Authors: Fern Michaels
“You articulated that just perfectly, dear,” Myra said, her voice ringing with steel. The others high-fived each other, the signal that Charles had better not ask any more questions or voice any opinions. He didn't.
“I think it is time for all of us to retire. It's after midnight,” Yoko said. The others agreed. They all said good night to Charles, who was at his workstation. He gave a halfhearted wave and continued with what he was doing.
Back in the city, Maggie Spritzer was just about to open her front door when her cell phone rang. She powered on, not even bothering to see who her caller was.
“This is Emma Doty again, Miss Spritzer. I hope it's not too late to be calling you, but I just thought of something. Well, that's not exactly true. After I hung up from speaking with you, I called my friend Alice, she's Will's wife. She told me something I totally forgot about, and while it might not mean anything, I thought you might like to know.”
“I do, Mrs. Doty, and don't give the time another thought. What is it that you remembered?” She was inside now, kicking off her shoes and tossing her backpack into the corner. She headed straight for the fridge in the kitchen.
“Alice asked me if I remembered the year the Graversons inherited a piece of property in Florida. She said it was our junior year in high school, and Madeline Graverson's grandparents, who lived in Florida, died and left her the house. It's on some waterway. Neither of us can remember the name of it. It was really a big deal back then for someone in Idaho to inherit Florida property. That summer, when school was out, Gerald Graverson, that's Andy's father, decided the family would vacation in Florida. Of course, Andy went with them. We were all jealous. But he did bring us back plastic palm trees and jars of Florida sand. Maybe Andy still has the property, and if he's gone missing, he might be there. We just can't remember the name of the waterway.”
Maggie was so excited she could hardly breathe. “Could it be the Intercoastal?”
“I'm sorry, dear, I just don't remember. Alice did remember Andy's parents' names, though. Madeline and Gerald Graverson. Maybe you could check property records or something. And I spoke to my son, who said he could do as you asked and scan the pictures for you from where he works in the morning. Have I helped?” Emma Doty asked anxiously.
“Mrs. Doty, you have no idea. If you were here right now, I'd give you such a hug you'd squeal for mercy. I'm going to make this up to you. Thank you so much.”
Maggie's fist shot upward. A second later she had Annie on the phone. She talked so fast that Annie had to shout in her ear to slow down and start over, which she did.
In the kitchen, the phone to her ear, Annie motioned for Myra to stay behind when the others trooped off to the second floor.
Annie continued to listen, getting more excited by the minute as Maggie continued to rattle on. Finally, she said, “Of course, dear, whatever it takes. Absolutely, I agree with you. Everything she wants. Yes, yes, I understand she doesn't want anything. What I meant was, everything
think she needs. Uh, yes, scanner, printer, laptop, desktop, iPhone, iPod, BlackBerryâ¦whatever. Outfit the van with everything top-of-the-line. Pay the insurance for three years. We'll revisit that at a future date. Oh, and send her some flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. I'm sure they're in scarce supply in Idaho. Then again, maybe not. Just bill everything to the paper. I'll have Conrad take care of it tomorrow. Thank you, Maggie. Thank you so very much.”
Myra nervously fingered the pearls at her neck as she listened to Annie's end of the conversation. “Don't just stand there, what did Maggie say? Every word, Annie. You look just like the cat that swallowed a canary. What's up with all the high-tech communications stuff you were talking about, and who is it going to?”
“Myra, listen to me. Stop with the damn pearls already, okay? Those things that you and I fight over all the time are because we don't want anyone to know we don't know what they're talking aboutâ¦becauseâ¦we're too old and everyone knows you can't teach an old dog new tricks.”
“What are you trying to say, Annie, that we're too old?”
“The word you're looking for is
Myra. And if that's true, then Hank Jellicoe was right in thinking we're no threat to him.”
Her pearl lifeline forgotten with Annie's startling words, Myra stomped her foot. “Bull
“Attagirl, Myra. That's about as good as, âObsolete, my ass,' which was what I was going to say! I'm beginning to think you just might have the makings of a
Myra, a wicked look on her face, moved a little closer to Annie. “Well, what are we going to do about it, Annie?”
“I'm thinking, Myra, I'm thinking.”
lias Cummings let his mind drift as he tooled along. He wished he hadn't caved in to his wife and the ladies. It wasn't that he was a
because he did get a thrill when things got dicey with the ladies, and they called on him for his expertise. Not a small thrill, a rather big thrill, to be precise. He grinned when he thought about all the things the girlsâbetter to call them “girls” than the vigilantesâhad done even when it was just in his private thoughts. He could have used their chutzpah when he was director of the FBI. Not that he would ever admit it. He almost laughed out loud when he remembered the day that Nellie had finally confided that she was
one of them.
He'd almost blacked out, which didn't say much for him when she admitted to aiding and abetting the vigilantes. Retired federal court judge Cornelia Easter, Nellie to her friends, an honorary
member of that elite little group.
He literally did choke when he found out his acting director, Bert Navarro, was not only active in the group but a full-fledged member. Which explained more than he cared to know back then. He guffawed aloud inside the car when he recalled the day he'd gone to the White House to announce his retirement and plead Bert's case to the president. And it had worked. With all the Bureau's foibles and bad press, Bert had turned things around so that it was no longer the laughingstock of Alphabet City. Then just when things were looking up, Bert had thrown in the towel, along with all the others. Now, that was a black day at the Bureau for sure. Elias had lost count of the calls he'd gotten to pitch in and help, all of which he'd declined by saying Nellie needed him. And once again, the workforce inside the Hoover Building was floundering. The new director was a pissant who didn't know his ass from his elbow. Maybe Elias should do some serious lobbying to get Bert back in the fold.
The GPS on his dashboard started to talk to him. He had one more turn, and he would be at his destination, which was the residence of the retired director of the CIA.
Elias turned the corner of a very pleasant, old, tree-lined street, where the houses, most of them Federal style, were set back from the street. One-acre, treed lots, lovely green grass, and shrubs that were well tended. Retired people mostly, he surmised. When he'd been here the last time, after the director's wife's funeral, he hadn't really paid too much attention to his surroundings. Calvin Sands had lived here with his family for more than forty years. Elias couldn't remember who had told him that or if had heard it at the funeral. Not that it mattered. All in all, a pleasant home in a pleasant neighborhood. The GPS squawked one more time before Elias cut the engine and reached for the gift-wrapped bottle of Kentucky bourbon. He had a silly moment as he reached for the package because he didn't know whether Calvin Sands was a drinker. Considering the job he'd held for so many years, the odds were in favor of at least a snort now and then.
Elias took a quick look at his reflection in the side mirror before he began his trek up the flower-bordered walkway that led to the front door. He rang the bell and was rewarded with a ten-note musical chime that was not unpleasant. He heard footsteps on the other side of the door, then it opened. Elias blinked and so did the man staring at him.
“I suppose I could say I was in the neighborhood, but that would be a lie. I made the trip out here to talk to you, Calvin.” Elias held out the bourbon, and Sands took it. He motioned for Elias to follow him into the house.
Nothing looked familiar to Elias as he followed Sands down a foyer, through a dining room, then through the kitchen to an outside deck covered with a brightly colored awning. Again, the retired director motioned for Elias to take a seat at a wooden table full of newspapers, mostly unread from the look of them, and a frosty pitcher of lemonade. Cookies and sandwiches sat under a glass-domed cover.
, Elias thought,
like he knew I was coming.
“So, you weren't in the neighborhood, but here you are. What can I do for you, Elias?”
“I don't know. Maybe nothing. Maybe something. I'm sorry for your loss, Calvin. It's hard to lose a spouse after so many years. I went through it. I have to be honest with you, nothing helped. You have to take it one day at a time.”
Calvin Sands shrugged and spoke softly. “I think Helen was glad toâ¦go. Beforeâ¦before she got bad, we talked quite a bit, probably more than we talked during our whole married life. She didn't like me at the end, Elias. In fact, I think she hated me. I was never here. I didn't contribute to anything emotionally or physically because I was married to the goddamn job. Helen did it all. She raised our children and did a fine job of it. They let me know it, too, in no uncertain terms. Not one of them, and there are four, have been out here sinceâ¦since the funeral. I don't expect to see them anytime soon, either. But that's not the worst. I have three grandchildren I have never even seen. Even I know that's pretty damn bad.”
“Yes, Calvin, it is. Like I said, I traveled that road. Time helps, but it won't make it right. To this day, I ask myself every single damn day, was it worth it? The answer in my case is no. Did you come up with an answer, Calvin, or don't you want to know?”
“I know. Instead of this lemonade, why don't we just hit this fine bottle you brought out here with you. I usually start around now and drink myself into a stupor, and my housekeeper, who also hates me, puts me to bed.”
“That bad, eh?”
“Yep, that bad. I always hated you and those pussies over at the Bureau. No offense.”
“None taken. I hated you and those Neanderthals at the Farm, too. I'm sure you have some redeeming qualities, Calvin?”
“Not a goddamn one, Elias. Do you have any?”
“I'm kind to animals and women,” Elias said, sipping from his glass. Sands downed his in two long swallows and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “We're just two old codgers these days. Life's too short to hate each other.”
“You think? It's in our blood. Short of a full-body transfusion, I don't see either one of us running a mom-and-pop grocery store. Unless they sell AK-47s and Uzis in the back room.”
In spite of himself, Elias laughed. “Listen, let's cut right to the chase here. What do you know about Hank Jellicoe, and what's the real story on all that buzz about some cell wanting to take down this administration?”
“What the hell are you talking about, Elias? What cell? As for Jellicoe, that bastard should burn in hell. He's been a thorn in the CIA's side for twenty years. He thinks he runs this country. Not only does he think it, he fucking believes it. What the hell has he done now?”
“I think he disappeared. Seems he got the leaders of the world's other major intelligence and law-enforcement services into a snit over thatâMI5, the SÃ»retÃ©, Mossad, Scotland Yard, and Interpol.”
Sands poured another two inches of bourbon into his glass. He looked at it before he brought it to his lips. He took a mighty gulp. “What's the time frame you're talking about?”
“Eighteen, maybe nineteen months ago.”
Sands closed his eyes. “I was still working. Helen hadn't been diagnosed then. Wasn't that about the time your boy at the Bureau cut loose and went with Jellicoe? That sure as hell caused a stir, I can tell you that.”
“Yes, right around that time. Did something happen? Do you know?”
“Well, no, nothing I heard of. Certainly nothing to do with covert chatter or mystery cells trying to take down the administration.”
It was true, liquor did loosen one's tongue. Before giving it a second thought, Elias poured another two inches of the amber fluid into Sands's glass.
“Assumingâ¦I said assumingâ¦I know something you don't know, and if I tell you, what are you going to do with the information?”
“I don't know, that's the God's honest truth. I'm thinking it might help some pretty wonderful people, but I don't know that for sure. What do you have?”
“Well, and I don't know if this is anything you're interested in, but starting about eight months later, Jellicoe's people screwed up. Remember those seven contractors that were killed over there in the sand?” Elias nodded. “Well, Global was the firm hired to protect those men. There wasn't a real
fuss, but there was a fuss. His image got tarnished, and he wasn't able to polish it back to its original shine. Jellicoe was on it like white on rice for all the good it did him. âAllegedly' was the buzzword during that period. There were hearings, task forces, the whole nine yards, but for some reason the press cut him more than one break and played the whole thing down. In other words, it never grew legs. The widows and families went nuts at first, then, all of a sudden, they dropped off the grid.
they were paid off handsomely. Our people went after him, and his people, but we couldn't make anything stick. It's a blight on Captain America's record. Everything else has been whitewashed. The man has some very powerful friends, and he's got more fucking money thanâ¦what's that woman's name who was one of those vigilantes? Well, whoever she is, he has either more money than her or almost as much.”
Elias thought his blood was starting to boil in his veins. Somehow he managed an offhand shrug. “And that means, what?”
“I don't know, Elias, you tell me. You came here to pick my brain, and that's all I have to give you. My people thought he was derelict; the families thought so, too. Trust me when I tell you, we went after him, but we were stonewalled every step of the way. We started to dig, and we dug deep. Do you know how many civilian American deaths we came up with? Men that Jellicoe's people were trained and hired to protect? Sixteen, that's how many. Twenty-three if you count the last seven. And come to think of it, those deaths started right around the time you were asking about. Maybe a month or so after your guy joined his outfit. That's twenty-three too many. He never answered to anyone for even one of those deaths. He said it was collateral damage and a war was going on.”
“He's disappeared is what I'm hearing. He went off the grid around that time,” Elias said, pouring more bourbon into Sands's glass.
“As Helen would say, good riddance to bad rubbish.” Elias thought Nellie used the same term from time to time, because he'd heard it before. He didn't say anything but waited. He didn't have long to wait. After a long pull on his drink, Sands said, “What's the son of a bitch done now?”
“He disappeared. Word was he retired. People like Jellicoe never retire, you know that. The bastard is a mercenary, and like you said, it's in his blood. But he didn't do it until after he practically started a war with the leaders of the world's intelligence and law-enforcement services. That's pure scuttlebutt, Calvin. You know, kind of like âalleged' back during your stint.”
“Why would he do something stupid like that?”
Elias shrugged. Sands was slurring his words now, but he still made sense. “We're good, Elias, you have to admit it. My people did not
anything. We'd know. Hell, I'll give the devil his due and say you guys at the Bureau would have picked up on something. Maybe after we did, but you would have picked up on something. DHS would have been on our asses the second they heard any kind of chatter. You know how that works. So, what's his game? How the hell could someone like Hank Jellicoe disappear? Maybe the son of a bitch is dead,” he said, an evil smile on his lips.
“I was hoping you could tell me what his game is. He's not dead, that's for sure. Do you think you could ask around, get in touch with DHS and see what they have on him?”
“Sure, but don't hold your breath. Those boys and girls at Homeland Security don't like to share. By the way, didn't that crud get engaged to the president? Wasn't it around that time? Yeah, yeah, that's when she pardoned the vigilantes. Then poofâ¦nothing. What's up with that, Elias?”
“I don't know.”
Sands waved his arms about. “There you go, just goes to prove my point, you pussies over there at the Bureau don't know squat. When you want to know something, you have to come to us.”
Elias leaned across the table jabbing at the air with his index finger. “And you don't know anything, either. That means that son of a bitch is better than both the Bureau and the CIA. Chew on that one, Calvin.”
Calvin Sands couldn't chew on anything because he was sound asleep. Elias shook his head before he took the bottle of bourbon and poured what was left of it over the railing of the deck. He did the same with his glass and Calvin's glass. “Thirty-five bucks shot to hell!” he muttered as he made his way through the house to the front door. He was halfway to the door when he decided to go back and leave his card under the bourbon bottle. Maybe when the retired director woke up, he'd give him a call if he remembered anything else. He looked across at the slack-jawed man and winced. “Been there, done that.”
On the drive back to the farm, Elias ran his visit with Calvin Sands over in his mind. He didn't like the man any better than he had before, even though Sands was vulnerable now and he could relate to that vulnerability. As much as he disliked his colleague, he felt sorry for him. As he reviewed their verbal exchange, he couldn't come up with anything that sounded like a lie. For whatever it was worth, he decided Sands had leveled with him. Maybe it was wishful thinking or just professional courtesy. All he knew for certain was when he reported in back at Pinewood, he would be telling the women something fishy was going on, and they were the ones who had to get to the bottom of it. But that meant they would be spinning their wheels, not him. If the CIA said there was no impending threat to the White House or the current administration, then as far as he was concerned, there was no threat.