redmen

The Red Man - part 2


Friday, April 9

 

John winked at the postmistress and took the corner too fast, making the tires squeal. Just to frighten her and the onlookers because they expected it of him. They all thought he was an overbearing, supercilious bastard.

And they’d be right—thank God for privilege. He laughed out loud and shifted, making the engine roar.

When the village was out of sight, he slowed to a reasonable speed. He’d always loved this part of the drive home—the winding roads, the bucolic countryside, almost like a painting by Harris. Charming and peaceful and a complete lie.

The dichotomy, the beautiful surface that hid all manner of corruption and vice, never failed to make him shiver with delight. It was something he and his father had long since ceased arguing about, the discussion of the general morality of the average man. There was no changing the old man’s mind, not at this late stage—he no longer rose to John’s barbs just as he no longer did so many other things. Such as take an active interest in the estate or even come out of his rooms.

John frowned in irritation and took the oak-lined lane at a faster clip, speeding up until he was practically flying. Into the half-circle drive, scattering broken seashells everywhere.

He peered up at the broad steps, the house. Nothing. There was a time when such an arrival would bring the entire staff running, bring his father to the door, shouting, ‘Boy, stop that nonsense! Do you want to kill yourself?’

Of course, those were the days when they still had a staff. When his father still cared whether he lived or died.

He drove around to the side entrance, parking neatly at the end of what used to be a long row of cars but was now only two. He grabbed the groceries and got out. It had been a good idea to take a break for a while—Luke had offered to go to the grocers, but even one day back home had made John crabby and bored.

The kitchen was empty, even of the cat. Mrs. O’Neill had left a cling film-wrapped sandwich on a plate. He smiled—she hadn’t made one for Luke, but that wasn’t a surprise. She disliked him and always had. Just like his father.

He unwrapped it and took it with him. Down the dark corridor, through the rear sitting room into the small library. Luke was on the sofa, watching one of his taped matches of Manchester and Sheffield.

“If you say, ‘boo,’ I’ll hit you,” Luke muttered before John reached him.

“As if I’d ever be so mundane.” John swung one leg over the back of the sofa, then the other and slid down.

Luke rolled his eyes at his childish act and John made a face—being in his father’s house always made him revert. It was something in the air, or maybe just the fact that his father hadn’t changed a thing in the house in almost thirty years. The last time had been when John had turned eight, just two months before—

He cut off that train of thought, sat the plate on the side table, then nudged Luke’s leg with his knee. “Have you heard from Mark?”

“He called about an hour ago.”

“And?”

“And, nothing. He wasn’t able to find any useful information.”

“What about Mathew?”

“He managed to hack in, but the personnel files are kept somewhere else or they’re on another drive. He said he’d try again.”

John slipped his shoes off, then stretched out so he could tuck his feet under Luke’s thigh. Luke dropped his hand on his ankle as he knew he would. “Then what am I paying him for?”

“To do what none of us can? Break into a target’s computer without the target knowing? To steal, to rob, to destroy?”

Luke’s voice was dry with an underlying accusation. He’d been subtly digging at John all weekend, pushing and prodding. He hated that their most recent venture had been shelved, hated that John had a new interest. Mostly, he hated staying at the house, which was his own fault—John hadn’t wanted him to come. “Now that Switzerland is off the schedule, I’ve been thinking about our next job.”

“And what is that?”

“Atlanta.”

Luke finally looked away from the telly, surprise in the lift of his eyebrows. “You can’t be serious?”

“Why not?”

“Because it would be too dangerous—they’re probably waiting for something like that. Besides, the research has moved too far along. You told me so yourself.”

“No, I told you that our original buyer was no longer interested. That doesn’t mean no one else will be. Besides, our original plan will still work with a few modifications—Wallach won’t know what hit him.”

“Do you even know if he’s still there?”

“I’ll take a little trip and find out. At the very least, Sanset will be.”

“John—”

“Luke,” John said, firmly. “I’ve decided. And when we’re done with Wallach, we’ll take a holiday. We’re both due.” He reached around and picked up the sandwich.

“Will that holiday be on the Pacific coast?”

John froze, sandwich to mouth. “Maybe.”

Luke crossed his arms. “You’re obsessed.”

“About?”

“You know very well. You’ve lost your perspective. A long time ago and now you’re endangering everything.”

“Are you jealous?”

Luke rolled his eyes. “Don’t be an idiot.”

“Because it almost seems as if you’re jealous.”

Luke leaned over and said softly, distinctly, “John, you could fuck every FBI agent in America and I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t care if you fucked them twice. What I do care is that your need for revenge is going to get us killed. For nothing more than a few thousand quid.”

“Try several million pounds.”

“Please,” Luke growled dismissively. “You don’t need money. I don’t need money. Mark needs the money only because he’s never been any good at holding on to it. As to the new guy, who gives a fuck what he wants?”

By the time he’d finished, John had eaten the sandwich and was waiting, one eyebrow raised.

Luke sighed. “Remember what you said when we started, all those years ago?”

“I remember that it took me a year to convince you that working for Jimmy Brewer was a waste of time.”

“And I was grateful, but you needed me. You know you did.”

“And?”

Luke turned to him. “Back then, you said you were just in it for the kicks and that we’d be on to something else in a few month’s time. That was almost fifteen years ago.”

“Are you bored?”

Luke shrugged and looked down. “Sometimes.”

And that was a shocker. “Don’t tell me you want to go straight.”

“Maybe.”

“And do what? Get married? Raise a family? You must be joking.” John heard his own voice—flat, cold. Surprised.

“I’m almost forty, John.”

“And?”

“And, it’s something a lot of guys think about, settling down.”

John stared at him, feeling as if he were staring at a stranger. “And when would this big metamorphosis happen?Today? Tomorrow?”

Luke shook his head. “Of course not. And…” He hesitated, unusually diffident. “I don’t really want to get married, I just want…” He shrugged and shook his head again.

“Is it the killing?”

“That’s part of it.”

John laid his arm against the sofa back, nodding. Killing had always come easy to Luke, but it was something he disliked. “Let’s get through this next job,” he murmured, making his voice soft and persuasive. “When we’re done, we’ll go on holiday and think about our future.”

Luke glanced up at him sideways. “Not California?”

John nodded sincerely. “Not California.”

Luke stared at him for a long time, then nodded. “Okay. We’ll do Atlanta, then revaluate.”

John smiled, relief and victory making him almost lightheaded. He could do without a lot of things, but not Luke. And by the time they were done with Atlanta, he’d have forgotten his bizarre notion about going straight and they’d be on to the next big thing.

He smiled again and stroked Luke’s thigh with his foot. “Are you going to watch all afternoon?”

Luke had gone back to his football match. “Your father’s upstairs.”

“That never stopped you before.” He moved his foot higher, skating over Luke’s groin.

Luke hesitated. He’d been doing that a lot lately, but John was bored and stuck in this house that was full of too many memories. “Well?”

“The match is almost over. Another twenty minutes?”

John was already standing. He didn’t shout, didn’t hit. It wasn’t usual, the concession he’d just given. Even though he had no intention of keeping his word. Even though it was all a pack of lies. But Luke didn’t know that and he needed to remember who he was dealing with.

So he just said quietly, calmly, “I’m going upstairs. You have five minutes.”

As he left the room, he heard the quiet sounds of Luke turning off the set and following.

 

______________

Monday, April 12th

 

Jane rubbed his eyes with his fists and didn’t bother holding back his yawn. He was so bored. You’d think with the latest twists and turns, life would be a little more exciting. But no, days had passed and there’d been no word from New York or London. Nothing had happened, other than a lot of waiting.

It had been the same, he remembered, that first full week with the CBI. It had been just as boring, waiting at his house for his first real case. When he’d called Lisbon to ask if there had been any new murders, she’d called him a ghoul and hung up on him.

Those were the days.

But he should have known better. New information didn’t automatically lead to the villain—usually it just meant there were more clues to follow.

He sighed and looked at the others, upside down because he didn’t want to move from the couch. Van Pelt was hunched over her computer; so was Cho. Rigsby was on his way back from the Catamaran Club. He’d called at ten, saying that he’d gotten nowhere, that the manager on duty remembered the Lamborghini incident, but not Engert. He was going to try again when the assistant manager returned from her vacation.

So there was nothing to do except wait on Luckner and Blount. The latter had taken to calling Lisbon at three each day, long after working hours, saying it gave him time to gather information and review it thoroughly. Privately, Jane thought Blount was getting grief for pursuing a case with so many dead ends and had resorted to working on his own time.

Whatever, however, it really was boring.

He got up and stretched.

“Going out again?” Van Pelt said without turning around.

“Hm-mm.” He’d taken a walk early in the morning, but managed only ten minutes before hurrying back, sure that Blount had called while he’d been gone. “Need to stretch my legs. Anyone feel like going? Maybe pick up a coffee or a donut?” He said it to everyone but really meant Cho.

Who looked around, then stood up when there were no takers. “Sure. I can stop by the drug store on the way back.” He didn’t meet Jane’s eyes as he spoke, as he pulled on his jacket. They’d run out of lubricant days ago and he’d mentioned something about picking some up that morning. Which was all right by Jane. They hadn’t seen much of each other, mostly his own fault—he wasn’t good company and even he didn’t want to be with himself.

He waited until they were outside and past the guard shack before he murmured, “So how goes it with Rigsby?” The day was particularly fine. People strolled here and there. A trio of pigeons raced across the street.

“No change.”

“Maybe if you had that talk, he’d let up.”

“Maybe if you helped out, he’d let up. I’m not in this alone, you know.”

“Hey,” Jane held his hands up and waved, because he didn’t want any part of the ‘Rigsby talk.’ Teasing was one thing, having a heart to heart was another. “You’ve known him longer.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Sure you have, remember? I was gone the week he started.”

“So that’s it? I’ve known him seven days longer so that makes us BFFs?”

“Well, that and you guys talk about stuff like that.”

Cho shook his head. “You’re crazy, you know that?”

“So they say,” Jane agreed mildly.

Cho hesitated, then made that odd gesture with his fingers and spoke abruptly. “About that new guy—”

“Engert?” They were at the corner and without waiting for the light, he crossed, knowing Cho would follow.

“Yeah,” Cho said when he caught up.

“What about him?”

“Do you think it’s safe?”

He stopped, still in the street, and a car skidded to a stop behind them. “Is what safe?”

Cho waved to the driver the same time he grabbed Jane’s arm and marched him to the curb. “Knowing that he’s out there, following you around.”

“Meh,” he said with a wave of his hand. “That’s probably a coincidence.”

Cho stopped and crossed his arms. Jane knew that look just as he knew that he wouldn’t budge until he answered the way he wanted.

“Okay.” He touched Cho’s arm. “Yes, I think it’s safe. No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence, but I’m not worried. I don’t have anything they want.”

Cho cocked his head and finally conceded with a stiff shrug. He began walking again.

“So about Rigsby,” he said idly, thinking that Cho would just say what he’d said before—that he’d take care of it.

But instead, he shrugged and muttered, “Don’t you think we’ve got enough on our plate without worrying about him?”

Huh. “So you’re not going to talk to him about us?”

Cho shrugged again. “I don’t see the point.”

“Listen,” Jane began, reaching for Cho’s arm, stopping him in his tracks, “what’s—”

He never finished. Cho’s cell rang and he answered it quickly. Maybe too quickly and Jane wondered if the relief he thought he saw was real or imagined.

“Hey.” Cho jerked his head back towards the office—it was Lisbon.

Suddenly in a bad mood, Jane wandered over to a large planter and picked a pink flower. It was frilly with a deep orange center. He held it to his nose, absently. It smelled good—earthy and spicy but he barely noticed—he was waiting for Cho to whisper something like, ‘those aren’t yours to pick,’ or, ‘the city has to pay for that.’

He didn’t. He just watched Jane calmly while he said to Lisbon, “Yeah, okay.” He paused again, then said, “Be there in ten.” He pocketed the phone and turned back around. “Lisbon needs me. The A.G. wants an update on the case.”

“And I’m not invited?”

Cho pursed his lips, then said, “What do you think?”

“I think for all the running around that man has you do, you should get paid more.”

And that dropped the shutters from Cho’s eyes—he almost smiled. “I’ll tell him you said so.”

“You do that.”

“You coming?”

“No. I think I’ll poke around for a while.”

“Okay. See you.”

Cho took off, back the way they came, jogging to miss traffic. Jane twirled the flower by its stem, watching him run with no small amount of appreciation, and apprehension. There was something new to add to the Cho mix. Something new and not entirely pleasant.

There could be a couple reasons why he didn’t want to explain things to Rigsby, but only one made sense. Jane was all for people minding their own business but Cho and Rigsby didn’t operate that way. They’d always exchanged confidences, at least Rigsby did—over sharing until Cho was forced to respond. Jane had overheard them a hundred times.

He frowned and tucked the flower in his pocket, then strolled down the street, peering into the shops and businesses. Not seeing anything but Cho, hemming and hawing again.

When he got to the drugstore he hesitated, then went in. He’d always left the purchase of personal items up to his wife. She knew what to buy and that’s what women did for their husbands, right?

But he wasn’t Cho’s husband, nor his wife, so whose role was it?

He got a basket, still thinking on roles and wives/notwives when he found the Personal Care aisle. There was a woman towards the middle and he stopped. Was this something one did with another person present? He could hang out on the next aisle and wait until she was done…

Which was stupid and juvenile and he pictured himself skulking nearby, peering around the corner to see if she was gone. Silly.

He made himself keep going.

Still, when he paused in front of the sex aids, wondering if he was feeling embarrassment or shame and decided it was confusion.

He didn’t want the boring KY, but there was more than one variety of lubricant—at least a half a dozen and how did one choose? He glanced sideways at the lady. She’d moved close enough that he got a good whiff of her perfume. Maybe she would know and he imagined asking her advice. She’d either think he was a pervert or that he was coming on to her.

He could always call Cho, but that wasn’t acceptable either because he should know these things, so he closed his eyes and reached out, grabbing the first box his fingers touched. He tossed it into the basket and went to find the beverage aisle. He was feeling oddly warm—a bottle of water would probably help.

***

By the time he’d returned to the office, carefully wrapped brown paper bag in hand, the sun had angled towards late afternoon. The team, though, were still at their desks, working away.

Lisbon raised her head as he walked by her office and waved him in.

He sat down and crossed his legs. “Any news?”

“Just that the A.G. is skeptical, but willing to give us another three days.”

“Three days? We won’t have solved anything in three days.”

“Well, that’s what we’ve got.”

“We’ve done more in a few months than London did in a few years.”

“I know.”

“We managed to stop them from stealing a very valuable piece of research.”

“I know.”

“Did you tell him that?”

“Of course I did, Jane.”

He shrugged moodily. It wasn’t a shock, that their lack of conclusive evidence would result in the case being temporarily shelved. Still, it was so damn frustrating.

He pushed the framed picture of Lisbon’s dog to the right, not surprised when she returned it to its place.

He thought about moving it again, but what would be the point? She’d just move it back. Instead, he reached in his pocket for the flower. It had wilted, closed within itself and he twirled it between his fingers. It spun in limp circles, back and forth. What a perfect metaphor for his life.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“I know you’re frustrated,” she said gently. “I am too.”

“Hmm.” Circles. He was suddenly so damn sick of circles—the case, Cho—always running after…

He took a breath and sat up straight.

Lisbon cocked her head. “What is it?”

He wanted to laugh out loud because she looked so suspicious. And because he’d finally made a decision—why had it taken him so long? “Nothing,” he said again, only this time he was lying.

“Jane—” Lisbon warned slowly.

“Theresa,” he waved her unspoken, ‘whatever you’re thinking, it better not get me into trouble,’ away and sprang to his feet, saying, “You worry too much.”

“And I know that look. What are you up to?”

“Nothing.” He handed her the flower.

She held up as if she didn’t know what a flower was. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

But he just smiled and left, the bare bones of a plan already forming.

***

He spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch, staring at the ceiling. When it came time to leave, he didn’t wait for the team. He rolled off the couch, grabbed the paper bag and called out a vague, “See you all in the morning.” Cho gave him a look, but Jane just answered a silent, ‘Later,’ then hurried out.

He drove home on auto-pilot, navigating the streets unseeingly until he pulled up in front of his house. He got out and trotted up the stairs, keyed in the code and went inside.

The air smelled musty and old, as if he’d been away for years instead of a day. He didn’t remember it being that way when his wife was alive, but then, she loved fresh air, even in the winter.

He went straight to the kitchen and put the water on, then took off his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves. He needed to think and for that, he needed to be comfortable.

He got the tea and when the kettle began to shriek, poured the water and picked up the cup. He hesitated at the foot of the stairs, then went upstairs. The sunset was going to be beautiful—he might as well be outside, watching it from the balcony.

He sat there, facing the ocean, waiting until the tea was done steeping, as he reviewed the past few weeks. He didn’t like what he came up with.

Because the way he saw it, he’d been going about it all wrong, letting events push him around instead of the opposite. Normally, he’d be right in the thick of things—leading, shoving, sticking his nose where it wasn’t wanted. But lately he’d been playing it safe, following the clues in a rigid pattern as Lisbon tended to do. And where had that gotten him? Nowhere fast.

He sipped the tea. It wasn’t strong enough,  but still, it was refreshing and he closed his eyes, letting the flavor wind its way through his consciousness.

Where to start?

At the beginning, of course, but what beginning? He had at least three villains, probably more, their villainy going back at least fifteen years. And it wouldn’t do any good, focusing only on them, not until he had more data.

So, the beginning, his beginning, where all the players had converged: the Carmel airport, the men’s room where he’d found Wallach’s laptop and the thief.

He’d stored the day in his memory palace, had even assigned it a symbol—the red joker—but truly hadn’t thought about that day in months and when he let the memories come they unfolded, sluggishly at first, then faster…

The quiet afternoon. The way the bathroom had smelled of disinfectant and hand soap. The way his steps had echoed dully on the ceramic floor. The walls, he suddenly remembered, had been tiled in small brown and tan squares, interspersed with the occasional sea blue.

And then Mathias: tall, cropped dark hair, lean, fit. Leather coat, jeans, and black boots. Kind of the anti-thesis of the usual computer geek, in hindsight.

And his attitude. In control the entire time except for that first second—surprised, then not surprised.

Jane had long surmised that Mathias had known him. Or at least—and he sat up straight, caught by a new thought—maybe not known him, but known of him. And how odd was that? He wasn’t a household name by any means. Sure, the Pacific Coast housewives knew of him—he’d made sure of that—and maybe a select circle of the rich and famous. But not everyone.

So, contrary to what Lisbon thought, Mathias/Joseph Littlefield had known of him. Which meant it was a good possibility that this new man, Engert, did too. Which meant…

He frowned at the darkening sky because he didn’t know what it meant other than he was being followed. Although, that was a bit of an overstatement as he’d lay money that he’d never seen Engert before or since.

So, Engert was following him, but to what purpose? As he’d told Cho just that morning, he didn’t have anything that anyone would want, not a huge amount of cash, or information. His only value, in this instance, was that he’d been involved in the incident last year. And only peripherally because Cho had been the…

He took a sharp breath and dug out his cell. It wasn’t quite six—Cho would still be at work. He pressed ‘1’ and waited impatiently.

Cho answered on the third ring. “Hey.”

“Are you still at the office?”

“It’s only five-forty five.”

“I’m not complaining, I just wanted to know where you were.”

“Because?”

Jane stood up and paced to the railing. The sun was an orange ball, low on the horizon—it should look pretty, but it didn’t. “I had a thought.”

“You have too many thoughts.”

“You love them. And anyway,” he added before Cho could say, ‘No, I don’t,’ because in his mood, that was a possibility. “I was wondering if we shouldn’t consider another theory in regards to Engert.”

“And that is?”

“I was wondering if it’s really me he’s following?”

“Who else could it be?”

“Well, you.”

There was a long pause, giving the words time to echo and he heard them again. If he wasn’t sure before, he was now—they just made sense. “You still there?”

“Yes.”

“What do you think?”

“That you haven’t been getting enough sleep,” Cho muttered.

‘And who’s fault is that?’ was on the tip of his tongue, but good sense interfered and he just said, “I’m sure of it.”

“Why?”

“Because you were on the scene last year. You were the one that was onto Littlefield, remember? From the very beginning. Don’t you think the leader of the group, whoever he is, knows that and knows who you are?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I was one of eight and I didn’t do anything special. You were the one that said Mathias seemed to know you.”

“Know of me, and now I’m not so sure that matters.”

Cho didn’t say anything and Jane went on, “I mean, it could be me, but Lisbon would say that’s my ego talking.”

“Lisbon doesn’t know you like I do.”

That wasn’t said entirely positive. Jane shrugged it away. “When are you going to be done?”

“In a couple hours.”

“Do you want to meet at your place?” There was another pause, this one longer and his stomach did an odd flip. “I mean, we don’t have to. I’ve got things to do and—”

“No, it’s not that. Rigsby just got back from Mashburn’s club. He wants to go out for a beer. In fact…” There was a rustling sound. “He’s asleep on your couch. I’m supposed to wake him up when I’m done.”

Jane kept his immediate, ‘Better you than me,’ to himself. Now was not the time. “Okay. Call me later and tell me how it went.”

“Will do.”

“Oh, and Cho?”

“Hm-mm?”

“Do you have Dr. Wallach’s email address?”

“Why?”

“Don’t be so suspicious. I just need it.”

“Are you going to do anything that will get the CBI in trouble?”

“Of course not.”

There was a long pause, then Cho said, “I’ll email it to you.”

“Thanks.”

“Jane?”

“Yeah?”

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“What do you think?”

Jane turned away from the view. The sun was gone and it was getting cold. “What about it?”

“Hold on.”

There was some noise and when Cho came back on, his voice was so soft, he was almost whispering, “Heather had to drop some paperwork off.”

“Heather from the gang unit?”

“No, Heather from accounting.”

“Hmm.”

“What I wanted to say, was that I just need time.”

“I’m giving it to you.”

“I know. I appreciate it.” He hesitated, then asked, “What are you doing tomorrow night?”

‘Setting up a clever sting operation.’ “I take it you’re asking me over?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow night?”

“What should Ibring?”

“Let me think about it—I’ll call you.”

“Sounds good.”

“And Jane?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t tell Lisbon you’re crazy stalker theory—she’d want to keep me at my desk.”

“My lips are sealed.”

Cho hung up. Jane did the same, then went inside. He’d make a little dinner, then turn on his computer.

 

______________

Wednesday, April 14th

 

Cho pulled into the parking lot slowly, doing a quick recon to the left and right. Rigsby’s SUV wasn’t parked where it normally was. Which meant he wasn’t at work yet because it was only seven, or had pulled an end run and parked in the back because he knew Cho was avoiding him.

Which wasn’t true—Cho had meant to wake him up on Monday night, but had worked until eight. By then he was tired and in no mood for that drink. He’d woken Rigsby up and asked if they could make it the next night, completely forgetting that he already had plans.

He sighed as he pulled into his usual parking space. Jane was right—when did he get to be such a coward?

When he’d fallen in love with Jane, probably.

He grabbed his bag and got out of the car.

The office was empty of the usual suspects. He glanced at Jane’s couch with another dose of guilt he couldn’t quash. Not only was he avoiding Rigsby, he’d been avoiding Jane as well, although that had been an honest mistake.

He’d ended up working late on Tuesday, pushing his run back until six. When he got home, he’d crashed, telling himself that it would be just for a few minutes. He’d slept for four hours, waking from a nightmare just after midnight. He’d picked up the phone, then put it back down—it was too late to call, too late to make excuses.

He was all for facing one’s demons, in whatever form they took. But somehow, in the past month or maybe it was the past year, he’d started avoiding the big issues in his life, putting them off until the next day or week or forgetting them altogether.

It needed to stop.

***

He was reviewing his report on the Davies case when the staff began to trickle in. First Van Pelt and Johnson, then Lisbon, then Rigsby. He expected Rigsby to say something, anything, but he just stomped by and sat down. Heavily.

He closed his eyes. If he’d been thinking clearer, he’d have expected this reaction. He hesitated, then remembered his resolve. “Sorry about last night.”

Rigsby kept his head down. “Sure you are.”

“No, I really am.”

“I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do, and I was wrong.”

Rigsby finally looked up, startled.

“You get anywhere with Mashburn’s club?”

It was a peace offering and Rigsby took it as such. “Not really. I talked to the assistant manager. She remembers Engert—he was a guest of some member, and he paid cash. But,” he frowned as he looked at his notes. “there are two weird things. One, the member that he was supposedly a guest of has been ill for months—some sort of cancer— and two, the waitress insisted that he wasn’t English. She said he was from New York.”

“How did she know that?”

“Because she’s from White Plains, which, according her, is in Upstate New York.” Rigsby smiled, his first of the day. “And her accent was as thick as pea soup, so she should know.”

Cho wanted to say that it was fog that was as thick as pea soup, but didn’t. He was on thin ice and didn’t want to make it worse. But the news was a surprise and not a pleasant one at that. “You better go tell Lisbon.”

“I already did. She didn’t think it was a big deal. She said people get accents wrong all the time.”

They exchanged a long look.

“But you do.” Rigsby said as he leaned forward. “You think it’s a big deal.”

“Maybe. And if the manager is right, it means that we’re on the right track,” he said, remembering Jane’s supposition that he was the one being followed. But that couldn’t be, could it? There was no reason—he hadn’t shot anyone, hadn’t been the one to interrupt the theft. Not like Jane.

Still, if there was a reason the group was tailing him, he should inform Lisbon. He glanced over. She was working, typing intently, and he imagined it. Imagined going in and saying, ‘Jane thinks it’s me the Red Men group is following.’

It was absurd. And he couldn’t do it.

But there was one thing he could do. He leaned against Rigsby’s desk and asked, “I know you just got in, but do you have time for some coffee?”

Rigsby didn’t even hesitate; he jumped up. “Sure. I’ll tell the boss.” He strode out to Lisbon’s office.

Cho followed more slowly. Van Pelt gave him a curious glance and he wondered if Rigsby had told her what was going on.

Probably.

He really, really, didn’t want to do this.

***

The nearest Starbucks was packed, so they got their drinks and went back outside to a bench down the block, far enough away from foot traffic that they wouldn’t be overheard. The day was nice, already a little hot, and he unbuttoned his jacket as he sat down. Then he crossed his legs and took a sip of tea. It was bland and tasteless, or maybe that was just him because he really didn’t want—

“So,” Rigsby said, mostly to his coffee. “You and Jane, huh?”

He calmly nodded. “Yes.”

“Wow.”

“Yes.”

There was a long, awkward pause as he tried to think of something else to say. He was always so good with words, so good at steering a conversation where he wanted it to go. Of course, that was usually because he was trying to break a crook into spilling his guts, not because he was trying to tell a co-worker in as few words as possible that he and another co-worker were lovers.

Finally, disgusted at his own fears, he took a sip of tea and added softly, “For about a year now.”

Rigsby choked on his coffee. “A year!”

“Yeah.”

“Well, thanks for telling me.” Rigsby’s face had turned a bright red and he looked like he wanted to hit something. “I can’t believe you. I tell you everything.”

“I never asked you to tell me everything. In fact, I say it over and over—I don’t want to know.”

His tone was reasonable but Rigsby went on as if he’d hadn’t spoken, “That’s what partners do. They talk about their feelings and stuff.”

“Not always.”

Rigsby turned to face him, accidentally tipping his cup. “Damnit!” He sucked on his burned fingers for a moment, then mumbled around them, “You could’ve trusted me. I wouldn’t have told.”

“Wayne.”

Rigsby raised his eyebrows—Cho rarely used his first name. “Yeah?”

“Maybe it wasn’t about trust.”

“Then what was it about?”

Cho put his elbows on his knees and turned his cup a couple times. “I don’t know. It’s just…” He shrugged. “It was so personal. I wasn’t planning on it, but when it happened…”

He shrugged again, this time helplessly. There was no way to explain his state of mind, the shock when he’d realized where those tentative first steps with Jane were taking him—he’d thought they were leading to a better friendship, but no. Then, his delight and surprise when he’d first kissed Jane, when Jane had responded with a passion that had shocked all over again because even then, he’d assumed it was just him.

And finally, the other shock, now weeks old, and he didn’t want to think about that now—Rigsby might notice his distraction—he had an inkling that other revelations were waiting impatiently in the back of his psyche, that he was only just discovering the layers of his own self-deception.

“Does your family know?”

Cho snorted. “What do you think?” But then he amended, “Well, Missy does, sort of.” She’d never asked outright—she just pussyfooted around the subject, every now and then.

“I bet your mom won’t be happy.”

Cho didn’t answer. That was a whole separate issue and it was another thing he couldn’t think about right now.

“What about Lisbon. Does she know?”

“Yeah.”

Rigsby just nodded. Then he opened his mouth and closed it again, his face flushing once more.

Cho rolled his eyes. “If you’re thinking about asking about the sex, think again.”

“I’d tell you,” Rigsby said accusingly.

“Yeah, and I’ll say it again, I don’t want to know.”

“C’mon.”

“No.”

Rigsby grinned. “Must be good.”

“Wayne.”

There was another pause, this one more comfortable. Rigsby slung an arm along the back of the bench and muttered, “I guess it’s not that big of surprise.”

It was Cho’s turn for surprise. “What do you mean?”

Rigsby shrugged. “I mean, Inever wondered even though you and Jane started coming in at the same time, but…”

“But you’ve been remembering our every conversation.”

“Yeah.”

“Wondering if there was anything you missed, any clues.”

“Yeah.”

Cho re-crossed his legs. “It was during the Snotty Ladies case.” Which is what Rigsby always called the Marquessa case. “Remember the pink lipstick?”

Rigsby froze, then made a face and mumbled, “Jerk.”

But he was relieved and Cho wondered what he’d do if he said he liked to dress in women’s clothes? Probably want every detail.

“But, hey—” Rigsby said with a new frown. “That means you guys were sleeping together last year, when we were all on the Red Men case.”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you say anything when I told you that Jane and Lisbon were sleeping together.”

“Because they weren’t sleeping together.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t know that.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Well,” Rigsby said with a wounded shrug, “you could’ve told me.”

“I thought we already went through all that.”

“We did,” Rigsby answered testily. “I just don’t like you two making fun of me, that’s all.”

“We weren’t making fun of you. I never told Jane that you thought he and Lisbon were sleeping together.”

Rigsby’s expression brightened. “No? Why not?”

“Because it didn’t matter.” Which wasn’t the reason at all. By the time they got home and back in the rhythm of work, he’d told himself that it didn’t matter. That it couldn’t possibly be true.

He sipped his tea. It had grown too tepid to finish—he’d heat it up when they got back to work. “So are we cool?”

“Yeah, we’re cool.”

He rose but Rigsby didn’t move. “What is it?”

“I don’t know. Jane is just so…” Rigsby made a sharp gesture. “He’s got so much baggage and he can be such a asshole.” He jerked his head up and looked at Cho, almost fearfully. “Imean… Not that he’s not…”

Rigsby stuttered to a stop and he waited, giving it an extra minute because even though he knew Jane could be a jerk, that didn’t mean he liked hearing it. “I know what he is, Rigsby. I know it, but he’s mine.”

Rigsby’s expression changed, and Cho heard the soft words again, like he was in some deep tunnel. He hadn’t meant to say that, but hell, he couldn’t take them back. And, he realized with a little jolt, he didn’t want to.

“Yeah, sorry, Cho. I didn’t mean it. I won’t say it again.” Rigsby stood up.

Cho led the way back to the office, feeling like he was being followed by a puppy he’d accidentally kicked. But damn it, he had to draw the line somewhere and apparently people making fun of Jane was it.

It wasn’t until they were back at the office, on the elevator, that he realized his ambivalent feelings towards Jane had taken another detour. That whatever his own doubts, his own fears, he was going to have to work through them. Because he loved Jane, and that was that.

***

Lisbon was waiting at the conference table as they walked through the doors. Jane was there as well, leaning back, feet propped up on a chair, ankles crossed.

He gave Cho a look—steadily blank that said more than if he’d shouted and swore. Cho opened his mouth, thinking to explain obliquely about the night before when he was interrupted by Lisbon.

“Cho, did you know this yahoo,” she jerked her thumb at Jane who raised his hand, “called Dr. Wallach last night and set up a sting.”

“Well, not really a sting per se,”Jane countered with a shrug. “More like a push to get things rolling.”

Lisbon turned on him as Cho came up to stand next to her. “‘Things rolling?’ You convinced that poor man to make himself a sitting target.”

“Jane,” Cho said.

“What?” Jane asked innocently.

Cho turned to Lisbon. “I gave him Wallach’s information last night.”

“Now, why did you have to do that?” Jane said with a roll of his eyes. “She didn’t need to know you’d aided and abetted me.”

Lisbon waved her hand. “I’m not blaming you, Cho. You don’t hold his leash.”

Rigsby choked. Then bent over and coughed violently. Cho never blushed, but he felt his cheeks warm and he carefully didn’t look at Jane.

Lisbon hand-waved it away and called out. “Van Pelt? C’mon over. We need to call Inspector Blount to try and clear up this mess.” She looked at her watch, then set her cell on the table and began dialing.

They all gathered around. Cho hesitated, then took a chair on the other side of the table from Jane. Who gave him another measuring look but still didn’t say anything as they waited for the call to ring through.

“Agent Lisbon,” Blount answered without ceremony. “I was just going to call you.”

“What happened?”

“I just got off the phone with Dr. Wallach. He informed me that he’s put himself in a very dangerous position.”

“Yes, sir,”Lisbon said with a sigh and an angry glance at Jane. “That’s what I was calling you about.”

There was a squeak of a chair. “I’m going to record this conversation so I can pass on the information to Director Luckner. But I want to introduce you to someone. Just give me a moment.”

“Will do.” Lisbon sat down.

Finally, Blount returned. “Agent Lisbon, with me is my second-in-command, Inspector Rita Patel. She’s been assigned to the case, poor girl.”

“Good to meet you, Agent Lisbon,” came a very feminine, very British voice.

“Inspector. I’ve got my crew here as well.”

“Yes, Inspector Blount has given me the details. Hello everyone.”

There was a confusion of ‘hellos.’ Jane even waved.

When they were all quiet again, Blount said, “A lot has happened in the last few days, Agent Lisbon. We’ve released Engert’s photo to our security agencies. So far, nothing has come up, but I’m confident we’ll find him.”

Jane leaned forward. “And Wallach?”

“Yes, I was coming to that Mr. Jane. It seems he’s got this crazy notion that if he lets it be known that his research is almost finished, then the Red Men will come out of hiding. But first, let me go update you on the case, keeping in mind that some of this will be old news but we need to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

Cho rolled his eyes. He hated that phrase.

“So, last year, the Red Men managed to steal some very valuable data. Data that wasn’t complete and, at the time, had only one source—Dr. Wallach. We’ve been watching as carefully as we can, but none of the formula has surfaced.”

“Er, that you know of,” Jane interjected, his finger in the air.

“Yes, Mr. Jane, that we know of,” Blount agreed dryly.  “In any case, Wallach learned his lesson. As you recall, his formula had been the result of a collaboration. This time, he broke up the research even further, assigning certain bits to certain researchers. Apparently, as he was reworking his formula, he made a discovery that took him in a new direction. Without allowing each researcher access to the whole, he’s restructured it all.”

“Sir?” Van Pelt asked.

“Yes, Agent Van Pelt?”

“Last time he kept all the data on a single computer.”

“Yes, he did and he learned his lesson there, as well. He contracted with a group that handles back-ups and data encryption. And, before you ask, yes, they handle sensitive information for large companies and are legitimate.”

“Again, that you know of,” Jane added.

“Of course, Mr. Jane. We do have to take some things on trust.”

Blount sounded frustrated and Cho couldn’t blame him. It was all a little like locking the barn door after the horse had escaped and Jane didn’t help.

Lisbon exchanged a look with him as if she’d heard his thoughts. “What about these other researchers, sir? How did he pick them?”

“I asked him the same thing and was told, rather succinctly, that they are all known to him and he trusts them with his research.”

“It’s not whether or not they’re good at their job,” Cho said dryly. “It’s whether or not they can keep the data safe.”

“Nevertheless, Agent Cho, his team is his team. And, Agent Lisbon, they include three of the original members, plus five additional.”

“Have they been alerted to the fact that they might come under attack from the Red Group?” Lisbon asked, looking darkly at Jane.

“Inspector Patel will contact them and let them know of the situation without the specifics. They’re all working in their facilities and those facilities are protected in the usual manner. There shouldn’t be any problems in that regard.”

“Are you watching them, Inspector” Lisbon asked with a slight smile.

“Now that I’m aware that Dr. Wallach has set himself up for bait, I’ve contacted the authorities in London and Paris and I’ll inform Director Luckner about Atlanta and San Francisco.”

“And the good doctor, himself?” Jane asked.

“I’ve asked for surveillance on Dr. Wallach from the Munich authorities, although he’s not aware of it. We felt it best.”

Jane snorted.

Lisbon ignored him. “Can we get the names of his associates, just in case?”

Patel spoke up, “I’ve got all their bios ready for you, Agent Lisbon. I’ll be sending it via an encrypted transfer as soon as we’re done with this conference call.”

Lisbon gestured to Van Pelt who nodded gravely. “Van Pelt will handle it from our end. She’ll call you if there’s any trouble.”

“But now to Dr. Wallach and the rash move he just made,” Blount said.

“Inspector Blount,” Lisbon broke in with a sideways glance at Jane. “Before we get into that, I need to tell you that Jane contacted the doctor last night and talked him into that ‘rash’ move.”

There was a long silence while Blount digested that bit of news. Finally, he said, “I see. Well, it can’t be undone, not at this stage. Maybe it will be useful, in the long run.”

“How so?”

“This morning the doctor emailed Monsieur Sanset, the French researcher who’s been consulting with your CDC in Atlanta for the past three months.”

“He wasn’t one of the original scientists,” Cho pointed out.

“No, he wasn’t. When Wallach’s research diverted in focus, he needed some new experts. According to Wallach, Dr. Sanset an expert in…” Blount was silent for a moment, then said, as if he was reading from his notes, “…AH5N1.”

“Or,” Patel interjected, “what is commonly known as the bird flu.”

“Wait,” Lisbon said. “Those are two different things, right? Bird flu and pneumonia?”

“They are, and I don’t quite understand it myself, but apparently there is a connection.”

They were all silent for a moment. Cho was lost, but wasn’t too concerned about it. He didn’t necessarily have to know what something was to protect it.

“So,” Lisbon said slowly. “back to Dr. Wallach…”

“Yes. Dr. Wallach emailed Dr. Sanset and informed him of his plans to travel to San Francisco to complete the research.”

Lisbon asked, “Why here?”

“I don’t know. I’m assuming it’s to make it look like a logical choice, considering Dr. Estacio, another of Wallach’s researchers, is in San Francisco.”

Lisbon frowned. “Wait a minute, sir.” She turned to Jane. “Jane? Care to tell us why Wallach is taking a trip to San Francisco?”

Jane grinned and wriggled his fingers. “It’s elementary, my dear Lisbon. We get them to come to us.”

She ignored his Sherlock impression. “Why not London? Or Paris?”

“Lisbon,” Jane chided. “Where’s the fun in that? You won’t let me go there, so I’m making them come here.”

“How did you get Dr. Wallach to fall for such a stupid stunt?”

“I told him that with his help, he could live in a world safe from criminals like the Red Men. And since all scientists are repressed twelve-year olds who want to be super heroes, he said yes.”

Rigsby snickered. Lisbon just glared. “And?”

“And that revenge is very, very sweet.”

He said it so reasonably, so simply. Cho wondered if he had any clue what kind of danger he’d put Wallach in. Probably, yes.

Of course, yes.

“Jane—” Lisbon began, then sighed. “No, we’ll discuss it later. For now, we need to know when Wallach is arriving.”

“He should be landing in New York within the hour.”

“What?”

“Yes,” Blount said heavily. “He was already en route when he called. I’ve already informed Director Luckner. He’s going to send a detail to guard the doctor while he’s in the States. He should be calling you soon.”

Lisbon nodded. She had that look on her face, the one that told Cho that she was running scenarios in her head, calculating the possible outcomes and not liking the results.

“Sir?” Van Pelt asked.

“Yes, Agent Van Pelt?”

“About this email that the doctor sent. I take it you’re thinking that the Red Men will intercept it?”

“Yes, that’s our assumption.”

“But won’t they be suspicious if it’s too easy? That we might try something like this?”

“I’m hoping not, Agent Van Pelt. We attempted it last year, leaking the information that a major software company had a serious flaw in their security system. Normally, that would’ve been right up their alley, but they didn’t bite. They were probably laying low after the operation in California went awry, waiting until the heat died down, as it were.”

Jane shook his head. “No, that’s not it.”

“Why not?” Cho and Lisbon asked simultaneously.

Jane answered Cho, “Remember who they just lost. You told me you thought Mathias was a computer hacker, right?”

“No, I just—”

“Meh,” Jane brushed his words away with a flick of his fingers. “You call it guessing, but we’re all thinking the same thing—that Mathias was the computer expert. Who else would they send in?” He sat up and propped his elbows on the table. “Inspector Blount, you hypothesized some time ago that the Red Men consisted of a few men. Which means they’d all have to be highly trained in a wide variety of fields—unlikely—or that each of them specialized in a specific field. Which means that each of them had a specific job to do. Which means that all the jobs they pulled after Mathias’s untimely demise were done the old-fashioned way or not at all.”

“You could be right, Mr. Jane,” Blount murmured after a moment. “It would explain why few the crimes we attributed to them in the past year were fairly crude and vicious.”

“Smash and grab,” Lisbon said under her breath.

They were silent, then Jane said thoughtfully, “The sting idea may be rash and stupid, Lisbon, but it will tell us one thing.”

“And what’s that?”

“Whether or not they’ve got a new hacker.”

Cho raised his eyebrow and nodded. Jane was right.

“Could it be this Engert?” Van Pelt asked.

“No,” Cho answered for Jane. “If Jane is right, Engert specializes in something else. Imean,” he shrugged. “He went to school with Mathias so it’s a good chance they formed the group together, but if he were the hacker, they would’ve sent him in last year and not Mathias.”

Jane smiled at him for the first time—it wasn’t a very cheerful smile, but it was something.

“Still,”Van Pelt said with a frown. “Would it be smart to send Engert’s photo to some technical colleges, just to make sure?”

“It couldn’t hurt,” Blount said. “Patel?”

“I’ll take care of it, sir.”

“So, the plan is to lure them out and nab them?” Rigsby spoke for the first time. “It still sounds too obvious.”

“No, it’s not,” Jane said absently. He’d sat back down and was tapping his fingers on the table.

“Why?” Cho asked.

“Because this is personal for them. We made them kill one of their own. If we’re right about the organization’s structure, it’s too small to function with a missing member and that probably pissed them off. Add to the fact that military-minded men would hardly react well to the failure of the basic mission?” Jane glanced at Cho. “Revenge, remember? And,” he added as if pointing out the obvious, “if they have a new computer guy, they can get back to business as usual.”

They were all silent again. Cho stared moodily at the table. Jane was taking a lot for granted, but that was also business as usual, wasn’t it? Which meant he was probably right.

Which meant, if things went according to the unplanned plan, no doubt he’d be in San Francisco soon, babysitting Wallach. A depressing thought even though it wouldn’t be for very long. Even though he hadn’t seen Jane all that much in the past few weeks, anyway.

He looked up to find Jane watching him. Maybe the thought of the separation was as depressing to Jane as it was to him because his expression had turned blank again.

“Agent Lisbon,” Blount said, breaking the silence. “I’ll be following Wallach as soon as I set things up here. I’ll notify you as soon as the arrangements have been made.”

“You should stay in London,” Jane said, finally looking away from Cho.

“Why, Mr. Jane?”

“Because the minute you move, the Red Men will know something’s up.”

“Mr. Jane, I hardly think—”

Lisbon frowned and started to speak, but Jane spoke over them both, “Why else do you think your own sting didn’t work? It wasn’t just that Mathias was dead—just as you’re watching them, they’re watching you. You can bet your life on it.”

He was more than a little disparaging and Blount didn’t say anything for the longest time. Finally, he said grudgingly, “Perhaps you’re right.”

Jane grinned and took a breath to say, ‘of course I am,’ but this time Cho was quicker. He lunged across the table and clapped his hand over Jane’s mouth before he could speak. Van Pelt gasped, Rigsby choked again, and Lisbon glared.

Jane’s eyes widened and then narrowed, and Cho said without speaking, ‘If you bite or lick my hand, I will never have sex with you again. Ever.’

Jane understood—he nodded. Cho let go.

“Agent Lisbon? Are you still there?” Blount asked.

“Yes, sir,” Lisbon said, “We were just… er, conferring, and I believe Jane is right—it would be wise if you stayed in London.”

“I don’t like it, but very well. We’ll need some representation, of course—Inspector Patel will fly out as soon as we make arrangements. Inspector?”

“I’d be happy to go in your stead, sir,” Patel said.

“Very good.”

***

As soon as Blount hung up, the team scattered. Lisbon went to her office to call Luckner, Jane wandered over to his couch, and Van Pelt and Rigsby left to get lunch. They asked Cho, but he shook his head. He wasn’t hungry.

He sat down at his desk. He even pulled up some files he meant to get started on. But, he couldn’t focus. He was still living in that moment when he’d walked in and found Jane staring at him as if he were a stranger.

He looked at his watch—twelve-seventeen. Most of the staff was at lunch and the place was quiet. No one would know if he took a ten-minute break.

He reminded himself that he didn’t do stupid things that would jeopardize his job. That never mind Lisbon’s policy, his own work ethics said no to any screwing around at work.

Then he remembered how it had felt, holding his hand to Jane’s mouth, feeling the way he’d tensed up, then relaxed. Pliant. Loose.

Sexy.

Telling himself he was crazy, he stood up and headed calmly for the exit. When the stairway door was closed behind him, he tore up floor after floor, huffing because there was no denying that it was exciting, screwing around at work.

When he got to the third floor, he calmly scanned the area, an excuse ready on his lips. It wasn’t needed—there was nobody around, just as he’d hoped.

The corridor to the right was dim—the renovations of three years ago had come to an abrupt halt when the economy had crashed and had never started up again. The area was used mostly as storage, and as he walked down the hall, slowly at first in case anyone was watching, he passed filing cabinets, mats, and chairs.

His destination was an old storage room that lay at the end of the corridor. Tucked in the corner, it also had seen better days—the only things being stored were old holiday decorations and a few desks that were too heavy to remove.

It would be just his luck if the door was locked, but it opened easily when he tried the knob and stepped inside. The room was just like he remembered—small and dusty with a row of dirty windows at the far end that let in enough light in to show boxes all over the place. Tinsel spilled out of one, fake greenery out of another, and in the corner, face to the wall, stood a plastic Santa.

Not the most romantic place for a rendezvous, but it would do. He got out his phone and dialed quickly. Before he lost his nerve.

“Yo,” Jane answered sleepily.

“Is there anyone around?”

Jane paused, then said, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Is there anyone around?”

“No, just me myself and I. Where are—”

“Do you know the old storeroom? On the third floor?”

There was another pause and this time when Jane spoke, all drowsiness was gone from his voice. “I do.”

“Meet me there.”

He hung up before Jane could answer, but he wasn’t worried that Jane would blow him off. If he’d had his way, they would’ve been up here long before this, going at it like bunnies.

He estimated that it would take Jane a few minutes to arrive, so he spent the time pacing in front of the windows, back and forth, rubbing hands together because his palms were suddenly damp.

Jane made it in a little under a minute. He rushed through the door so fast that he slid on the floor and had to hold tight to the doorknob for balance.

They stared at each other for a moment, then Jane said, “We have about four minutes. Lisbon is looking for you.”

This was so stupid. He’d never tried anything like this before and he was going to get fired, or at the very least, written up. A black mark that would take—

Jane made some noise, then closed the door and strode forward, grabbing Cho by his lapels, whispering, “Four minutes.”

And then kissed him. Harder than usual, pushing until he was up against the windows, until he was half sitting on the sill, his head and shoulders pressed against the glass.

And that’s all it was—kissing, angling his head so he could take as much of Jane as possible, wrapping his leg around Jane’s calf for ballast and because it seemed he was helpless to do anything else. Wishing they had more time, wondering why such a simple act could be so erotic.

They stopped when his cell began to ring. He fumbled for it, holding it up to read the display.—Lisbon. He answered with a soft, “Hey.”

“Where are you?I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

“I’m upstairs.” Her voice was as clear as if she was standing in the same room—hopefully she couldn’t tell he was basically talking into Jane’s shoulder.

“Good. I need to go over Patel’s visit with you.”

“Be down in a minute.” He’d go the long way—by the time he got downstairs, his dick would be behaving itself.

“Are you okay? Your voice sounds weird.”

Jane laughed softly into his neck.

“No, I’m fine. I’ll—”

Jane laughed again, then licked a wet line from his neck up.

He jerked his head away before Jane could get to his chin and said, “I’m fine. I’ll be down in a minute.”

He hung up before she could ask any more questions. Then he pushed Jane away, gently, muttering, “Idiot.”

“You wouldn’t want me any other way.”

He smiled, because yeah, he wouldn’t. “Make sure I don’t have any cobwebs?” He turned around and inspected his suit. His lapels were crumpled and his tie was loose. He straightened his tie, then smoothed the lapels down the best he could—it would take a dry cleaner to get them perfect.

Jane was still brushing him off, taking longer than necessary, and he finally had to step away.

They were at the door when he asked a little too tentatively, “Can you come over this weekend?”

“Only if you take me out to dinner.”

Jane’s eyes were so blue in the half-light—it was almost eerie and Cho told himself that they didn’t remind him of the dream. “Kung Pao Chicken?”

“Is there anything else?”

 

______________

Thursday, April 15th

 

“But we could do it. It’d be easy-peasy.”

Easy-peasy. Who said that anymore? “No, we stick to the plan.”

“That’s rubbish. All we’d have to do is get to Calif—”

“Mathew,” Mark said. “John’s orders are John’s orders. I thought you understood that.”

“Yes, but Luke told me—”

“We’re not changing jobs. We’re not going to fly to California to steal Dr. Wallach’s laptop—”

“We won’t have to touch it,” Mathew interrupted. “I’m not Littlefield. I can get everything Ineed with just a hack and I don’t—”

Mark was done arguing. Without taking his eyes off the building down the block, he leaned to the right and murmured, “One of our rules—the rules you and I and Luke have gone over a dozen times—is that we don’t start something we can’t finish. We see the job through, get clear, then move on to the next one. John’s very happy that you’re already proving you’re worth your considerable fee, but don’t push it.”

He sat back. “Now, shut it and pay attention. We’re only going to get one chance at this.”

Mathew slumped back to glare out the window. Mark tightened his lips. He shouldn’t have been so curt but at least a pout was better than the non-stop blabbing.

But Mathew didn’t quite get it, how difficult the exchange was going to be, how easily it could all go wrong. They had roughly forty-five seconds to identify Sanset in the morning crowd, follow him, switch the laptops and leave. And a hack wouldn’t work according to Mathew, not without alerting Sanset within seconds of the transfer.

The method had been John’s idea. He’d followed Sanset for three days and the man kept to his routine like an automaton: arrive at his temporary office at eight; take the first ten-minute coffee break at half past nine; lunch an hour later. He returned to his hotel at three and didn’t emerge until seven forty-five the next morning.

John had cautioned against acting too fast. That Sanset wasn’t going anywhere, so take it slow.

But it was now nine thirty-seven. Seven minutes off for most people wasn’t a major worry, but with Sanset? Mark frowned, his worry growing.

He was wondering if they’d somehow missed an important detail when someone rapped loudly on the passenger-side window. They both jumped and Mathew hissed a sibilant, “Fuck me!”

Because on the other side of the glass stood a police officer, bending in to take a peek.

Mathew shot a quick glance at Mark, while Mark ran through scenarios—run, attack, defend—there was only one choice.

He took a slow breath, not letting himself think of anything but his cover story, then hit the button to lower the window. The officer was black, pushing sixty and overweight by a good three stones. “Good morning, sir.”

He made it casual, friendly, relieved when he saw Mathew smile.

“You boys waiting for someone?”

“We are. Our uncle works in the building down the way and we’re supposed to take him to lunch. Is there a problem?”

“No. I just noticed when you pulled up.” He nodded to a sign ten meters away. “This is a twenty-minute loading zone, not a parking space.”

Mark was already nodding apologetically. “I’m sorry. We’ll move. My brother and I aren’t from around here.” Down the block, roughly thirty-five meters away, stood another officer. She was watching them, but her stance was casual. Good.

The officer smiled. “I figured. You sound like you’re from the north.”

“Upstate New York, actually. We’re here on vacation.”

The officer leaned his elbow on the doorframe. “How do you like it so far?”

Mark made a face. “It’s been hotter than I’m used to, but…” He shrugged, letting the officer in on his discomfort, encouraging him to feel sorry and superior to two boys far from home.

And the officer did—he grinned and slapped the door, then said, “That sounds about right. Well, just move up a couple spaces and enjoy your stay.”

He straightened and Mark said a cheery, “Will do,” just as Mathew leaned over and said, “Thank you, constable.”

Mark froze. Telling himself to act natural, that the officer hadn’t heard.

But he had. He paused, then turned back to lean on the door again. “Excuse me?”

His expression hadn’t lost its friendliness, but it was too late. Mathew had turned to wood, if wood could look like it wanted to crawl into the nearest hole.

Still Mark tried to rectify the situation. “It was a joke. He’s playing a joke. We’ve been watching too much Monty Python.” He jerked his head to Mathew, hoping he’d recovered in time to jump in. But Mathew was looking down at his lap, his face beet red. Fuck.

“That’s a pretty heavy accent. Where did you say you came from?” And, on the same breathe, “May I see your driver’s license?”

“Of course,” Mark answered placidly. He calmly got out his wallet and ID, then reached across Mathew to hand off his American driver’s license. His fake American driver’s license. Which would pass on a cursory glance, but not—

“This says your name is Mark Donahue of White Plains.”

“That’s right. My brother’s name is Mathew.”

“Mathew and Mark, huh?” the officer said absently as he stared at the small laminated card. “Your parents must’ve been pretty religious.”

“They were.”

“Mine too. And the only problem, Mark, is that the issue date for this card is April of last year.”

Panic crept up Mark’s spine but he kept his voice even and nonchalant. “Yes?”

“The state of New York changed the design last year. In January. I know because my wife’s sister lives in New York and she hates the new cards. Iheard all about it over Christmas.” He looked up, expression changing from neutral to suspicious. “Can you explain why you have a fake driver’s license?”

“It’s not fake, sir. As far as I know. I just took the card they gave me. I didn’t compare it to anyone else’s. Maybe it was a mistake.”

And even then Mark could’ve saved it, but Mathew coughed, almost choked, drawing their attention. His face was wet with sweat and he looked like he was going to pass out.

“Is there something wrong with your brother?”

All friendliness was gone and Mark could only say, “He’s been sick.”

“Then maybe he should sit down in someplace cool. Why don’t you come down to the precinct with me and we’ll straighten this out.”

Mark nodded, using the motion to look around. The walks were still crowded with people and though he didn’t care if he hit them, they’d slow him down. His weapon was under the seat, within reach, but even if he pulled it and managed to drop the officer, there was nowhere to go—the traffic was too heavy. The only alternative would be to jump the curb and somehow manage to squeeze the SUV around the concrete planter that sat about fifteen meters away.

But it didn’t matter—his hesitation had cost him. The officer stepped back three paces and pulled his weapon. And for all he was at least twenty years Mark’s senior, at that angle he’d have to be on his deathbed to miss.

“Sir?” the officer said calmly, firmly, as the other cop came running up in a low crouch, her weapon drawn.

Mathew choked again, a strangled sound that bled into a moan and Mark nodded and raised his hands.

John was going to kill him.

Literally.

 

______________

Friday, April 16th

 

“Van Pelt,” Lisbon muttered without looking up from the note she was writing.

“Sorry, boss. I’ll—” Van Pelt jumped up and hurried to her desk.

Jane watched her go with a smile. She’d done something to her computer to alert her if Engert’s passport was flagged, but it wasn’t working right. It had been pinging all morning for all sorts of inconsequential things.

He thought it was a pleasant, cheerful sound, as far as computer noises went, but the rest of the team had gotten tired of it after the fifth alert. Rigsby had threatened to rip her audio card out, whatever that was. Cho said he was going to go the easy route and unplug the computer. Lisbon just sighed every time the bell chimed and asked Van Pelt to see what it was now.

“Did you contact IT?” Rigsby called out over his shoulder.

“Of course I did. I called them two hours ago.”

“Maybe you should just—”

“Wayne?” Van Pelt said pointedly.

Rigsby rolled his eyes. “Yeah, whatever.”

Jane smiled. They were gathered around the conference table, waiting for their FBI counterparts and Inspector Patel. She’d been in D.C. for the day, meeting with Luckner and—according to Lisbon—whoever else could fit into the room.

They were due two hours ago. No—he looked at his watch again—make that two hours and ten minutes ago. He tapped his fingers on his thigh—he was hungry. He could zoom downstairs and grab a hotdog in under a minute if he hurried. He looked at his watch again.

“She’ll just tell you to sit back down,” Cho said under his breath.

He was on Jane’s right, studying some case file and near enough that Jane could see the fine pattern of shorn hair at his temple. He’d gotten his hair trimmed earlier, running out when Jane wasn’t paying attention. It looked good on him, made him look like the Cho he’d met all those years ago. But still, the cut only emphasized his tired features. Neither had been sleeping well, it seemed. Probably because they hadn’t seen each other for a few days, thanks to a case that had taken Cho and Rigsby to Napa Valley.

He leaned sideways, thinking to whisper, ‘Let’s go upstairs,’ because he wanted a repeat of Wednesday afternoon when Cho looked up and said, “Here they come.”

He stood. Jane stayed seated. Luckner and his team could go hang for all he cared—they’d been waiting almost two hours and he was bored. And tired.

Luckner strode in first, followed by two women and four men. The men were clearly FBI, as was the woman on the right—he recognized her from the Carina Luna—Agent Martinez, if he remembered correctly. The other woman was dark, probably Indian, and pretty in a neat, Mary Poppins kind of way. She was married and probably new to it—she’d wrapped her thumb around her wedding ring as if it were uncomfortable. He smiled at her. She didn’t smile back.

Towards the rear, trailing the group like he was a tourist who wasn’t sure he was on the right tour, was Dr. Wallach. He was clutching his laptop to his chest and when he saw Jane, he smiled and waved. Jane grinned in response. At least someone was happy to see him.

“Director Luckner. Good to see you, sir,” Lisbon said as she hurried forward to shake his hand.

“Same here, Theresa. You got my card about Sam?”

“I did. Thank you for thinking of us. It was a trying time.” She turned and began to make the introductions. When she got to Jane, she said, “And I’m sure you all remember Patrick Jane, our consultant?”

Jane waved. “Hello.”

Luckner—to Jane’s surprise—actually leaned over the table to shake his hand. “Mr. Jane. Thank you for your help. I’m looking forward to discussing the case with you.” He stepped back and gestured to the line of agents, “This is Agent Martinez, whom some of you met last year, plus Agents Williams, Atkinson, Lin, and Yarbro. And this,” he nodded to the dark-haired woman, “is our British liaison, Inspector Rita Patel.”

There was a nodding of heads and then a general shuffling as they all found seats around the conference table. Agents Lin, Atkinson and Yarbro took positions at the doors and hall. Jane wasn’t sure what—or who—they were expecting, but it was amusing nonetheless.

As was the way everyone sat—the CBI contingent marked their territory by sitting on the side facing the room, leaving the other side for the rest. It might have been inadvertent, but Jane was fairly certain it was by intent—if Lisbon and Cho were in an uncomfortable situation, they liked to sit or stand with their backs to the wall.

“Would you like something to eat or drink, sir?” Lisbon asked.

“We ate on the plane,” Luckner said, already digging in his briefcase, pulled out a stack of file folders. “I’d like to get started.”

Lisbon folded her hands together and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“It was very good, the lunch,” Wallach interjected, mostly to Jane. “They served a rather interesting portion of fish.”

He was also much the same as Jane remembered—pale skin, thin with horrible posture and a thick German accent. But his eyes were still a clear, bright blue, like a child’s, and Jane smiled broadly. “How was it cooked?”

Wallach drew a breath to speak when Lisbon interrupted gently, “I’m sorry, sir, but we really should get started.”

“That’s okay,” Jane said with a wave of his hand. “I’ll take you out to dinner later, doctor. You’ll love it.” He and Wallach exchanged grins.

“Okay,” Lisbon said loudly, forcing all eyes to her. “Sir,” she turned to Luckner, “I’m assuming you’ve had time to organize a security detail to protect Dr. Wallach. Would you like to discuss that first?”

Luckner nodded and opened one of his folders. “I made up a preliminary schedule.” He took out a sheaf of papers and passed them to Martinez, on his right. “My office, Scotland Yard, and Interpol have worked up a tentative plan of attack.”

“Based on the little you know,” Jane countered.

“Jane,” Lisbon muttered.

“No, he’s right Agent Lisbon,” Luckner agreed. “We do know so little—it’s mostly supposition, something you,” he gave Jane a beetle-browed glance, “work from all the time, or so I’ve heard.”

“You’ve heard correctly. And it really doesn’t matter,” he said as he leaned forward and rested his arms on the table, “if it’s all guesswork. If the plan convinces these Red Men, then it might as well be the truth.” Cho handed him the stack of papers. He took one, then passed the rest to Rigsby.

He glanced at the sheet. It was a lot of boring directives and orders and not much else.

“Basically,” Luckner continued heavily, “it’s going to be a bait and wait. I’ve positioned a team in San Francisco to watch Dr. Estacio.”

“But discreetly,” Wallach said, “yes?”

“Yes, Doctor,” Luckner reassured him, then turned to the group at large. “Dr. Estacio isn’t too happy with the FBIpresence. She’s concerned we’ll get in her way.”

“She is at a very delicate stage in her trials,” Wallach explained, lacing his fingers together, like he was praying, tapping the table for emphasis. “I appreciate your concern, but it would be disastrous to interrupt the process.”

He said it as if by rote, and Luckner exchanged a quick look with Lisbon. No doubt commiserating on the foibles of eggheads and their obtuseness.

“We’re just trying to protect you and your work, Doctor,” Lisbon said gently.

Wallach shook his head slowly, looking suddenly twenty years older. “I appreciate your concern, Agent Lisbon, but time is of the essence. In the past year, I’ve sometimes thought that it would have been better had my formula been stolen in its entirety. At least then, someone would’ve had put it into production. At this rate, we won’t be into distribution for another two years.”

“That’s a lot of dead children,” Van Pelt murmured.

“Yes, it is, Agent Van Pelt.”

“But it’s still important to keep you safe, Doctor. Without you there’d be no formula. That’s just as important. Sir…” she turned to Luckner. “How do we know these Red Men didn’t follow Dr. Wallach off the plane and are outside, right now?”

It was a good question and Jane glanced sideways at Cho who met his gaze and nodded, infinitesimally.

Martinez spoke for the first time, saying abruptly, “We’re confident we managed to get him through the terminal without notice.”

Meaning, they didn’t really know. Meaning, his plan could be a complete failure because he’d assumed they’d have some way to track the group. A stupid assumption on his part, now that he thought about it, but there was no sense admitting to that, not when there wasn’t anything anyone could do at this stage.

He must have made a noise because Cho gently kicked his leg under the table as if saying, ‘Behave yourself.’

He turned his chair, getting ready to repay in kind when Van Pelt’s computer pinged for the ninth time.

“Jeez, Van Pelt!” Rigsby exclaimed.

She was already up, muttering to Lisbon, “Sorry, boss.”

“We’ve got a computer problem,” Lisbon explained to the group. “It’s annoying, but not life threatening.” That was for Rigsby who was still glaring at Van Pelt’s back.

“It may not be life threatening, but it’s really—”

Rigsby didn’t get the chance to finish—with a soft, “Oh,” Van Pelt sat down at her desk. She said, “Oh!” again, this time louder, and called out, “Boss!”

They all jumped up, stumbling over each other in their haste. Jane managed to get in front and he looked over her shoulder.

She tapped the keyboard, then pointed to the screen. “They got him, just an hour ago in Atlanta. They got him because he—”

“Van Pelt,” Lisbon said calmly. “Slow down. Who got who?”

“Sorry.” Van Pelt took a breath. “Sorry.” She looked up, craning her head until she found Luckner. “Sir, when we got the information about Mark Engert, I sent out a broadcast, alerting the agencies around the country. And look who just popped up.”

She turned her monitor around and they all bent low. It was a mug shot, taken just hours ago. Like all mug shots, the lighting was harsh and washed out. Like all mug shot subjects, Engert wasn’t very happy to be there—he had a bruise on one cheek and was scowling.

“Holy crap,” Rigsby muttered under his breath.

Van Pelt leaned close and read, “He and his brother were brought in on a minor charge. When they ran his I.D., it set off all sorts of alarms. The brother tried to run while they were at the station and they had to taser him. They’re holding both of them while they contact British authorities. Which would be you,” she said to Patel.

Patel nodded, already reaching for her cell. “Yes, it is. Director Luckner, I need to contact Inspector Blount immediately.”

“Make sure you inform him about the brother,” Luckner said urgently. “Van Pelt, call Atlanta P.D. Tell them if they release, hurt or lose Engert and his brother, I will be on the next plane to Georgia and they don’t want that. Lisbon? We need someplace private.”

She led Luckner and Martinez off, with Patel following, still punching numbers.

Jane watched them go, then turned back. Dr. Wallach had moved closer and bent over Van Pelt’s computer. “Is this one of the men that was involved in the theft of my laptop?”

“We believe so, sir,” Van Pelt answered.

“I don’t recognize him.”

“Neither do I.”

“He doesn’t look like a killer.”

“That’s the whole point, isn’t it?” Jane mused. “Anonymity. That’s how they were able to move around from place to place.”

“I suppose.” Wallach peered at Engert’s mug shot. “Could he be the leader of the group?”

“He could be. We’ll find out.” Jane leaned around the door to peer into Lisbon’s office. Patel was standing by the sofa, on her cell. Luckner was leaning on Lisbon’s desk. Whatever they were saying, it was intense and quick and Jane wondered what to make of the earlier ‘Theresa.’ They obviously knew each other, but to what extent? Not that he cared, but it would be good for Lisbon to go on a date or three. She deserved it.

“What’s going on in there?”

He looked over his shoulder. Van Pelt was craning her head, trying to see as well.

“Nothing good,” he said absently because Lisbon had planted both fists on her hips, always a sign that it was time to duck and cover.

“Jurisdiction,” Cho responded mordantly.

Jane frowned. “You mean who gets first crack?”

“More like who gets first crack where. Luckner will want to take Engert back to New York or D.C. Patel will want him on the first plane back to London.”

“Oh, no, he won’t,” Jane muttered. He ignored Van Pelt’s hissed, “Jane!” and strode to Lisbon’s office.

She saw him coming but didn’t have time to stop him. He opened the door and leaned in. “You’re transferring Engert here, right?”

Luckner got there first, “That’s none of your business, Mr. Jane. This is my decision.”

“With all due respect, sir, it’s not,” Lisbon said quietly, but distinctly. “If Engert broke any U.S. laws, he did in my jurisdiction and we’ll take care of it. Here.”

Jane loved it when she got like this. Without being strident, she held her ground.

“We know nothing about him right now, other than he was friends with a man involved in a crime. And we’re more equipped to handle international crime in Quantico. We need to remember that the goal is to stop the gang, not pursue a single man.”

“That may be, sir, but he and his gang murdered thirteen people here in the State of California and he’ll answer to those crimes. Here.”

“Fifteen,” Jane said softly.

Lisbon turned her frown on him. “What?”

“You’re forgetting the first two victims, Robert Gaiter and Ben Evans. They make fifteen. And Lisbon’s right.” He cocked his head and met Luckner’s glance, glare for glare. “The Sullivans deserve justice. Mr. Wilson deserves justice.”

There was a tense moment of silence as they took each other’s measure. Patel had hung up and was following the volleys and Jane wondered what she thought of it all. The Red Men had killed a number of people in Europe, probably a lot more than fifteen and at a much earlier date—who was to say who had true jurisdiction?

But possession—and chutzpah—were nine-tenths of the law, and Luckner finally nodded shortly. “All right. We’re going to lock this place down. It’s Friday, but I want extra manpower over the weekend. We’re not going to have another incident like we had in Carmel.”

“No, sir,” Lisbon agreed with a sidelong glance at Jane.

“We’ll bring in them in tonight, after hours, by private plane.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Lisbon?”

“Yes?”

“This needs to go like clockwork. I’m counting on you.”

Lisbon nodded. “Understood.”

***

Jane didn’t know about clockwork, but the rest of the day was a confusion of people running everywhere, phones ringing, hatches being battened.

For the most part, he stayed out of it. He suggested taking Wallach out for dinner, but Luckner almost had a stroke when he brought it up. Soon after, the doctor was ordered out of the line of fire—under protection of three FBIagents, he was hustled off to an undisclosed location.

At six, Jane left to pick up dinner for them all. Mostly because he needed some fresh air, partly because Cho and Lisbon were too busy to take a break and at least this way, they’d eat.

The main floor of the building was full of gun-toting men and women. He had to show his I.D. when he left and when he returned with the food. They even—much to his amusement—inspected the bags and ran them through their scanner.

When he got back upstairs, he gave a bag to Van Pelt, one to Rigsby, then went to find Cho and Lisbon. They were in her office, going over the security procedures. He convinced them to eat by simply opening the bag—the smell of baked bread and roasted chicken did the rest.

When they finished, Cho gave Jane a thank-you smile and got back to work. Jane threw away the trash and returned to his couch.

Engert was supposed to land at eleven but through a series of delays, mostly due to the increased security, he wasn’t arriving until well after one. Jane tried to stay awake by re-reading Bosco’s notes on Red John, and when that didn’t work, by doing a little Sudoku.

But he’d started the day tired and the growing tension was exhausting—he fell into a deep sleep, sometime around midnight.

 

______________

Saturday, April 17th

 

Cho scanned the office. The plane had landed thirty minutes ago and was ten minutes out. Rigsby and Van Pelt were in the kitchen with Patel, hopefully getting her to eat something. She’d been too busy to take a break, alternating between hovering around Lisbon and Luckner and talking on the phone to Blount.

Luckner and Martinez were in Interview Two, going over some last minute security changes, and the other agents had been paired up with CBI personnel and were patrolling the building.

He should be getting ready, as well. He’d gone over the details of the arrests, had heard the audio file Atlanta had emailed, but another review couldn’t hurt. Even though he’d read the case notes so many times, he could probably recite them from memory.

He hesitated, then stood up. Just this once, he was going to ignore duty.

He glanced around again to make sure no one was paying attention, then got up and stole over to where Jane was lying, fast asleep.

He was on his back, one arm curled over his head, the other on his stomach. He slept like that so often, with total abandon, like a kid. But not tonight because he was frowning, as if in pain and something in Cho’s chest twisted into a familiar ache. He bent over and reached out.

“Cho?” came a soft voice. He turned. Lisbon was in the doorway, pulling on her jacket. “They’re here. Wake him up.”

He nodded and turned back around. Jane had woken up and was staring up at him with such an odd expression and the ache grew until he thought he’d choke on it. If they weren’t where they were, he’d kiss Jane, over and over.

But they were where they were, so all he said was a quiet, “Hey.”

“They’re here?”

“Yeah.”

Jane sat up and combed his fingers through his hair. There were a couple sections sticking up and Cho told himself that it would be sheer stupidity to smooth them down. He’d done enough stupid things recently. “Does Luckner know?”

“He’s escorting them in. Engert will be in Interview One and the other guy will be in Three.”

“Do we know who the other guy is yet?”

“No.”

“Any problems?” Jane unrolled his cuffs.

“No. They were kept apart the whole time. Apparently they’re model prisoners.”

Jane stood and straightened his vest. “I’m assuming you’ll handle the interviews.”

“Yeah. Luckner decided to give me first go.”

“What about Patel?”

Jane must have been lying on his side at one point—there was a four-inch crease down his left cheek. “She’s waiting as well.”

“Was that her suggestion?”

“No, it was Blount’s. He wants to see if we can throw them off their stride.”

Jane patted his jacket, then his pockets. “How do I look?”

‘Like a million bucks, even with the hair and the sleep marks.’ “Do you care?”

Jane grinned. “Nope.”

“Let’s go.” Cho gestured for Jane to proceed him, unable to stop from touching the small of his back as he passed by.

The corridor outside Interview One was crowded with personnel and guards. Lisbon and Luckner were talking quietly. Van Pelt and Rigsby were standing off to the side, looking like two teenagers that hadn’t been asked to the dance.

“Agent Cho?” Luckner waved him over.

“Sir?”

“He’s in there. I gave strict orders that no one was to talk to him. Let’s hope that held.” Luckner turned to the door.

“Which one is first?”

Luckner paused. “Engert, of course. Why?”

Cho shrugged. “Because if we’re dealing with a new recruit, he’ll be easier to break. The arresting officer said he fell apart at the station house.”

Luckner was already nodding. “Okay. Good point. Plus, it’ll give Engert time to cool his heels.” He handed Cho a folder and a small recorder.

“Did they get any sleep?” He pocketed the recorder.

“No,” Luckner said with a small smile. “The flight crew was too noisy.”

“Go get ‘em,” Lisbon said with the fierce, encouraging look that Cho was long familiar with. He nodded and opened the door.

The interview room was dark and warm, just as always and the minute he entered, all the cares he’d been juggling, all the crap with Jane, with himself—they just disappeared and he felt his brain wake up as if from a long sleep.

The man sitting on the opposite side of the desk wasn’t a kid, but he wasn’t that old, either. Maybe late twenties, early thirties, white. No outstanding features that would make him stand out in a crowd. He was dressed well, clean. And very tired, very scared.

Cho sat.

He placed the folder on the table and clasped his hands together, giving it a long moment before he said, “My name is Agent Cho. I’m with the California Bureau of Investigation.”

The man just nodded.

“The CBI is the local version of the FBI. We handle terrorism, gang activity, multiple homicides—that sort of thing. I’m telling you this because you need to know that we’re not the local police and what you’re being charged with is very serious.”

The man nodded again.

Cho waited, then said dryly, “This is the part where you tell me your name.”

The man glanced at the glass behind Cho’s head, then back. He opened his mouth, then muttered, “Mathew. My name is Mathew.”

His voice was soft, without any noticeable accent. If Cho didn’t know better, he’d say he was American. “Well, Mathew, do you know why you’re here?”

“My brother had a fake license and we got arrested for it.”

Cho leaned forward. “Mathew. You know that’s not why.”

“We were on vacation and we—”

“No,” Cho interrupted. It was time to start getting scary. He opened the folder and pretended to study it even though he’d already seen its contents. “You were picked up because you’re in this country illegally.”

“No.”

“And we can prove it.”

“No, it’s—”

Cho closed the folder, not violently, but Mathew jumped. Good. “I love technology. Do you know why?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “It’s because it’s made my job so much easier. Sure, we can go around and around all night, but this will cut through all the crap.”

He pulled out the recorder and laid it in the middle of the table, carefully, precisely. “Maybe you didn’t realize it, but when you were being booked, you were also being taped.” He nudged the recorder forward just a fraction of an inch. Mathew drew back. “Do you want to hear what you said?”

Mathew was staring at the device like it was a bomb, as if the slightest movement on his part would set it off.

“Yeah, I thought you might,” Cho replied conversationally to his own question. He pressed the play button. The first twenty seconds were mostly gibberish–a lot of hiss and garbled voices. Van Pelt had spent an hour cleaning it up with their tech people—most of it was unusable, but she managed to get one sweet, five-second clip. “Here we go,” he added, “this is my favorite part.”

He turned it up.

First came the booking officer, heard through the background noise of a busy station, then:

“…sir, and I’m going to have to restrain you until you tell me your—”

“Peter, all right? My name is Peter and I demand to see Mark—”

Cho hit the stop button. “It’s not much, but what there is…” He shrugged. “Would you like to tell me your real name, sir?”

Peter was sweating now, his fingers laced together so tight, his knuckles were white. “It’s Mathew.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes. It is.”

Cho leaned closer. “Would you like to tell me your real name, sir?”

“It’s—”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes,”

“Would you like to tell me your—”

“I can’t.

Cho didn’t hesitate. “Why not?”

“Because I promised. I swore.

Peter’s voice cracked on the last word and Cho didn’t smile when he murmured, “What part of England are you from?”

There was a long pause, then with a long drawn-out sigh, Peter sagged and mumbled, “Oxfordshire.”

What a surprise. “Oxford’s a nice school. Pretty. Did you go there?”

“Yes.”

“When did you graduate?”

“Three years ago.”

“That’s good. What’s your real name?”

Peter ran his hands over his face and muttered through his fingers, “Peter.”

“Peter, what?”

“Peter Roberts.”

It was a good thing that observation room was soundproofed, otherwise they’d both go deaf from the sound of Lisbon, Luckner and the rest stampeding from the room for their computers and cell phones. “Well, Mr. Roberts, I know you realize you’re in trouble. I’m assuming you know why.”

Peter dropped his hands and let his head fall back. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” he whispered to the ceiling.

“What does that mean?”

“Figure it out for yourself.”

“All right.” Cho sat back. “You’re tired. Let’s take a break. Can I get you something to drink?”

Peter closed his eyes and gave a bitter laugh. “Water. Water would be nice.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes.”

“What would you like?”

“Anything. I don’t care.”

“I’ll see what I can do about it.”

He picked up the recorder and the folder and stood up. He was almost to the door when Peter spoke again, “You don’t remember me, do you Agent Cho?”

He stopped in his tracks. He turned around. “No, should I?”

Peter smirked, unknowingly mimicking Jane’s earlier words,  “No, but that was the point, wasn’t it?”

“When did we meet?”

“Maybe you should ask, ‘where?’”

“Okay, where?”

“That was a very beautiful car. The one Mr. Jane destroyed?”

Damnit. “You were at the Catamaran Club?”

Peter nodded, then said slyly, “Say hi to Mr. Jane.”

He hesitated, then left, feeling like he had a target on his back.

The corridor was empty of everyone but the guards. He went into the observation room, knowing who he’d find.

Jane was sitting on the desk, staring down at the floor, swinging his legs back and forth. He had that expression he got when his mind was racing full speed, trying to keep up with the conclusions, the connections.

Cho sat next to him. “Well?”

“When did you visit Oxford.”

“I didn’t. I saw an episode of Rick Steve’s Travels.”

Jane came out of his daze and laughed. He looked over and leaned into him, bumping shoulders. “Nice job.”

“Thanks.”

“You let me down, though.”

Cho frowned. “How?”

“I bet Patel you’d break him in two minutes.”

“What did she bet?”

“Twenty-five.”

“You’re kidding?” That was more than a little insulting.

“Nope.”

“How long did it take?

“Two minutes and thirteen seconds. She was suitably impressed. Enough that you can expect her to chat you up later on.”

“She’s married.”

“She is,” Jane said with a shrug. “But she was quite smitten with you.” He bumped their shoulders again. “I was too. You’re sexy when you’re interrogating someone.”

Cho shifted from side to side and there was a moment, brief but intense, where he pictured himself doing more. Pushing Jane to his back and climbing on top. Or, the reverse, falling back, pulling Jane with him, spreading his legs so Jane had a place to rest…

He closed his eyes and pushed the images away because he’d had Wednesday, and they couldn’t do it again. And for all its soundproofing, this room wasn’t private. Any minute now, someone could come barging through the door.

So he said casually, to move the conversation on to safer topics, “Did you guess? About Roberts being at the Catamaran Club?”

Jane shook his head. “No, even that one caught me by surprise.”

“Huh.”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” Jane said with another smile, then stood up and stretched, bending this way and that. “You going after Engert next?”

Cho stood as well, following him out the door. “No. I want to give Roberts another minute or so, then try some more. What we’ve got right now is nothing compared to what we can get. He’s the weak link.”

“Need any help?”

“Sure. If it’s okay with Lisbon.”

“It will be.”

***

It wasn’t. Lisbon had been talking with Patel about the interview when Cho and Jane came in. She listened to his report and Jane’s reasoning, then shook her head. “No. If anyone sits in, it will be the Director or I.” She craned her head to the bullpen where Luckner was filling Blount in with the results of the first interrogation.

“Lisbon, give me a chance. Cho and I make a great team.”

“It’s up to you, Agent Lisbon,” Patel said quietly, “but I think would be a good idea.”

Lisbon frowned. “Why?”

“If what Agent Cho says is true, if Mr. Roberts knows of Mr. Jane, maybe that will speed things along and that’s my primary concern.”

“What do you mean?” Cho asked before Lisbon could.

Patel nodded at Luckner. “Right now my boss is telling your boss that Engert and Roberts are to be shipped back to England as soon as possible. That in accordance with our many extradition treaties, the U.S. must comply. I’d prefer it if that didn’t happen.”

“Why?”

“Because this group has killed scores of people across the European Union and who knows how many more in other countries. My boss is…”

She hesitated and looked down at her hands. She turned her wedding ring a few times before continuing, “He’s very good at what he does, but the Red Men have always been one step ahead. It’s my belief that they’re more vulnerable in the States, that they’re not used to your tactics and because of that they’ll make a mistake. It was here that one of their own died, probably at the hands of their own leader. As far as we know, that’s the first time anything like that has happened. Something must have flustered them.”

She looked up at Jane. “I too believe that this group should pay for what they’ve done, Mr. Jane. But unlike you, whether they begin their penance here or back at home, it makes no difference to me.” She turned back to Lisbon. “What does matter to me is that we get a confession we can move on. That we can shut them down, finally.”

There was a long, long pause as Lisbon weighed Patel’s soft words, as she weighed her intent. Finally, she sat back and nodded. “Cho, take Jane in now. I’ll handle Luckner when he flies off the handle. Van Pelt is getting as much information on Roberts as we can. She already has some details. If she comes up with anything else, I’ll bring it to you. Go.”

Cho nodded and with Jane at his side, hurried out.

***

Jane got the sheet on Roberts while Cho stopped by the kitchen to grab a bottle of water and one of the sandwiches still in the refrigerator. As they walked down the hall, side by side, Jane’s smile grew and when they got to the door, he gave Cho a brilliant grin. He was practically vibrating with excitement and Cho had to school his expression to inscrutable before they went in.

Roberts was slumped over the table, head on folded arms and for a minute Cho thought, ‘shit, he managed to kill himself,’ before he realized that he was just asleep. It was a crazy reaction—Roberts would have gone through the most rigorous search. There was no way he would’ve managed to smuggle in a suicide tablet.

He exchanged glances with Jane, then pulled the chair back, dragging it hard enough that it made a loud screech. Roberts jumped and sat up, bleary-eyed, looking from one to the other.

“You said you were hungry.” Cho handed him the sandwich and the water, then sat down. Jane remained standing, just to his left like so many times before, giving Cho an odd sense of completion and strength. He’d been right when he told Lisbon that they made a great team and this was why.

Roberts didn’t take the food. He was staring at Jane like he’d stared at the recorder—as if Jane was something to be afraid of.

“Go on,” Jane urged, not looking up as he read the sheet. “It’s not poisoned.”

“I’m not hungry now.”

“Ah…” Jane waved his words away and handed the paper to Cho. “Of course you are. See? You’ve already given yourself away.” He pointed to Roberts’ hand, which had crept forward like it had a mind of its own.

Roberts snatched his hand away. Cho didn’t smile, didn’t move. There was something going on here, something that Jane had picked up on that he couldn’t see yet. He glanced at the bio. All it said was that Roberts had done some post-grad work in Prague with a security firm and then had quit unexpectedly in 2009. He’d fallen off the grid after that.

“It’s okay,” Jane reassured. “I won’t tell on you.”

“Tell who what?”

“That whatever training you had wasn’t enough.”

Roberts looked down at his hands. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jane grabbed a chair and dragged to the end of the desk and sat down. Too close and Roberts jerked back. Jane cocked his head. “Can I hold your hand?”

Roberts glanced back and forth between Cho and Jane, confused. “What? No.”

“It’s nothing disagreeable. I’m not going to try to seduce you or anything like that,” Jane said, smiling into Roberts’ eyes, leaning into his space and Cho remembered, ‘a lot of them were men who wanted the same thing from me, only they didn’t know it,’ remembered his own instantaneous, furious jealousy.

“I don’t want—”

“It won’t hurt, I promise,” Jane murmured, and he was already reaching, already touching, sliding his fingers over Roberts’ wrist. “See? That’s all.”

“If you’re trying to take my pulse, it won’t work.”

“No, that’s not what I’m doing. I don’t need to touch you to read how furious your heart is beating. The vein in your throat is throbbing so much, Ican practically hear your heartbeat from here.”

Roberts clapped his free hand over his throat just as Jane asked, “Where did you get your training from?”

“Nowhere.”

“Because it’s not perfect,” Jane went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “I imagine if I could have examined Mr. Littlefield, the story would be different, but you? You’re barely adequate. Now people like me–and there are a few in the world—we could see through you in two minutes flat, but—”

Roberts tried to jerk away, but Jane held on. “Ah-ah. We’re not done yet.”

“Are you trying to hypnotize me? Because that won’t work, either.”

“Now who told you that I can hypnotize people? Mr. Engert?”

“No. Imean, everyone knows what you do, right? You’re like a magician?”

“No, not like a magician. I am a magician.”

“There’s no such thing as magic.”

“Of course there is. Not like you see on TV, but yes, magic exists—ways to confuse the eyes and the senses.”

“Like you did at the club with that Mashburn fellow?”

Jane didn’t miss a beat. “Exactly like. I used sleight of hand, yes, but also, I’m good at reading people. For example, you’re giving off all sorts of visual cues. Not everyone would see them but I can. I know that you’re afraid of your boss. That you’re afraid of the man down the hall. And that you’re not a killer.”

Roberts nodded vigorously. “No, I’m not. I’ve never killed anyone in my life.” He stopped pulling away and leaned towards Jane. “I told him when he first asked, no killing. I said it and I meant it. It was all right for the others, but not for me.”

“Of course not.” Jane had begun to stroke Roberts’ wrist with his thumb, a tiny, slow movement. Cho shifted in his chair, but said nothing. “You may know computers—they recruited you when they invaded that lair of hackers, right?”

Roberts shrugged and didn’t pull away.

“But you don’t know how to kill.”

“That’s right. I told them.”

“And I bet he didn’t listen.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“And by then it was too late. By then you were in—lock, stock, and barrel.”

“Yeah, I was. I tried to get out, once I learnt what was going on.”

“I’m sure you did.”

“But it was too late.”

“And it was fun, wasn’t it?” Jane smiled impishly. “Being bad. Stealing things and hacking into computers you weren’t supposed to touch. You never really hurt anyone, did you?”

“No, never.”

“You just wanted to test your own skills. You’d never hurt anyone, not like the others.”

“No, never. Luke tried to get me to shoot a guy in Liverpool, just for no reason, but I called Mark up that night and told him—”

Roberts ground to a halt, hearing what he’d said. There was a moment of nothing and then his eyes widened and he shoved Jane away, springing to his feet. His chair hit the far wall and he lurched for the door.

But Cho was good at reading signs too and he was already there. He tackled Roberts, ramming him into the wall, face first.

“Stop,” he said calmly. “There are guards outside and on every exit. There’s nowhere to go.”

The door swung open and Lisbon charged in, gun drawn. Cho shook his head, saying silently, ‘It’s okay. I’ve got this.’ She nodded, holstered her weapon, and left.

Roberts was panting like he’d run a mile so Cho gave it another minute, using his weight to calm him down. He looked around, asking Jane without words if he was okay. Jane was holding his arm, but he waved Cho’s concern away.

“That was stupid and pointless,” Jane said. “You have to know that.”

“I had to try.”

Jane came closer. “Why?”

“Because he’d kill me if I didn’t try.”

“Like he killed Mathias?”

“Who’s Mathias?”

“What do you mean, who’s Mathias? He was your predecessor.”

“No, he wasn’t. The guy before me was named Mathew, not Mathias.”

Jane paused and glanced quickly at Cho, but all he said was, “So he’d kill you?”

Roberts closed his eyes and collapsed against the wall, forcing Cho to hold him up instead of holding him down.

“Why?” Jane repeated.

“Because he does that to anyone that betrays him.”

“The other Mathew hadn’t betrayed him.”

“Yeah, he had. Mark told me so.”

“What were you doing in Atlanta?”

Roberts sighed, but he answered readily enough, “We were going to steal some doctor’s laptop. I wanted to go to San Francisco to do a hack because I’m better than that other Mathew, but no, we had to do an exchange. ”

“Would this be a Dr. Sanset?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“How many associates has John killed?”

“I don’t know. Just Mathew, I think, but who knows?”

Listening to Roberts talk about the other Mathew when an hour ago they were calling him Mathew was a little surreal and Cho took a breath to ask him about that when Jane, only inches away, shook his head.

He nodded and straightened up, pulling Roberts with him. “C’mon. Sit back down.”

“Yeah, okay.”

 Jane dragged Roberts’ chair back to the desk. “Here you go.”

Cho escorted him to the desk and Roberts dropped down and reached for the water.

As he unscrewed the top, he squinted up at Jane. “You’re nicer than he said you’d be.”

Jane was tugging his chair back to the table and he paused, but so quickly that Cho doubted if anyone else would notice. “People misjudge me all the time.”

“Why?”

Jane sat and crossed his legs, clasping his hands around his knee. “I make them nervous because I can see inside their heads.”

Roberts nodded, as if confirming knowledge he already had.

“But you don’t need to worry about that. I’m not going to bother you any more. Soon, you’ll be on your way back to England and out of our hair.”

It wasn’t a friendly comment, but Roberts smiled for the first time. A bitter, sarcastic smile that didn’t hide the fear. “Thanks for your concern, Mr. Jane, but you don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be dead before I get on the plane.”

Whatever Jane would have answered was lost. The door opened and Lisbon leaned in. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes almost sparkled with anger.

Cho tightened his lips—he knew what she was going to say before she said it.

 

 

Part 1 . Part 2 . Part 3