THE scratch of the Montblanc pen whispered in the quiet, well-appointed office. Thick stone walls and double-paned bulletproof glass worked to dampen the traffic noise of downtown Washington, DC, and sumptuous carpet and soundproofing in the walls kept his office a haven of solitude amidst one of the busiest cities in the world.
Richard Burns, executive assistant director of the Criminal Investigative Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, flipped through page after page, initialing and signing. The Bureau may have moved into the digital age, but paperwork still made the gears turn. With a sniff, he closed the folder and tossed it into his outbox for his assistant to pick up. At least he didn’t have to write out his full title every time.
He was reaching to replace the fountain pen in its box when the buzzer on his phone interrupted him.
“Security just called, sir. You have a visitor,” his assistant’s tinny voice announced over the speaker.
“Who is it? I don’t have any appointments until two.”
“The ID provided is for a Mr. Randall Jonas. Central Intelligence Agency.”
Burns looked at the phone in surprise. “Send him through,” he said as he stood and began straightening his tie and suit jacket.
It took five minutes, give or take, and the buzzer went off again. “Sir, the escort is here with Mr. Jonas.”
Burns walked around his desk to greet his old friend when he came through the door. Randall Jonas had been one of three men in Burns’ original Marine Corps squadron who had returned from Vietnam. Earl Grady was the other. They were like his brothers, and Burns would never turn down a surprise visit from one of them. But when the door opened and Jonas was shown into his office, Burns knew immediately that something was wrong.
“You look like hell,” he said before he could think of a more appropriate way to say it.
Jonas nodded. “With good reason.”
Jonas didn’t look at all like the sharp CIA section chief Burns saw for an occasional drink at an upscale DC bar. Jonas looked worn, mussed around the edges, wild around the eyes. He was a large man with a lantern jaw, trending toward heavy in recent years, with gunmetal gray hair and eyes that were a washed out brown. He was usually full of good humor and charm, more a mischievous gnome than a spook. Right now, though, he looked like a bear being chased through the woods by bigfoot.
Burns offered him a hand to shake and then gestured toward the leather sofa in the corner of his office. “Forgive me for skipping over the pleasantries, but it seems like you might want me to. What’s happened?”
Jonas dragged a hand through his hair. “I really stepped in something nasty, Dick. I was about five minutes from being detained at Langley,” he said as he thumped onto the couch and pulled at the knot of his tie.
“You what?” Burns sat down across from Jonas.
“I came across something I was never meant to see. Long story short, someone within the Company has been using government assets to pull personal jobs for profit, and then offing the assets when they got wise. They turned the CIA into a hit service.”
“There was some paperwork that made me suspicious, so I started snooping around. And when I followed the trail, that son of a bitch led right back to me.”
Burns blinked at him. “What?”
“Richard, focus for me here. Someone’s setting me up to take the fall for ordering private hits. I found out before they got everything in place. So I picked up and ran.” Jonas waved a hand, dismissing any further detail of his escape from Langley.
Burns nodded, frowning hard. Abuse of power happened in the alphabet agencies just like anywhere else. Only it usually ended with death and destruction instead of bankruptcy, bailouts, or moving a factory to China.
“Someone within the CIA is eating their own. And you’re the fall guy. I gather following the trail in reverse can’t prove your innocence.”
“No, they’re just notes from one lackey to another, issuing orders,” Jonas said, leaning forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “It’s bad, Dick. I’m being framed for misuse of resources, running operations on my own authority, unsanctioned elimination of personnel, and if it really goes bad, treason. I’d definitely be put in jail for the rest of my natural life. That’s if whoever is responsible doesn’t just come after me as well. Assets are being cleaned. People are losing their lives.”
“I need some help, and you’re the only one I trust right now.”
Burns realized he was staring, and he nodded curtly. He knew this man, had known him for the better part of forty years, and he knew if Jonas said it, it was the truth. Even if he was a damn spook. “What do you need?”
“I need a contact brought in.”
“From what details I was able to pull together before I ran, there’s just one guy still alive who has the information needed to point to the bastard in charge of all this. They tried to clean him a year ago, but he got away.” Jonas shook his head. “They’ve been eliminating agents, Dick. Agent and handler teams going down or disappearing—for a couple of years now. Slowly, almost randomly, and I can’t say I would have caught on without coming across that file and getting suspicious.”
Jonas nodded as he sat up and then leaned back, looking truly miserable. “I’ve worked my ass off for the Company, Dick. I’m not going to let it go down this way. There’s a cell inside, one that’s not sanctioned and not supervised. I’m not sure how high it goes, other than too high if they’re gunning for me.”
“Do you have the stats on this contact? The one with the information?”
“Sort of. He went dark over a year ago. I’ve been in touch with his former handler.”
“Okay. We’ll get him pegged down and then I’ll send an agent after him. We’ll bring this to someone we can trust.”
“You can’t dispatch FBI resources, Dick. They’ll be monitoring everything.”
Burns raised an eyebrow at the paranoia, but that was a spook for you.
“Look, Richard, I don’t know much about your operations, other than the CIA uses you and whatever assets you’ve cultivated over here for certain jobs. I know you’ve got the means to do this off the board.”
Burns pursed his lips and scratched at his nose, trying to hide the discomfort. “I might know someone. I’ll mobilize him. And until we can get this mystery asset of yours in, you’ll stay here. Even the CIA isn’t going to storm FBI headquarters to get to you. Who’s the contact?”
“He’s a foreign national named Julian Cross. Records say he’d been taken out, but then he popped back up on the radar and rumor was he was still alive. When I talked to Blake Nichols, his former handler, he confirmed Cross is alive. For now. But he can’t get Cross to come in.” Jonas tapped his fingers on the arm of the couch, visibly agitated. “I have an address, and I can only hope this guy has the information I need. He’s the only one who could have it. All the others are dead.”
“Julian Cross,” Burns muttered as he scratched at his chin. “Why does that name sound familiar?”
Burns stood and went to his desk, waking his computer to type in a search. It returned nothing. But he knew the name. He tapped in a code and then searched again. This time the computer searched through a cache of hidden files, and it popped up with one file.
Burns snorted when he scanned the information contained in the file. Paris. Of course. He looked at Jonas. “Give me all the information you have. I’m putting my best man on it,” he said as he pulled a cell phone out of a locked drawer.
“If Cross doesn’t know who was giving those kill orders, no one does. But I have a feeling he put everything together and he thinks it was the CIA trying to kill him. That’s why he went off the grid. He won’t be easy to bring in,” Jonas said as he walked over to the desk, pulling a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. “This is it. Name, contacts, addresses. And your man should know Cross is a high-level federal asset and wet works operative—considered armed and extremely dangerous. He’s… very capable”
Burns nodded as he dialed, and he couldn’t help but smile. “They’ll get along famously.”
I’m sorry. Walls are closing in and I need to go.
ZANE sat straight up in the bed, soaked in sweat, ears ringing as his lover’s name echoed off the walls. He had been dreaming, his mind taking him back to Ty’s living room and the dance they had shared. Ty’s name was still on his lips. He could still smell him and feel his arms around him as they swayed together. But that had been over a week ago.
It seemed he could still hear the music.
Zane shuddered and leaned over to grab up his cell phone. He swiped the screen to answer the call, interrupting the ringtone. “Ga-Garrett.”
The smooth voice struck Zane hard enough that he fell back onto one elbow, struggling to swallow the butterflies. He was too caught up in the dream. He wasn’t sure he was awake at all.
“Ty?” he said after too long a pause. It sounded plaintive. He rubbed his hand over his face.
“You sound horrible. Are you okay?”
Zane shook his head, and his gaze fell on the shaft of moonlight that painted the wall across the room. He tried to focus his eyes on it. It was just enough to provide a soft blue glow in the room. He wiped a hand across his forehead. It came away damp. “I… where the fuck have you been?”
“Calm down and I’ll tell you.”
Zane growled. He leaned over and groped for the almost empty bottle of water on the nightstand. It was tepid, but he took a few swallows anyway. “Calm down, my ass. Where are you?”
“Well,” Ty said, the word drawn out. Zane recognized the tone of voice Ty used when he was trying to figure out how to explain something that didn’t happen to normal people. “I’ve been told I’m in Tennessee. Or Kentucky. It wasn’t really clear. That’s not why I called.”
“Are you in one piece?” Zane asked. He curled his free hand into the sheet.
“So far. But listen, Zane, I don’t have much time. I got a call from Burns.”
Zane shivered and shifted back to lean against the headboard. That meant Ty wasn’t coming home any time soon, Zane was sure of it. When he spoke, his voice was dark and just barely controlled. “I’m listening.”
Ty was silent for a moment. “I miss you,” he said. He sounded wrecked, which didn’t help Zane feel any better. “But I have to go dark. He didn’t give me a choice this time.”
It was on the tip of Zane’s tongue to demand an explanation, but the regret in Ty’s voice stopped him. With anyone else, this conversation would have been ludicrous. Zane rubbed at his eyes. He’d only gone to bed a couple of hours ago, and far earlier in the evening than normal. Ty wouldn’t have expected to wake him.
“You scared the hell out of me, Ty.”
“I know,” Ty said, and though he sounded sympathetic, he didn’t necessarily sound contrite. “But I had to go. I don’t….”
Zane had known Ty wasn’t himself after their two weeks of hell. Zane had known, and he’d hoped to have the chance to help once they’d both caught their breath. But Ty’s midnight exit had upset that plan. Frustration and anger swamped Zane again, drowning his brief feeling of relief. “Do you know what I thought when I woke up without you?”
“Hopefully that you couldn’t wait to see me again? I left you a note,” Ty said, voice hopeful.
“Yeah, and you know what? It didn’t help!” Zane said, giving up on trying to be understanding. “That’s not something you want to find when you wake up to what’s supposed to be the first day of the rest of your life!”
“The what, now?”
Zane groaned, turned sideways, and flopped down onto his side. He pulled a pillow over his head and then talked anyway. His words came out muffled and stilted. “Beaumont. Tyler. Grady.”
“Wait, whoa, full names? What the hell, Garrett?”
“I told you I loved you, and the next day you were gone.”
Ty was silent, but Zane could hear him breathing. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and hoarse. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think of that.”
“Did you think at all?”
“I love you, Zane. I do, and you know it. And when I get home, we’re going to sit down and talk this out. I promise.”
“I told you I loved you.”
“And I appreciated that.”
Zane pulled the pillow away and rolled onto his back to stare up through the dark at the ceiling. “I told you twice.”
“What the hell does Burns want now? You’re supposed to be on wellness leave.”
Ty didn’t answer for a long time, long enough that Zane checked the display on his phone to make sure the call was still connected. Then he heard Ty huff. “God, I love it when you’re cranky like this. Promise to still be pissed when I get home, okay?”
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
Ty laughed affectionately, and Zane’s body responded to the sound despite the anger still washing over him. Zane grunted. There was no denying that his exasperating lover would be able to charm his way out of this. Damn him. But Zane was by far too angry to let it go so easily. “Are you saying you knew I loved you before I said it?”
“Come on, Zane. I’m a trained profiler. You really think I can’t tell when someone’s head over heels in love? You were just crunching the numbers.”
“The first time I told you—”
“You were scared shitless.”
Zane was silent. He wanted to deny it, but Ty was right. The day Ty had danced with him in his living room, he’d told Ty he loved him before he’d even realized the words were slipping out.
“You were terrified as soon as it came out, weren’t you?” Ty asked.
“If I hadn’t given you an out, what would you have done?”
Zane closed his eyes.
“You would have freaked out. And you were already freaking out anyway. Do you know how much it hurt to dismiss that? But you weren’t ready. And I needed you to say it for you. Not for me.”
Zane sniffed, feeling somewhat mollified. “Jesus, Ty. You know me too well.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Head over heels, huh?” Zane’s lips twitched into a very reluctant smile, and he rubbed at them, then dragged his fingers through the dark beard he’d let grow in during the past weeks as he’d been blind. He was still angry, but he tamped it down for the moment, just relieved to hear Ty’s voice. “What else do you know about me?”
Ty hummed. “I know you’re sleeping in my bed right now.”
Zane glanced around Ty’s bedroom and sighed. Dammit. “I’m still upset,” he muttered, not admitting anything. “I understand you were strung out, but goddamn, Ty. You could’ve said something, you could have talked to me about it instead of just—”
“I have no excuse. Sometimes I’m a selfish asshole.”
Dregs of the scare still sloshed through Zane, enough that he didn’t want to let it go, but he knew it wouldn’t solve anything to harp at Ty over the phone. He sighed instead. “What did Burns want?” he asked in a more even tone, knowing it was a question he wouldn’t have asked a week ago.
“I’m sorry, Zane,” Ty said, refusing to answer.
Zane’s jaw clenched. For good or for bad, Zane knew the drill. “You were ordered to go dark?”
“Meaning immediate deployment off the grid, no contact with noncombatants, no trail to trace, no idea when you’ll be back.”
“I had to call you.”
Zane swallowed hard as that sank in. With this call, Ty was breaking protocol and disobeying a direct order, something Zane knew Ty didn’t take lightly. All sorts of responses crowded on his tongue before a wry observation won out. “I hope there’s not a trace on your phone, or we’re seriously busted.”
“Quite frankly, Zane, I don’t care if we are,” Ty said with conviction. “Not anymore.”
“Grady,” Zane said, throat aching. “Do what you have to and then get your ass home.”
“I’m sorry, Zane. I’ll make this up to you.
“There better be groveling involved,” Zane muttered.
The call disconnected. Zane was left with silence and a sudden overwhelming sense of helplessness and worry. Ty was out there working a job alone, and Zane didn’t know any more now than he had a day ago. He swallowed hard and let the hand holding the phone fall to the side. After several minutes of focusing on trying to sort the upset from the lingering anger and not having much luck, he climbed out of the bed, yanked the sweaty sheets off the mattress, and headed down to the basement to put them in the washer.
He needed a shower and some iced tea—preferably from Long Island, but that wasn’t a good idea, so instant mix would do. He just hoped he could find enough work to keep him distracted until Ty returned and he could kick his ass.
RANDALL JONAS sat on Dick Burns’ couch with his head in his hands. There was a cot in the corner with pillows and folded blankets where he’d been sleeping, and there were whispers going around the office about why Burns wasn’t taking meetings.
When the cell phone in his pocket rang, Jonas nearly jumped out of his skin. Burns bit his lip to keep from smiling. His old friend had been out of the game too long for this cloak and dagger stuff.
Burns glanced over at him from where he sat at his desk. The phone was a burn phone, the number only known to two people: Burns and Blake Nichols, Julian Cross’ former handler.
Jonas turned the speaker on with an obvious sense of relief. “Nichols,” he said in a grave voice
“I was able to get in touch with Julian Cross, sir. He understands the situation.”
“But he wants no part in it.”
“He told me that he’s out and intends to stay out, sir. He wants no part in any of it. He said if anyone is sent to pick him up, they’ll return in a body bag. Since you know where he is, he’s packing up right now and preparing to move.”
Jonas closed his eyes. Burns slid his palm across his mouth.
“Cross is my friend, sir,” Nichols’ voice said on the speaker. “I don’t want him hurt. But I also know that if this doesn’t end he’s going to be a target for the rest of his life.”
“What are you getting at?”
“I want assurances that after this is over, Julian will be left alone.”
“Your word will do.”
Jonas met Burns’ eyes across the office. “I’ll go to bat for him.”
“I suppose that will have to do. He won’t be easy to detain, but I may have a way.”
“What do you propose?”
“I can arrange for his boyfriend to be at home at a certain time. If he calls Julian, Julian will come and could possibly be detained. But it has to be today.”
“That can be done.”
“Julian won’t go gently.”
“We’re aware of that fact.”
“Even so. If I were you, sir, I’d sure as hell send more than one guy.”
THE heavy thuds of wrapped fists hitting a punching bag echoed off the concrete block walls, as did the soft grunts of effort coming from the man abusing it. The FBI Baltimore field office gym was almost empty in the very early morning. That just meant Special Agent Zane Garrett didn’t have to deal with people watching him beat the stuffing out of a bag.
He focused on his target, using hands, feet, arms, legs, whatever combination worked as he let his body attack and his mind empty. Then, after one vicious kick, the stationary bag swung backward and a deep oomph and a hard thump interrupted Zane’s concentration.
“Garrett, what’s good, man?” Special Agent Fred Perrimore muttered wryly from where he sprawled on his ass on the mat behind the punching bag he’d been holding in place.
Zane lowered his fists and wiped the trailing sweat from his forehead with the back of his forearm. “Sorry, Freddy. I figured you were paying attention.”
“I was!” the stout, muscled black man said from the floor.
Zane offered him a grin and a hand. He helped the man to his feet.
“Need to talk about the prickly thing that crawled up your ass and died?” Perrimore asked, rubbing his hip with one hand.
“What do you mean?” Zane asked as he walked to the nearby bench and picked up his towel.
“You’ve been pissed for days, Garrett. You’d think your fifteen minutes of fame would make you friendlier, but no.”
“Don’t talk about publicity with me.” Zane had not enjoyed the continued media attention after his touchdown run with a bomb at Green Mount Cemetery last week. His snowflake of a partner had been granted a reprieve, three days off work to deal with the mental fallout. But not Zane, no, because he had used up all his comp time being blind and helpless.
“I’m just glad Grady hasn’t been here. You two would be taking each other apart in the ring,” Perrimore said with a nod to the boxing ring in the middle of the gym. He sprayed his face with his water bottle. “How the hell does he have so much damn leave time, anyway? Is he on psych eval again?”
Zane shrugged. He’d been a little on edge ever since he woke up and found a good-bye letter in bed next to him instead of his lover. Zane didn’t even know if Ty’s little mental health trip had helped him. That phone call had been two days ago, and no Ty in sight.
“He needed some time after the building fell in on us,” Zane murmured.
“Hell, Zane, I don’t doubt that. I’d be shocked if he were here. In fact, I’m shocked that you’ve been here.” Perrimore crossed his arms and focused his disapproval on Zane. “You were blind for a week. And being in that building when it came down on you and Grady? You should have taken time too. The docs would have signed off on the leave, no question.”
Zane edged up one shoulder as he punched halfheartedly at the bag, watching it waver. “I had plenty of time to sit and think when I couldn’t see. I need to be doing something, even if it is just paperwork. Mac’s not letting me go out, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Perrimore said with a firm nod. “Because you’re mean. He can’t risk the PR nightmare if you were on the streets.”
Zane didn’t think his behavior had been that bad. “You’re exaggerating.”
“You told Clancy to take her pom-poms and go home.”
Zane wrinkled his nose. “She was going on about how great What’s-His-Name from Financial Crimes is.”
“Yeah, well, you probably ought to apologize.”
“I’m not apologizing when she’s dating the guy.” Zane’s phone, sitting on the bench with his towel, began to chime. He turned to pick it up.
“They hooked up? Michelle and What’s-His-Name?”
“Yeah. Keeping it quiet, though, so keep your mouth shut,” Zane said as he looked at his phone’s display. It was a Washington, DC number, one he didn’t know.
“Why is she dating a guy from Financial Crimes?” Perrimore asked. He sounded exasperated.
Zane shrugged and hit the button to answer the call. “Special Agent Zane Garrett.”
“Garrett, Burns here,” the caller said. He didn’t offer his title, even though it was an impressive one. He didn’t even offer a hello. “I need you on a plane in less than two hours.”
Zane figured he must have looked surprised, because Perrimore frowned and pointed at the phone, mouthing, “Who is it?”
Zane shook his head. “A plane to where?”
“Chicago, but I don’t have time to explain further. There will be information in your locker,” Burns said, sounding harried and impatient.
Zane glanced at the clock high on the wall. It was almost five in the morning. Normally a call at this time would have caught Zane still in bed. “Guess it’s a good thing I’m at the office.”
“Should I tap someone else for this, Agent Garrett?” Burns asked, his customary composure somewhat lacking. “Because I’ve got less than fifteen minutes to find my man a backup, and I recall that you used to be less talkative.”
Zane frowned. There was something weird about this. “No, sir. I can leave immediately.”
“You do that, then. Take a lesson from your partner, Zane. Every minute you spend being a smartass is one minute on the other side that you’re not there for someone who’s counting on you.” He ended the call without waiting for Zane’s response.
Zane pulled the phone from his ear and looked at it as if it might lunge and snap his head off. “What the hell?” Whatever had happened had Burns more riled than Zane had ever heard him. Zane looked at Perrimore. “I gotta go.” He grabbed his towel and took off at a run for the locker room.
“Hey, what’s going on? Garrett!” Perrimore called after him.
Zane didn’t stop to answer. He could be showered and dressed and in his truck in ten minutes. BWI wasn’t far away.