Reaper stood before the plate glass window with his hands clasped behind his back. Parade rest was always the most comfortable position for him to calculate where to go next. The soft ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner of his office was the metronome against which his thoughts formed orderly lines.
Already, there were too many balls in the air. Three had already been near misses, and one had yet to reach his hands after being tossed. He had handled Jerry’s problem by telling him to move the injured man to another hotel. Jerry would keep him unconscious for a few hours before bringing him around and convincing him to join the team.
Reaper had smacked Cerberus on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. Always the prima donna, Greg Chan needed to be reminded occasionally this was not his show and he would not be allowed the leeway to which he had grown accustomed. His skill set would be instrumental in the ending of this project.
Before leaving the morgue, Cerberus had given his report to Reaper over the telephone and dropped a few bits of information into the mix. Bev’s chip was missing. Enough of the hand remained to reveal it had been removed pre-mortem. Stephen was fairly certain he knew who would have done that.
Cranston was nowhere to be found. On any other mission, this would not have alarmed him. This time was different. Despite all his best efforts, Tara was insistent on this man. He had promised her mother he would do better for Tara than allowing a man like Cranston into her life.
As the memory tried to form, Reaper pushed it away. This was not the time to devote to it. There was a far bigger problem to tackle.
The thought of a leak in his office was enough to make his blood boil. Being loyal to the assignment was something he expected of all of his agents. The content Kalin had provided made the sender obvious. It would not take a linguist to tie the emails to the leak. The best Reaper could hope for was compliance until the end of the mission, but in the meantime, he intended to use the leak to spin the story where he needed it to go.
Paulston turned from the window and settled behind his leather-topped mahogany desk. The behemoth had been his great-grandfather’s pride and joy. Before he opened the laptop, he stroked the top of the blotter. It grounded him, giving him the clarity he needed.
Once onto the server, Stephen began typing:
1824 Cranston MIA
Maxwell delayed. To report by 2100.
Miller and M Matthews stationary UFN.
Intell on J Strickland Jr and M Strickland inconsistent. Kalin to report on J Strickland Sr 1900.
Cannon location still UNK.
Reaper closed the computer. Across town Kalin smiled when she read the notes. He had baited the trap with bloody meat. The circled wolves would be easier to trap.
Buford Alistair had his ankles crossed on the credenza while he ate a pastrami sandwich over the brief he was reading in his lap. Sauerkraut dripped onto the papers. He made no effort to wipe it away.
His petite, blond secretary ducked into his office, closing the door quietly behind herself. She was ashen. Ford shot her a perplexed look. “They are here.” He nodded, swallowing the bulge in his mouth and motioning for her to let them in his office. She swung the door wide and scooted out the moment the Strickland brothers were walking toward Ford’s desk.
“Good evening, gentlemen. What can I do for you?” Ford wiped his mouth on a linen handkerchief as he shook hands with each of them. Mark took a seat across the desk. Jack went to pace at the far end of the office.
“I think we need some advice,” Mark began. He looked down at his hands and picked at one of his fingernails.
“No, what we need is an army.” Jack’s tone was stressed and his voice nearly cracked. “I knew that lawyer was going to be trouble the moment he blew into town. I knew we should’ve killed him before he got his name in the papers.”
“Jack, you know the rules. You cannot tell me about any wrongdoing. You can only tell me what you have been accused of. I cannot defend you if you tell me you are guilty.” Ford resisted the urge to rub his forehead. He felt the makings of a migraine just thinking about how stupid Jack really was.
“I didn’t admit a thing. I just said what we should’ve done. Not what we did.” Jack turned his back and mumbled to himself. Ford was grateful not to understand the muttering.
Mark tried to make the visit productive. “Dean showed back up. Dad told us to tell you if he came back. I saw him, but I don’t know where he went.”
“What business could he have here?” Ford knew the trouble John had gone to in order to keep Dean away from the last shipment of weapons. Whatever instinct John had about Dean was lost on Ford. He had never been able to turn up any evidence Dean was not precisely who he said he was.
“He’s back here to see what else he can steal,” Jack’s voice neared the cracking point. Ford wondered what was beneath the surface, but knew not to ask.
“Jack, we never proved he stole anything.” Ford wondered why he even bothered to go over this with Jack again.
“That just means the bastard is good at it.” Jack went back to his pacing. It reminded Ford of the panthers prowling back and forth behind the bars on the zoo cages.
Ford turned back to Mark. “Why did your father think I should know when Dean got back to town?”
“So you can arrange to have him killed,” Mark said without looking up from the hangnail. Ford stared blankly at the man. Not one word sunk in, despite all of them registering in his ears.
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