I WAS familiar with the sense of devastation the loss of a loved one could bring. I’d first experienced it when my father had been killed in the crash of that jetliner in India when I was thirteen.
Later it was there when my grandparents passed away.
I was familiar with it to a lesser degree when a colleague wouldn’t make it home from a mission.
But Mark Vincent wasn’t family. He might be considered a colleague in that we both worked in the intelligence community, but Jesus God, we weren’t friends. Granted he was more than an acquaintance, and certainly we’d—I’d—been enjoying this game we’d been playing for the past month or so. So often I was seen as the Ice Man, and of course that was fine, that was who I was, but I was also a flesh and blood man, and Vincent seemed to see me that way.
Perhaps that explained my reaction to the knowledge that he was dead, that his death had been caused by something as fucking stupid as undoing the locks of his door in the wrong sequence, resulting in an explosion—
All that vibrant, snarky energy snuffed out.
Yes, perhaps that explained it.
And yet, in spite of how he could irritate me at times, I refused to believe it—the man was too crafty, too cunning, to be that careless—and in the morgue I’d kept reiterating it couldn’t be his body. No matter what the lab technician said, how could someone six three appear six inches shorter in death?
David Brendan “DB” Cooper was not only a fellow officer, but a friend as well, and we’d known each other for a long time. He’d accompanied me to the morgue, and he and the tech were in the midst of trying to convince me when Vincent came sauntering into the morgue, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t his body lying there. I’d nearly been overcome by relief, followed closely by a wave of lust so powerful I’d never felt its like before. I’d wanted to throw myself on him, topple him to the cold tiled floor, and bury myself in his body to reassure myself he was really alive.
I hadn’t, of course. Manns didn’t do things like that; the Ice Man didn’t do things like that. I’d reined in my emotions, said coolly, “Glad to know it wasn’t you, Vincent. Let’s go, DB. Good evening, gentlemen,” and I’d left the room, a perfect exit.
I stood outside the morgue, taking deep, calming breaths, which, while they were deep enough, did nothing to calm me.
It took me a minute to realize DB wasn’t behind me, and I dithered. I had no intention of going back in there to face Vincent again—how anticlimactic. The only thing that aided me in keeping my composure was the knowledge that Vincent had no idea how… troubled… I’d been.
Why the fuck hadn’t DB followed me? I had no desire to stand here in the hall waiting for him.
DB came out before I had to make a decision.
“What took you so long?”
“All right.” He hunched a shoulder. “I just let him know that I wasn’t glad it wasn’t him who was dead.”
I would have taken him to task over that. Needless to say, the CIA and the Washington Bureau of Intelligence and Security weren’t bosom buddies, but we were on the same side. However, DB was watching me carefully, and I decided it was better to let the matter ride for now.
Fortunately, when he saw I had no intention of challenging him, he let it drop. “Are you up to driving?”
“Don’t of course me. I saw how shaken you were.” Then again, perhaps he wasn’t letting it drop. “I’m telling you, Quinn, if there’s anyone who deserves to be canceled with extreme prejudice, it’s Mark Vincent! The son of a bitch doesn’t even have the courtesy to stay dead, goddammit!” We took the elevator up to the first floor and went out to the parking lot.
“No, but he wouldn’t be Mark Vincent then, would he?” I breathed out a silent sigh of relief. I had myself under control once more.
He scowled at me. “Let’s go. I’ve got better things to do than hang around the morgue.”
We got into my Lexus, and I drove back to the Rib Shack, where DB’s car was parked.
“Come on. I’m buying you a drink.”
“Excuse me?” All I wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep for twenty years. “I don’t need—”
“Quinn, get out of the goddamned car before I’m tempted to kick your ass!”
“There’s no need to be so—” My cell phone rang, and I took it out and stared at the screen for a moment.
“You gonna answer that?”
“It can wait until later.” I wasn’t going to tell him it was Mark.
“Okay. Now, come on, Quinn. Have a drink with me.” He was good at wheedling.
“Oh, very well.” Suddenly I wasn’t quite so exhausted. We went into a little bar down the street from the Rib Shack, found a small booth, and gave the waiter our orders—Jack Daniels for DB, ginger ale for me.
DB arched an eyebrow at me, but waited until the man left to get our drinks before saying, “There, you see?”
“You ordered a ginger ale.”
“I’m quite aware of what I ordered. Has a law suddenly been passed?”
He scowled at me. “I’m worried about you, Quinn.”
“Why? You’re my friend, goddammit! And for half an hour, we thought Mark Vincent was dead. Shouldn’t I worry when I’ve never seen you so shaken up before?”
“Quinn.” His look was impatient.
“DB, the man has a well-deserved reputation. As you said, it was like the end of an era.’”
“I don’t remember saying that. Are you sure?”
“You know some of our younger officers regard him as something akin to Keyser Söze.”
The waiter brought our drinks and set them on the table before us, buying me some time, and I shrugged, thinking fast. “Well, perhaps it was just that on top of a stressful week.”
“Stressful how?” As I’d hoped, he’d risen to the bait.
“Drum called again.” Major Jonathan Drum II worked out of the Pentagon, and he was an even bigger pain in my ass than Mark Vincent.
“That—what did he want?”
“What he usually wants: another favor. I wasn’t home, so he had to leave a message. Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased. He’s got quite an interesting vocabulary.” Lately it had seemed to me he was calling more frequently. Drum worked for the Office of the Inspector General and was a smart lawyer, but he was also good-looking, and he often got by on those looks. I didn’t mind helping out on occasion, but now it was as if he expected me to drop everything to do his bidding. I wasn’t about to permit him or anyone else to use me.
“Son of a bitch. Why doesn’t he do his own legwork?” Fortunately, DB’s question was purely rhetorical. He picked up his drink and finished it in a few gulps.
“You’d better take it easy, David. The last thing you need is to get stopped for driving under the influence.”
“I’m okay. It’s you I’m worried about.”
“There’s no need. I’m fine.” I pushed back my sleeve to check the watch that had been my grandfather’s—I’d been touched when Uncle Bryan had given it to me, telling me Grandfather had specifically requested I have it. “It’s getting late, and I’d better go.” I wanted to find out why Mark had called. “Are you staying?”
“No.” He reached for his wallet.
I stopped him, took out mine, and peeled off a bill, which I handed to the waiter. “Keep the change.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You should have let me get this, Quinn. After all, Jack Daniels is more expensive than ginger ale.” He followed me out of the bar.
“I can afford it. Besides, it’s only fair. I feel as if I ruined your evening.”
“Not your fault things got exciting there for a bit. And you were right, much as I hate to admit it. Vincent wouldn’t do something as dumb as blowing himself up. Although I can still dream.”
“You—we—may not like him, but you have to give the man his due. He does get the job done.” I unlocked the door to my car and got in.
“Yeah, only people die when he does.” He leaned down, keeping me from shutting the door, and gave me one last warning. “Call me when you get home, Quinn. Or by God I’ll come knocking on your door!”
“Yes, Mother. You drive carefully too.” I grinned at him, and fortunately the light was dim enough that he didn’t see how forced it was. I was relieved when he chuckled and shut the door.
I put the car into drive and started home, wondering again why Mark had tried to call me.