn’t show, call him and tell him that I need you back at the office, asap, and that he’ll need to go over the scene without you. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay.” He hung up and handed the phone back to Jane.

Jane smiled. “She sounds excited.”

“Yeah.”

“I wonder what it could be.” Jane stuck his hands in his pockets and kicked the dirt, turning in a circle. “Maybe Blount found our guy.”

“Maybe.”

Jane shrugged. “Or maybe it’s just be some more boring hacker mumbo-jumbo.”

“Maybe.”

Jane stopped kicking, stopped turning. “It was bound to happen, you know.”

His voice was gentle, but matter-of-fact and Cho didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “You think?”

“Yeah. I mean, considering how close we all work together.”

“Not according to Lisbon’s rules.”

“You mean the, ‘Keep your personal life out of your work’ rule?”

“Yeah.”

Jane made a face. “Piffle.”

Cho sighed. “Jane—”

Jane took his hands out of his pockets and reached for Cho’s shoulders.  “You really didn’t expect this?” He squeezed gently.

Cho shrugged because he really didn’t know. He hadn’t been hiding anything about his relationship with Jane.

Had he?

It hadn’t bothered him, confirming what Van Pelt had asked, last year at the Carina Luna. She’d been more embarrassed about it than he. But telling her, a woman colleague, was far different from telling a male colleague and he almost winced at the memory of Rigsby’s stony expression, his obvious embarrassment. So maybe it wasn’t so much as being comfortable with the idea that he and Jane were sleeping together so much as comfortable with the idea of not facing it.

Something of his confusion must have shown because Jane cocked his head and said, “It’ll be okay.”

“Says you.”

“When we get back, you can talk to him.”

Cho said nothing.

“Knowing him, though, he’ll need to talk it over and I’m afraid you’re on your own there.”

“Coward.”

Jane squeezed again and smiled. “But I’ll enjoy it all from the sidelines. He’ll probably want to go out to dinner, just you two.”

Cho groaned because he’d thought the same thing, all those months ago. “Don’t. I’ll turn in my badge if he tries to give me any dating advice.”

Jane laughed out loud. Then looked over Cho’s shoulder and nodded. “Here comes your cavalry.”

And that’s all they said. On the way back, Jane fell asleep, curled against the door, as Cho tried to push away the memory of Rigsby’s shock, of his own.

***

They were pulling into the office lot when Jane woke up. “We here?”

“Yes.” Cho slid into a parking space. It wasn’t quite four, but the lot was half empty. Not unexpected these days because of the budge cuts. “Lisbon called.”

“When?”

“About an hour ago.”

“Any news?”

“No, she just wanted to talk about Pearson.”

“What time is it?”

“Four.

Jane got out of the car and stretched. “That’s good,” he called out, mind clearly not on the conversation.

He reached for his stakeout book. “I’m going to run around the corner to get something to eat. You want to come?”

Jane bent down. “It’s only four.”

“Like that ever made a difference to you.”

“Ah, ah, ah.” Jane wagged his finger. “You can’t fool me.”

Cho tucked the book in his pocket and peered up. “Fool you? How?”

“I know you just don’t want to go in and face Rigsby. C’mon. Take it like a man and let’s go see what Lisbon has for us.” And he was off, striding across the parking lot without waiting.

“You take it like a man,” Cho muttered under his breath and got out.

Jane was right, though, Cho decided, as excitement replaced dread. Who cared what Rigsby thought? What mattered now was the news from London.

Still, he followed slowly and by the time he got upstairs, Jane was already in with Lisbon, and Rigsby and Van Pelt were at their desks. Cho told himself that it wasn’t shame that made him pass the bullpen and continue on to Lisbon’s office. He was just doing his job.

Lisbon waved him in when he got to her doorway. She was on the phone, and by her expression—and Jane’s—whatever news she had wasn’t good.

Cho sat down next to Jane and listened as Lisbon gave a lot of ‘Yes, sirs,’ and ‘No, sirs.’ Finally, when he was beginning to wish he’d just gone to his desk because at least then he could be working, she said, “Understood. Let me know if we can help on our end. Goodbye.”

She sat the receiver in the cradle and leaned back in her chair. She gave Cho a speaking glance and said succinctly, “Well, that sucks.”

“Nothing’s come in?”Jane said with a frown.

“No, worse. There’s a problem with the records. Apparently they’ve found a Joseph Littlefield that went to Oxford, but Blount can’t get the details, so he’s going to go look for himself. He doesn’t think we’ll have anything for a few days.”

“Damnit,” Jane muttered. Cho exchanged glances with Lisbon. Jane was generally easygoing about these things and the bumps in an investigation’s road rarely fazed him, rarely made him swear.

“Yeah,” Lisbon said with a ‘back-to-square-one’ sigh. “But we’ve got other things to do and the case has waited this long. It can wait a few more days.”

“Maybe one of us should fly to England,” Jane said.

Lisbon snorted. “You’re kidding, right? On what budget? On whose budget?”

“I’ll use my own money.”

“No.”

“It’s my money, Lisbon,” Jane said in that mildly affronted tone he got. “I can do what I want with it.”

Lisbon leaned forward. “Jane, if you so much as step foot across the state line, I’ll fix you with an ankle bracelet.”

Jane raised an eyebrow. “That’s illegal.”

“I’ll find an excuse.”

“Like—”

“Jane,” she said tiredly. “Just be patient. Go take a look at the Red John case again. Go—” She made a waving gesture, as if hoping to conjure something out of thin air then asked hopefully, “Cho?”

He nodded and stood up. “C’mon. Give her a break.”

After a moment, Jane got up and left without saying another word. Cho rolled his eyes at Lisbon, then followed.

Rigsby was still at his desk, and without breaking his stride, he changed destinations and went left instead of right. He really didn’t have any reason to be in the kitchen, but a drink wouldn’t hurt and tea would take a while to fix. He opened a cupboard and got out a cup.

“Hey?”

He sighed silently and turned. Rigsby was in the doorway, file folder in hand. He was trying to look like he just happened to be there. “Yeah?”

“You have time for a beer after work?”

“I don’t know. I was planning on an early night.”

“With Jane?”

He froze. No one was around, no one heard. He met Rigsby’s gaze squarely. “Yes.”

Rigsby nodded and frowned at the folder, tapping it restlessly against his palm.

He looked like a little kid, one that had been slapped around and Cho remembered what Jane had said after the incident with the hypnotist—that there was some sort of abuse in Rigsby’s past, most likely from his father. And as much as he didn’t want to deal with this, they’d known each other a while now and he didn’t want to lose the friendship. “Listen.”

“Yeah?”

“What about tomorrow night?”

Rigsby stopped his restless tapping and looked up. “Yeah?”

“If Blount comes up with anything, we might have to work, but…” He shrugged.

Even that was enough. Rigsby straightened up and nodded. He didn’t smile, but was a little less grim around the mouth, so that was something. “Yeah, okay.” He backed up. “That sounds good. Thanks.”

He watched Rigsby stride off, wondering what he would be content with hearing: the truth or a lie they both knew was a lie.

He sighed and filled the cup with water.

***

When he got home—late because he’d decided to go to the store—the aroma of dinner hit him the minute he closed the door.

He followed the scent to the kitchen. Jane was in front of the stove, idly stirring something in a pan. He was still wearing his work clothes, minus the jacket, and had Cho’s striped green and white apron on. He looked a little ridiculous. Cho had to stifle a grin.

“Hello,” Jane murmured without turning around.

“Hey.” Cho sat the bags on the table.

“You’re home late.”

Cho shrugged. “I had to finish up some work.” He didn’t mention Rigsby—there was no point in bringing up something he could solve tonight. He came nearer and leaned on Jane’s shoulder, one hand on the small of his back. “That smells good.” And not just the sauce; Jane was wearing some new cologne and a curl of desire warmed his belly.

“It should. I’m using the last of the wine from the Beckworth case. Taste…”

He dipped the spoon in the sauce, blew on it, then held it up for Cho. Who tasted it but didn’t really taste it. His body was on a different track and what he wanted couldn’t be eaten. Sort of. He kissed Jane’s shoulder and stroked his back, up and down.

Jane turned. And rubbed something off his lower lip. “Sauce,” he explained, then, “What’s in the bags?”

“Groceries.”

“Did you get a lime?”

“No.

“Pity. A little lime juice would go great with the rice.”

“I’ll pick one up tomorrow.”

“It’ll be too late, but okay.”

“Do I have time for a shower?”

“If you hurry.”

Cho kissed Jane’s ear just to watch him shiver, then went to take a shower.

***

Dinner was good. Chicken, rice, and salad—simple, but good.

Afterwards, he washed the dishes while Jane got his book and curled up in his corner of the couch.

‘His corner.’

Cho shook his head and reminded himself to stop thinking like that. There was no ‘his’ anything—just Jane’s place and his place. Two separate homes for two separate lives.

He finished cleaning the kitchen a little gloomily and folded the dishrag neatly by the sink. He turned off the kitchen lights, then the main set and settled into the opposite corner of the sofa, automatically picking up the remote.

“Anything on?” Jane asked as he turned a page.

“Same old, same old,” Cho lied—he hadn’t really been paying attention. “How’s the book?” Jane was reading a biography on William Blake. Cho had taken one look at the illustrations and said he’d stick with Dickens.

“Good. Oh,” he looked up. “Do you want your Dickens?”

Cho shook his head, but Jane got up anyway and went to the bedroom.

Without thinking or planning, he followed, not hurrying, but quickly enough so that when he got to the dark bedroom, Jane was just reaching for the book. When he straightened, Cho was there.

Stepping close and wrapping his arms around Jane’s waist, running his hand down Jane’s belly and under his trousers when he sucked in a startled breath and said, “No reading tonight?”

He cupped Jane’s shorts, his dick, pressing and pressing until he got the reaction he was looking for. “No.”

“Are you sure?”

He nuzzled beneath Jane’s collar and licked his neck. “I’m sure.”

“Okay.”

Jane turned on the light, then twisted in his arms and Cho kissed him eagerly, telling himself that this wasn’t an apology fuck. That all that was over and he had nothing to be sorry for anyway.

Still, he avoided Jane’s gaze as he slipped him out of his clothing like he was a thief and Jane a precious object d’art hidden in a locked house.

Not an analogy that made him happy and he pushed the thought away, instead concentrating on the familiar things that always got him hot—the feel of Jane’s body against his own, the rough silk of his skin, his hitched breath, his sighs and groans.

There was a moment, tiny but noticeable, when Jane pushed him down on the bed and lay on him. Unable to help himself, he stiffened. Jane didn’t say anything. He just rolled them both until they were on their sides, legs tangled.

They had sex that way; like dinner, it was simple but good.

Afterwards, he was too tired to move. Jane turned off the light, then pulled the covers up over them both.

***

The dream, when it came, was shallow and only half real. He managed to cut it off before the final scene and woke with a jolt. He laid there, heart pounding, cold with sweat, listening to see if he’d woken Jane. Except for the ticking of the clock, the room was quiet and he sighed. After an uncounted time, he relaxed and fell back asleep.

 

__________________

Saturday, April 3rd

 

Mark jumped out of the cab and ran into the shop, cursing the wet. He’d gotten lazy, spending so much time in Majorca and Nice and lately, California, and had forgotten how cold a typical London day could be. He paused in the foyer to shake the water off his overcoat, then continued on.

Luke was in his usual spot, in the far right corner, back to the wall. The paper was spread out before him and his head was bowed as he did one of his infernal word puzzles. With the light from the stained glass windows shining on his cheek and dark hair, he looked like he had an awful skin disease.

Mark sat down.

Luke wrote something, murmuring, “You’re late.”

“Traffic.”

“Five blocks?”

“I took a cab.”

Luke’s head was bent too far to see his expression, but Mark knew his lips were bent in a smile. “Five blocks?”

Mark kicked his shin, but gently—it wouldn’t do to make him angry. “And have you bitch about me being even later? I don’t think so.” And then, “Did you order for me?”

Luke finally straightened up. “Of course.” The wound from the Caracas job was fading. Soon, there’d only be a faint line that ran from his hairline to his temple. And then he could get his hair trimmed again. Mark knew he hated the fringe that he was forced to grow in order to hide the distinguishing mark, but John’s rules were John’s rules and even Luke had limits.

Luke cocked his head. “What is it?”

Mark shrugged. And then sat back when the girl brought a pint and a plate. Shepherd’s pie. Perfect. He tucked in, ignoring Luke’s sigh—he was hungry and he always thought better on a full stomach.

“So,” he mumbled as soon as half the pie was gone. “Any news?” He wiped his mouth with the napkin.

Luke tossed his pen down. “You tell me. I’m here because of you.”

Mark wiped his mouth again, to give himself a moment. Now that he was here, with Luke in arm’s reach, he wondered if this was a good idea. Luke and John were close, to say the least. And even though Mark had been with them for almost twelve years, that couldn’t stack up to what those two had together. Whatever that was.

Luke sighed and stretched into the corner of the booth. “Mark,” he said with a low grumble. “I just got in from Mexico. I’m tired. What do you want?”

Well, when he put it that way… “I’m worried about John.”

Luke nodded, as if Mark answered as expected. “And?”

“And, I’m worried he’s losing his focus.”

“I wouldn’t concern myself too much with that,”Luke said with a shrug. “John gets bored easily. He’ll tire soon. He always does.”

“He does, does he? Where do you think I’ve been these last weeks?”

“John said you were training the newbie.”

“Yes, well, do you know he had me take a trip to the States? To Sacramento, California, specifically?”

Luke went still. Then he picked up his pen and began to trace a figure eight on the tabletop, around and around. “No, I didn’t,”he finally said. “Did you take Peter?”

“I wanted to leave him here, but John said to bring him. He wanted to see how the kid behaved amongst Americans.”

“And?”

Mark made a face. “Overly impressed, but he held it together. He thinks Mr. Jane is the bees knees.”

“He does, does he?” Luke said, mimicking Mark’s own words with a snarky smile.

Mark frowned, then said seriously, “He did all right. I think he could use a few more weeks of training. He’s got some rough spots.”

“Did you say this to John?”

Mark hesitated, then said, “Yeah, I did.”

Luke sighed. “Mark. You know what he’s like when you second-guess him.”

“Yeah, but do you want to be stuck in the field with someone you can’t count on?”

Luke looked out the widow while he thought about it. Finally, he admitted, “No. I take it you want me to convince him?”

“Yeah, because if you don’t, I’ll go out there myself.”

Luke looked up, his gaze suddenly sharp and feral. “I’d think twice about that if I were you. I know he likes you and trusts you, but don’t push it. He’s in a foul mood now that the Switzerland job is a no go.”

Mark didn’t ask for details. When John wanted him to know, he’d tell him. But he couldn’t be sorry—the global warming idea had been ridiculous and had no chance of making any profit. Not that he’d said that to John, of course.

Luke returned to his puzzle. He filled in a square, then murmured, “He’s in Paris for a few days. I’m picking him up on Tuesday. He’ll want to visit the old man first, so we’ll be making a trip down to Woodgate.”

“You’ll talk to him?”

Luke nodded slowly. “I’ll talk to him.”

 

______________

Tuesday, April 6th

 

Jane was finishing his tea when his cell rang. He felt for it blindly because he almost had the jumble after spending the last hour on it. “It’s your dime.”

“Who answers the phone like that?”

“Well, good morning to you too, sunshine.” Cho was behind him at the sink, washing the dishes. The water was shut off. Jane looked over his shoulder, mouthing, ‘Lisbon.’ “I’ve got a riddle for you: what’s green and—”

“Jane. Luckner just called.”

Jane sat up, jumble forgotten. “And?”

“He thinks you’re right.”

“About?”

“What do you think?

He ignored her sarcasm with practiced ease. “And Blount?”

“He needs convincing.”

Her tone was too dry and he wondered what else Blount had said. Probably something along the lines of, ‘I don’t need a psychic telling me what to do or who to investigate.’ “I’ll bet he does.”

When can you get here?”

“An hour?”

“Fine.” She hung up before he could say anything else.

“What’s up?” Cho picked up the dishcloth and dried his hands. He’d been for his morning run and, as usual, he’d stripped off his t-shirt, shoes and socks the minute he walked in the door. Something Jane had no problem with generally, but it was a little distracting, considering their current state of, well, affairs. “Luckner called this morning.”

“And?”

“And, since he’s a very smart man, he thinks I’m right about the connection between the Johnsons and the Red Men.”

“Big surprise there,” Cho muttered. He began to wash the countertops that he’d washed not ten minutes ago.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you’re usually right.”

“Not always. Sometimes not ever.”

“Hmm.”

Cho was rubbing the same spot on the countertop, over and over. He looked tired and out of sorts. Probably because he’d had another nightmare last night, the second in the last three days. Only, Jane wasn’t supposed to know that, was he? 

Wasn’t supposed to know that he’d been having nightmares for a while now and they weren’t getting any better or less frequent.

Just weeks ago he’d woken up from a belt on the back of his head. He tried to get Cho to talk about it, but he’d looked so ashamed, he’d just shut up about it. And let Cho seduce him into one a.m. sex, which he really didn’t have a problem with.

The next morning, he brought the dream up, albeit obliquely, and Cho had ignored him. A few days later, when he’d suggested that he come over for the weekend, Cho had told him he was working.

So, no, there was no sense pushing, not yet. Just as there was no sense in reaching out and hooking his fingers under Cho’s shorts to drag him closer. After the fiasco of the week before, he needed to go slow. That though it felt as Cho was hiding behind a wall made of brick, time and patience would tear down any barrier, no matter how strong, no matter how thick.

So, patience—patience was what was required now.

He leaned his chin on his fist and said, “Hey?”

“Yeah?”

“Why don’t you stop cleaning up after me and go take a shower and get dressed. By the time you get back, I’ll have breakfast waiting.”

“I can make my own breakfast.”

“Let me. What do you want?”

Cho shrugged. “Eggs and toast?”

“Got it.”

Cho hung the dishrag over the sink divider. As he was leaving, he edged by Jane’s chair and that was too much temptation for one man—Jane turned back around, pretending to finish the puzzle, all the while focused on Cho, now padding away.

***

They took separate cars to work. Jane grumbled—it was such a waste, even though Cho was right—who knew what the day would bring?

But he didn’t hurry and when he got to the office, they were all there, waiting. Lisbon was sitting on Cho’s desk, kicking her heels, a folder in one hand. She tapped her watch. “Glad you could make it.”

“I know you are, Lisbon.” Jane nodded to the others and sat down on his couch, crossing his legs and giving her his, ‘well, what are you waiting for?’ look.

She tightened her lips, then announced “Okay. I talked to Inspector Blount and Director Luckner this morning and we think we have a break in the so-called Red Men case, but first, Cho? Where are we on Pearson?”

“He lawyered up.”

“You’re kidding.”

Cho shook his head. “Nope, and it’s not a public defender.”

“Would this lawyer happen to work for Stewart Jenkins?”

“He won’t say, but it’s a good bet.”

“Damnit,” she muttered softly. “Well, we’ve still got him on the original charges so we can hold him for a couple more days.”

“And by then,” Cho said, “we’ll have his prints from the house and the rifle he left at the school.”

“Hopefully.” She opened the folder. “Okay, back to the Red Men case and don’t think I don’t see you rolling your eyes, Jane. The Jenkins case is just as important.”

Jane grinned. He thought she hadn’t noticed.

“So, Inspector Blunt called this morning. Luckner agrees that the home invasion case last year could be connected with the Red Men case. Blount isn’t convinced, but is willing to listen to the details. He’s had time to go over the new evidence and he might have a lead on Joseph Littlefield, AKA Mathias Evans.”

“AKA who knows who else,” Jane murmured dryly. Mathias probably had a couple other names floating around out there—he’d almost have to, considering the scope of his crimes.

Lisbon nodded. “Unfortunately, that might be the case. But, we’re getting somewhere. Here—” She held up a couple sheets of paper. “Blount faxed these over. It’s Littlefield’s bio, or at least what we know so far. Take a look.” She handed the sheets to Cho. “The photos on the second page are from school archives, I think. They’re bad, but Mathias is recognizable.”

Cho looked the bio over and handed it to Rigsby.

“Apparently he’s from a fairly well-off family. Or was. They seem to be all dead.”

Rigsby got up and gave the papers to Van Pelt. Jane couldn’t stand it anymore. He got up and hurried over to peer over her shoulder.

The first page of the bio was a short list of facts, the second was a mish-mash of badly copied photos. All were old, most were blurry. He reached over and turned back to the first page, ignoring Van Pelt’s little huff, and began to read.

Littlefield, age thirty-six in 2009, was born in Boughten, outside of Northhampton. He’d gone to several schools that Jane vaguely knew from nineteenth century literature. St. Mary’s, Oxford—Littlefield had attended both. Surprisingly, he’d majored in—

“He was going to be a priest?” Van Pelt asked in disbelief. Jane felt the same surprise—arrogant and sneaky, Mathias had been as far from priest-like as one could get.

“Looks like it,” Lisbon answered. “Blount said he’d gone through the whole program or whatever they call it over there.”

“Divinity school,” Jane murmured. There was nothing on the bio saying why he’d changed career paths. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. When it didn’t work out, he joined the military. Who was he with, Van Pelt?”

Van Pelt scanned the sheet, slapping Jane’s hand away when he pointed over her shoulder. “Third Commando Brigade. Whatever that is.”

“Front line unit, trained in special tactics,” Cho muttered. They all turned to look at him and he shrugged. It was just something he knew.

“But something happened,” Jane broke in. “Why? Why chuck it all and enter the military? Going from one to the other is a pretty big leap.”

“The Third Brigade is trained to go in first into any crisis. An army buddy of mine had a cousin who was in the brigade. They’re hardcore.”

Jane raised his eyebrow. Anyone who Cho thought was hardcore had to be tough. He looked at the sheet again and said absently, “Which makes it even stranger, right?”

“What are you thinking?” Lisbon asked.

“That people don’t just switch from the priesthood to the military without a significant alteration in their viewpoint.”

“I don’t know,” Rigsby countered. “Maybe he just got tired of wearing robes and being all priestly.”

“I doubt that would qualify as a reason. No… Van Pelt, may I…?”he asked as he pointed to the sheet. She gave it to him and he went back to his couch and sat down again. “This is something else, something big.”

“Like a sea change,” Cho murmured.

Jane looked up at him. “Exactly like.” Cho was watching him with and odd blank look in his eye—he shook off the bad feeling and said, “So Littlefield joined the military for some reason. He was only there for a short time.”

Lisbon nodded. “Blount was just as puzzled. He’s doing more digging but it might take work. The military generally likes to keep quiet about ex-personnel.” She looked at Cho as she spoke and he nodded gravely.

“Hey, Lisbon?”

“Yes, Jane.”

“Can I take a look at his Facebook page?”

“I thought you already went over it?”

“Oh, I did. I just want to see it again.”

“The boys in the lab have the computer. I can tell them you’re on your way.”

“No, never mind. It’s not that important,” he muttered. The idea was crazy anyway—none of Littlefield’s friends were part of the group. No one was that stupid and he was just grasping at straws, trying to make the pieces fall into place.

He went back to the bio and studied the photos, holding the paper up to the light to see better. Even taking into account this was a fax of a scan, the photos were bad. They were a disordered series of crooked images, the oldest being fifteen or twenty years old, judging by the clothing and haircuts. “Why did Blount even bother with these? It’s not like they—”

He paused and peered at the sheet, trying to see if he was really seeing what he was seeing. The oldest photo, taken sometime in the early nineties, had been placed underneath the others so its very top and bottom third were missing. But the important part was there—three young men smiling at the camera. Behind them, in the background, was what looked like the entrance to a formal building made of brick and ivy. Probably a school.

The boy in the center had his arm slung over the shoulder of boy to his right, and it took a moment for Jane to recognize Joseph Littlefield AKA Mathias. His hair was much lighter, almost blond, and he was wearing a suit and tie, but it was Mathias. The man on the left, hand up, palm toward the camera was unrecognizable—he was obviously trying to hide his face—the only thing noticeable was that he seemed to be smiling.

But the kid on the right, dark-haired and tall—

“Oh,” Jane murmured—maybe he was imagining it. But no, and he called out, “Oh!” again and raised his hand. “Lisbon?”

“Jane, I’m four feet away. What is it?”

He jumped up and hurried over, pointing to the image. “Here.”He shoved the paper at her. “I’ve seen this man.”

The rest of the team jumped up as well and crowded around.

“See?” Jane pointed again.

Lisbon took the papers and held them up. “No, I don’t see. What is it?”

“I’ve seen this boy before.” Jane jabbed at the photo for the third time. “Very recently, in fact.”

“Jane—”

But Jane wasn’t listening. He leaned around her so he could see Cho, “Remember? At the Catamaran Club? During the Mashburn case? The time when I proved to Mashburn that I could read people by body language?”

“Which time? The time you ruined the expensive—”

“Yes, of course that—”

“No, I don’t—”

“He was right there, almost within—”

“I was busy. Remember? Investigating the murder of—”

“Hey!” Lisbon said loudly with an abrupt wave of her hands. “Do we need to be here for this?”

“Never mind,” Jane shook his head. Excitement was coursing through his body and he spoke quickly, “Lisbon, remember while I was trying to rule out Mashburn as a suspect? I bet him that he could hide a ring anywhere on the patio where we were dining and I’d find it. I—”

“Why would you do that?” Lisbon interrupted.

Jane shrugged. “To illustrate how easy it is to read people. May I continue?”

She frowned, but nodded.

“He, of course, had to be convinced, but while he was hemming and hawing, I got a good look at the crowd. And Lisbon,” Jane grabbed the photo from her and shook the sheets of paper. “This man, the one next to Mathias or Littlefield or whoever he is; he was in the crowd.”

No one said anything and in the silence, he could hear the hum and clunk as the refrigerator jerked to life, and further off down the hall, a phone began to ring.

“Jane,” Lisbon finally said, breaking the hush, “that’s impossible. These are Mathias’s college photos, so that would mean the photo is at least fifteen years old, and—”

This time it was Cho who interrupted, leaning around Lisbon to say, “Are you sure?”

Jane nodded. “Remember? Here.” He passed the sheets back to Cho.

“He was there after the Lamborghini went over the cliff. You were ahead of me, Mashburn was on my left and this man…” He held his hands up, squinting into the distance as he re-imagined the scene. “The day had been hot, but not unseasonably. Mashburn had been entertaining if more than a little egotistical—typical of the rich. And the stranger?” He closed his eyes, gesturing with his right hand—he could almost see it. “He was on the left, hands in pockets, watching the show. When we all traipsed out to the parking lot, he came as well.”

He opened his eyes, straightened up, and raised an eyebrow. “Remember now?”

Cho shrugged. Lisbon was equally skeptical and Jane shook his head in frustration. He took the bio back and looked at the photo again—if he wasn’t sure before, he was now. “He was there.”

“Considering the murders last year and your theory as to why they occurred, should we assume he’s stalking you?” Lisbon asked doubtfully.

“What else could it be?”

“One,” she held up a finger. “I’d need hard evidence to prove that this man is the same one in that picture. Two, if it is him, why wait so long? Why not just come after you last year? I know I would.”

He gave her a look that said, ‘very funny.’ “I don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing, I just know they are.”

She took a breath, probably to argue with him, when her cell rang. She sighed and opened it up. “Lisbon.”

Her face changed and she slipped off Cho’s desk. “Have the locals been notif— Okay, we’ll be there as quick as we can. I call with an ETA when we’re on the road.” She hung up. “It’s a bad one. A triple homicide in Geyserville.”

Rigsby sighed and went back to his desk as Van Pelt rose and pulled on her jacket. Cho began to clear his desk.

Lisbon was already out the door, calling out over her shoulder, “We’ll take three cars in case we have to split up. Jane, you can come or not—it doesn’t look like we’ll need you on this one.”

Jane glanced at Cho, then muttered, “Stay behind? I don’t think so. Rigsby? I’m with you.”

***

The drive was uncomfortable. Jane had expected nothing less. Rigsby had a lot to say but didn’t say it—he kept throwing sidelong glances Jane’s way ever few miles or so, and every time Jane looked over, giving him the opportunity to speak, he jerked his head forward and tightened his hands on the steering wheel.

It was more than a little funny.

And a little boring—he’d expected some sort of third degree, had planned on it, but it seemed as if Rigsby was keeping his questions for Cho.

The trip took almost two hours—by the time they pulled into the parking lot of a cute bed and breakfast, he was ready for action.

He didn’t get much chance to act.

As he opened the car door, Lisbon strode over and blocked him, saying quietly, “I want you to stay here. We just found out that the suspects returned and are holed up inside. We’re going to see if we can get them out without any fuss, but until I give the all clear, you sit tight. Okay?”

She had her game face on, serious and intent, and he nodded several times. “Sure.”He looked over her shoulder. Cho and Van Pelt were strapping on their vests. Beyond, in the adjacent lot, were three cop cars, their lights flashing. “Be careful.”

“We will. You too.” And she and Rigsby were gone, running over to suit up.

He watched, feeling the same sense of distance he generally did at a crime scene, as if he were in the audience and a play was being enacted all around him. The overture was the stealthy movement of the teams as they crept up to the house, weapons raised. Next the opening act: Lisbon calling out and, when there was no response, the actual assault. The entre-act would be the worst—waiting because who knew what would happen, who would get hurt?

He rested his elbow on the doorframe. The day was pretty, the sky was clear—off in the distance, he could hear a bird, maybe a meadowlark or thrush. If this were a play, this would be when the dear friend or lover got killed, out of the blue, as it were.

As if to prove his point, a sharp round of gunfire split the calm and he ducked behind the dashboard. He waited and when nothing else happened, he sat up. A few seconds later, two cops came out with a woman in tow, fighting them every step of the way, screaming her rage. She was dark-haired, thin, and covered in blue paint from her neck on down.

He sighed and got out of the car. Van Pelt and Rigsby came out first with another cop. Lisbon was next, followed by Cho. They paused on the porch and talked. She patted Cho’s arm—a rare expression of approval—and then they continued on to the parking lot.

When they got closer, he saw they both had blue smudges on their arms—Cho had some on his cheek. He raised one eyebrow and Cho said, “She’d had a falling out with her partner. They’d robbed a bank yesterday morning. The die-pack exploded.”

Jane craned his neck. “Where’s the partner?”

Cho began to unfasten his vest. “She shot him five times. The coroner is on her way. Are you okay?” He was breathing hard and his face was flushed.

“Did anyone else get hurt?”

“Just the three back at the bank. Are you okay?”

Jane waved his concern away, saying “Oh, yeah. Fine. Just bored waiting, that’s all.”

He didn’t miss the glance Lisbon gave Cho, but all she said was, “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For staying in the car,” she said as she turned to where Rigsby and Van Pelt were waiting. “For listening to me for once.”

He rolled his eyes, but it took an effort. His temples were damp and he was shaking, just a bit. “I’m fine,” he repeated insistently. And that was stupid—insistence was always a dead giveaway.

But Cho just said, “Okay. I need to put this away.” He hefted the vest. “Do you want to ride with me?”

“Nah, I’m fine.”

Cho hesitated, then murmured, “Don’t tease Rigsby too much, okay?”

“Sure, fine.”

Cho sighed, then left.

It took an hour to wrap things up. By then, Jane’s reaction had subsided and when they got on the road, he was calm and collected. He spent the next two hours staring out the window, not teasing Rigsby.

 

__________________

Thursday, April 8th

 

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can.”

“No, you can’t.”

Cho wanted to bang his head on the table. Jane and Rigsby had been sniping at each other all morning and it was driving him nuts. So maybe it would be better to bang Jane’s or Rigsby’s head on the table. That at least would be fair.

“I’m telling you—”

“Prove it,” Rigsby retorted.

“How can I prove that I can levitate when you won’t let me try.”

“I didn’t say that. I just said that you have to stand in the middle of the room with nothing within ten feet.”

“And that’s—”

Cho looked over his shoulder. Jane was sitting at the conference table, feet propped on a chair. Rigsby was sitting on the window ledge, tossing his nerf ball up and down. “Don’t you have something to do?”

“Yeah,” Van Pelt chimed in. “We’re trying to work.”

“And I’m trying to prove to Rigsby that it’s possible to levitate, but I can’t do it without harnessing the life energy of the—”

“‘Life energy,’” Rigsby mocked with a grin. “It’s just one of your tricks.”

“It’s not a trick at all. It’s just—”

“Guys?”

They all turned. Lisbon was coming through the door, cell in one hand, a folder in the other. “I’ve got Inspector Blount. Would you like to talk to him or argue about whatever it is you were arguing about?”

The rhetorical question was left unanswered as she made her way to the conference table. They all followed—Cho headed for the seat next to Jane, then hesitated, then said a silent screw it. Who cared what anyone thought. Anyone, of course, being Rigsby.

Lisbon waited until they were settled, then hit the speakerphone button and laid the phone on the table.

“Inspector? We’re all here.” She reached blindly for a chair as she opened the folder, then sat down. “I’m giving my team copies of the case notes you sent earlier.” She handed out the sheets, sliding them across the table.

“Who’s ‘we’?” Blount asked.

Blount’s voice was muted, but held that same stern tone that Cho remembered so well. It set off a chain reaction of memories that he instantly suppressed. His past dealings with Blount were in the past.

“Agents Cho, Rigsby, Van Pelt. And of course, Patrick Jane.”

“What about Agents Michaels and Johnson?”

“They’ve been reassigned, sir. And,” she looked quickly up at Jane, adding, “I’m lucky to get the opportunity to work on the case at all.”

Blount was silent for a moment then said, “I understand, Agent Lisbon. Please go ahead.”

“So, we’ve got an interesting development. We reviewed the documents you sent yesterday and Jane thinks he can identify one of the men in the photos.”

Jane snorted at the, ‘thinks he can.’

“Sir?” Lisbon said when Blount didn’t answer.

“Yes, Agent Lisbon, I’m still here. Frankly, I’m stunned by the news. By the very good news. Mr. Jane, are you there?”

Jane leaned forward. “I’m here.”

“Who have you identified?”

“He’s in the photo about—” Jane flipped through the sheets. “It’s the photo about halfway down.”

“The one on the left?”

“No, the one on the right. Of the three young men.”

“Yes, I see it. That’s of Littlefield with a few of his Oxford chums.”

“Well, one of those chums, the man on Littlefield’s right, our left, was just in California. About three weeks ago, as a matter of fact.”

This time the pause was longer and Cho pictured Blount’s florid face, his shock. He wished he were there to see it.

“Are you quite sure, Mr. Jane?”

“Quite. He was at a club that Cho and I visited during an investigation.”

“Do you recognize this man, Agent Cho?”

Cho leaned forward, just like Jane. “No, I don’t.”

“Hmm. Well, this is good and bad news. My assistant has identified all but a few of Littlefield’s companions in theses photos and we now know that man to be a Mark Engert. He and Littlefield were at Oxford about the same time, although I believe…” Blount’s voice faded, then came back. “Yes, Littlefield was almost four years older than Engert. He would have graduated soon after this picture was taken.”

Van Pelt leaned forward. “What’s the bad news, sir? Oh,” she said before Blount could answer. “This is Agent Van Pelt. From last year?”

“Yes, Agent Van Pelt, I remember you quite well.”

Van Pelt colored, and repeated, “You said there was good news and bad news?”

“Yes. Unfortunately, Engert is one of two people that we can’t seem to find. He’s gone missing.”

“Who’s the other?” Jane asked.

“Look the photograph taken at the garden party.”

They all bent over their copies. Jane was close enough that they brushed shoulders and he felt rather than saw Rigsby look their way.

There was only one picture that Blount could be referring to—it was one of the clearer ones, of a group of young people sitting at a table under an umbrella. It was daytime, on what looked like college grounds on a very hot day.

The kids were teenagers or in their early twenties. Mathias was turned sideways to the camera which was probably why Cho hadn’t recognized him. His shirt was open at the throat and his forehead was shiny with sweat. A girl sat next to him. She was wearing a sundress and holding a drink. Even in the copy, Cho could see that she was very fair with long, blond hair.

“She was in love with Littlefield,” Jane murmured. He was touching the photo with his fingertips.

“How do you know she was in love with him?” Van Pelt asked before Cho could.

“Everything. Her body language, mostly.”

Cho followed Jane’s finger as he outlined the girl’s figure and he saw it—she was smiling, but it was more than that—everything about her was bent towards Mathias.

“Who is she?”

“Sarah Guy. The daughter of a rather important figure at Oxford at the time.”

“Do you know him?”

“Dr. Guy? I knew of him, Mr. Jane. He was a bit above my pay grade.”

“And?” Lisbon asked.

“He was one of Britain’s top minds on artificial intelligence. He’d been with Imperial College, working on the cutting edge of nano technology, and Oxford snatched him away. It was quite a coup and made all the newspapers.”

“You’re speaking of him in the past tense,” Cho said.

“Unfortunately, that’s the case, Agent Cho. He was killed, murdered— some believe—almost seventeen years ago.”

“Uh-oh,” Jane murmured and Cho could only agree. That could not be good.

“‘Uh-oh,’ indeed,” Blount said heavily. “When I realized who Miss Guy was, that she’d gone to school with Littlefield, I began to look a little deeper into her background. It seems that she and Littlefield were quite an item in their sophomore years until she broke it off in the spring of ’94, right before their graduation. That summer she went on holiday to Italy with a few friends and disappeared one night. According to Sarah’s brother, the Guys were frantic and did everything they could, but it was as if she’d simply vanished. Dr. Guy died soon after. Two weeks, to be exact.”

“That’s so sad,” Van Pelt murmured.

Jane nodded and agreed absently, “It is. It’s also very interesting. How did Dr. Guy die?”

“Hit and run.”

“Uh-oh,”Jane said again.

“What does it mean?” Rigsby asked, looking around the table. Cho shrugged. He had no idea where Jane was going with this one.

Jane tapped the sheet of paper. “I don’t know. Yet. It’s just too much of a coincidence, don’t you think? Both family members dying within weeks of each other. Statistically, it’s improbable.”

Blount answered before anyone else, “Yes, it is.”

“Can you do me a favor, Inspector?”

“I can try.”

“Can you contact Sarah Guy’s brother and ask him if he knows why Sarah and Littlefield stopped seeing each other?”

Blount hesitated, then said, “Peter Guy is away on business, but I’ll track him down.”

“Good.”

“He was questioned at the time, Mr. Jane. I doubt he can add much to the investigation.”

Jane waved that away. “You said you were interviewing Littlefield’s classmates?”

“Well, there we’ve run into a wall. He kept in touch through his Facebook, but managed to give very little actual information. We interviewed five of his so-called friends and each one of them gave us a different story. One thought he was still in the military, another thought he was some sort of investment banker, and so on and so on.”

“Hmm.”

Cho waited, and when Jane stayed quiet, he said, “What about his military record?”

“Oh, yes…” Blount’s voice faded then returned again. “It seems he was only in the service for a short while. He rose quickly, whether by his own merit or family connections. His marks were good, but there was some concern that he wasn’t working within acceptable standards of conduct and behavior.”

“Meaning?” Lisbon asked.

Jane got there first. “Mental instability. Misplaced aggression.”

“I’m afraid you’re probably right. The department hasn’t been too forthcoming, but I gather there was an event in the Middle East that led to his departure in ’96.”

Jane picked up the bio. “What about this Engert?”

“Yes, what about Engert?” Blount murmured, almost too low to hear. “What’s the connection between he and Littlefield and why was he in California?”

“You said he’d gone missing?”

“Well, that’s a bit of a guess. About twelve years ago, Engert was involved in a boating accident off the coast of Chichester. According to news sources, he’d been out alone and encountered a sudden squall. The boat washed ashore, but his body was never recovered.”

Van Pelt leaned in. “Did he have any family?”

“Let me… Here—his father died of cancer in ’91 and his mother, a few years later. He had no siblings and was never married.”

“Too many accidents, too many convenient deaths,” Jane said almost gleefully and Cho waited for him to start rubbing his hands like he did when things got really interesting.

“Indeed, Mr. Jane. Normally, none of this would be suspicious in the least, but taken together, and now with your news, we have the makings of a lovely little plot.”

“So Littlefield is dead, Engert is alive, they both knew each other in college and are presumably part of the Red Man group,” Jane muttered, as if to himself. He turned to Lisbon. “I’m assuming you can run this photo through some sort of Homeland Security database to see if Engert was here with Littlefield last year, right?”

Lisbon looked at Van Pelt, who answered slowly, “It’s not like on TV. Facial recognition can work, but this image is pretty bad.”

Jane bent over the phone. “So the next question would be, can we get a clearer picture?”

“Mr. Jane, you’re not going to like this next bit of news.”

Jane made a face. “The Oxford database on Engert is wiped clean.”

“Not quite. But he was studying theology, and the department’s photos were vandalized some time ago.”

“Don’t tell, me, twelve years, right?”

“On the money. The photos you see before you are from the personal collection of the few friends those boys had.”

“There’s your connection,” Cho said. Everyone turned to him and he shrugged, adding, “If you’re going to be a priest, you have to study theology, right?”

Jane smiled at him, beaming so hard Cho thought he was going to kiss him, right then and there.

“Okay, so we’re getting somewhere.” Jane turned to Lisbon. “What about a sketch artist?”

She frowned. “Can you give an accurate description? You only saw him for a few seconds.”

And then, before Jane could answer, she sighed and muttered, “Of course, you can describe him accurately. Your few seconds are like a normal person’s hours.”

Cho snorted, Van Pelt grinned; even Rigsby cracked a smile.

Lisbon turned to Van Pelt. “Van Pelt? Go see Jennifer. See if she has time to sit down with Jane. If she balks, just tell her I’ll hit him if he tries to hypnotize her again.”

Jane grinned happily, then jumped up and followed Van Pelt out of the room.

“Rigsby? See if you can find any connection between this Engert and Mashburn’s club. I doubt you’ll find anything, but lets cover all bases. Ask about Littlefield, also. You might need to drive out there.”

“Will do, boss.” Rigsby got up and strode to his desk.

Lisbon pulled the phone to her. “Inspector Blount, thank you so much for your time.”

“Not at all, Agent Lisbon.”

“I’ll call Director Luckner and inform him of our progress.”

“Please do. Imight be taking another trip to the States soon; I have a feeling that this case is starting to break open.”

“If the Red Men are shifting range, it will be good to have you here, sir.”

“Let’s hope it was an isolated incident. Is Agent Cho still there?”

“I am,” Cho said.

“If there’s anything else you’ve missed, please keep me informed.”

Lisbon’s mouth dropped open, but Cho just clenched his jaw. “Will do.”

Blount disconnected and Lisbon picked up the phone. She was frowning, on the verge of anger. “Blowhard. I’m going to call him back and suggest he take care of his team his way and I’ll take care of mine my way.”

“Don’t. He’s still mad about last year.”

“You mean when you were right and he was wrong?” she asked. “Okay. We’ve got new data; let’s see where it takes us. And if he gives you any more grief, let me know.”

Cho nodded. He liked that she had his back, but he wouldn’t tell her if Blount said anything else. There was no point in getting her involved. Not for penny-ante crap like that.

He picked up Mathias’ bio again. He needed to review his own conclusions and see if the new information fit. He wasn’t like Jane—he couldn’t just take vague suppositions and make them come together. He needed more. Like a clear image of the man they were looking for—hopefully, if Jane got something they could use, maybe this wouldn’t be an exercise in futility.

 

 

 

Part 1 . Part 2 . Part 3