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The Red Man

______________

 

He’s dreaming. He knows it, already long familiar with the creep out of deeper sleep to one of fugitive image and sound, and—

Red, everywhere. Red, red, red.

On the walls, on the bed, the floor—splashes still glass-wet in the thready pale sun that inches through the window. He takes a cautious step, then another. He trips and stumbles into a pool of blood and his heel slides forward. He reaches out, grabbing, falling, and suddenly he’s outside in a tangled grey garden that’s rotten with dying trees. Beyond is the ocean, colorless as well. On its edge, far away, is the sun, a dirty orange oval. It’s all unutterably sad and he tells himself to wake up, that it’s just a dream and dreams aren’t real.

He grunts, almost has it, but not…

… he pushes through the dead foliage, edges by a shriveled rose, around a tilting pine. The beach is a bare yard away—he knows if he reaches it, it will be okay because he’s done this before. Been here before.

But before he can step one foot on the sand, a breeze starts up. It’s cold and he shivers, then again because it makes an odd sound, running through the tops of the dead trees like an off-key pennywhistle. The kind you hear at a carnival—in and out, in and out, and not in any way cheerful.

The tune fades as another sound emerges—a breath of laughter, almost a giggle that goes on too long. He freezes, listening harder, his breath caught in his chest. This time the chill that runs down his back has nothing to do with the breeze and if he hadn’t been afraid before he is now, because he knows that when he turns, he’ll see him and there’s nothing, nothing, nothing, he can do about it…

Wake up.

…wanting to do anything but move, wishing his arms weren’t dead weight, he pivots and—

Wake up.

______________

 

Marin County, California

Wednesday

 

Mark stuck his hands in his pockets and shifted to the right, using his presence to calm the newbie’s nerves. They were standing close together, just inches apart and he could almost feel the kid vibrate. Could definitely hear the ice clink in his glass because his hand was shaking so. Even his voice, when he’d commented on the performance, had carried the echoes of his jitters and Mark’s worry grew. For all his computer know-how, the kid was too new, too green—it was as simple as that.

‘Kid.’

Hardly a kid, but Peter was so inexperienced, he gave ‘neophyte’ a bad name, and once again Mark wondered what the hell John was thinking. They needed to replace Mathew, yes. They needed someone they could trust around computers and all that shite, but Christ…

It was all because of John’s father, of course. A favor owed or maybe just a fuck you to the old man, he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that Peter was thirty-three, the son of the old man’s childhood friend, and an electronics genius.

Knowing John’s history, it was probably the latter, but one couldn’t really tell. Those two, father and son, had some weird thing going on, as classic a love/hate relationship as Mark had ever seen.

He’d asked Luke about it, years ago when John had finally brought him fully into the fold, but all he got was a crocodile’s smile and a smooth, ‘you really don’t want to know, trust me.’ And that was that.

“Look at that,” Peter unknowingly echoed, gesturing with his drink. “He’s going to do it blindfolded. What a loon.”

Mark made a non-committal noise as he watched Mashburn tie a blindfold around Mr. Jane’s eyes. Both men were loons, as far as he was concerned. He’d watched all afternoon as they tried to best each other. Finally, in an effort to convince Mashburn that he wasn’t a charlatan, Mr. Jane had suggested this bizarre litmus test.

For whatever reason, Mashburn had agreed. Maybe because he was one of those men who hated to lose. Or maybe because he could afford a ding or two on his very expensive car because he was stinking rich. Mark’s cursory Google search brought up a lot of data on Mashburn, something he would tell John when the time was right—a man that wealthy was worth looking into.

But not today. Today was a test to see if Peter could handle himself in a crowd of Americans. His German had passed with flying colors in Bonn; his French was passable in Paris; his Spanish had been truly fucked in Barcelona.

John hadn’t said much when they’d returned to London—he’d just taken Peter out for a walk in Kew Gardens and when they got back, Peter was practically glowing. John used his sexuality like currency, and it wasn’t until you were caught that you realized it was all counterfeit. ‘don’t fall for it,’ Mark had wanted to say, ‘nothing will come of it.’

But of course he hadn’t. He just nodded when John suggested their next foray should be in the States to observe their friend in San Francisco.  As he’d nodded when John sent them off with a smile and a, ‘and while you’re at it, run by Sacramento.’

On the long flight west, he’d debated calling Luke to get his opinion. The side trip, as far as he was concerned, served no purpose and would put a damper on their future plans if anything happened.

He didn’t make the call, but promised himself that as soon as they got back, he and Luke would sit down and have a serious discussion. Interests were all well and good, but not to the point of obsession.

“Wow,” Peter whispered.

Mark looked up, following Peter’s gaze. The men were in the car and it started to move forward, slowly at first, then picking up speed. As they passed the clubhouse, the crowd surged forward and the kid went with them. Mark waited for the boy to break and speak in his unmistakable Welsh accent, but he didn’t.

As the car came to a screeching halt, he turned and said in a passable American twang, “That was amazing. How do you think he did it? Is that the thing you were showing me last week?”

Mark shrugged and got out his mobile. It was, indeed, a variation of the type of mental control—the ability to read body language—he’d been illustrating back in England. Mr. Jane, of course, had distilled the ability down to an art. Better than John or Luke, not that he’d be saying that any time soon. “Of a sort.”

“What now?”

The shake had vanished from Peter’s voice and Mark wondered if he’d been testing himself as well. Confidence, especially self, was imperative in their line of work. “Now? Now we go home.”

“Right.” And then, “Holy Christ!”

Mark pivoted. Mr. Jane might have done a stellar job in reading Mashburn’s physical responses, but he’d done a poor job in applying the parking brake. As they watched, the Lamborghini gently slipped over the cliff. He wanted to laugh out loud at the surprise in the set of Mr. Jane’s shoulders, at Agent Cho’s face as he turned and strode away. Right past them, back to the clubhouse.

He smiled and touched the kid’s arm. “I’ll be a moment.” He dialed as he made his way to the edge of the lot. It took a moment for the call to connect, then another for John to answer.

“Where are you?”

“The Catamaran Club.”

“The connection is bad.”

“I’m using a throwaway.”

“Hmm.” And then, “How is it going?”

“Fine.”

“And Mr. Jane?”

“He’s fine as well. He just wrecked a Lamborghini.”

There was a pause and when John answered, his voice held that timbre that told Mark he was smiling, “Did he now? Too bad I missed it.”

“It was interesting.”

“Is he hurt?”

“No.”

“Good. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to him.”

Mark said nothing, because after all, there was nothing to say.

“And our fledgling?”

“I’d like to run him through a couple more dry runs.”

“He’s been on a dozen.”

“His reaction time is excessive, he hesitates too much, and he stutters when he gets nervous.”

“All that will disappear with experience.”

“Maybe—”

“Mark. You worry too much. He’ll be fine.”

John’s voice was indulgent but with that adamant sting that he recognized from long experience. “Then, yes,” he said reluctantly, “we have a new Mathew.”

“Excellent. We’ve a lot of catch-up work ahead of us. First, I need to know if our favorite inspector is taking a jaunt anytime soon.”

“No. Mathew checked last night. He’s scheduled for a visit to the doctor this week, then onto Edinburgh the week after next.”

“No sudden trips to Atlanta, Paris or San Francisco?”

“None that we know of.”

“Good.”

Mark hesitated, then asked, “What job do you want to take on first?”

“I’m leaving for Geneva in the morning. When I return, we’ll sit down and discuss it.”

Mark hesitated again. The words, ‘are you really going ahead with that?’ were burning his lips, but like the other, he knew not to ask. Instead, he muttered a neutral, “Should I telephone Luke?”

“No, I will.”

And he thought that’s all it would be, that John would hang up and they’d each be on their way, but then he asked softly, “And the lovely Agent Cho? I’m assuming he’s there as well.”

Mark looked around. The agent was on the club’s veranda, mobile pressed to his ear. Even at this distance, Mark could see his pained expression. He was no doubt calling his superior to tell her that Mr. Jane had wrecked a very expensive car. “He’s here. He’s none too happy with Mr. Jane right now. I wonder if he’ll be responsible for the damages?”

He’d said it mostly to himself, but John responded with an equally vague, “I would imagine not.”

He’d never questioned John’s interest in Agent Cho. He couldn’t even imagine the conversation; John would either give him that patient, ‘you’re being an ass’ look, or say gently that in his organization, everyone was expendable. Save Luke, of course. “So we’re done here?”

“Yes.” And, just as he was getting ready to hit disconnect, John added, “Wait.”

“Yes?”

“Get pictures, will you?”

He hung up before Mark could object, could say that would be foolish in the extreme, given Mr. Jane’s heightened sense of awareness and perception.

But he followed the crowd as they wandered back to the clubhouse, and as they walked, he held up his mobile, pretending to look for a number, all the while taking photos of Agent Cho.

 

______________

Monday

 

“One, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door,” Jane sang under his breath as he turned the pages of the newspaper.

The nursery rhyme had been stuck in his head all day, thanks to Rigsby. He’d been whistling it under his breath when he’d gotten in that morning. And later on as he’d done his paperwork, over and over in an endless cycle. Jane didn’t mind, though. He liked the tune. He’d taught it to his daughter when she was learning to count.

She’d been confused, though, until he’d shown her what a buckle was. She’d gotten the word mixed up with pickle and couldn’t understand what a food that she didn’t really like had to do with shoes.

He smiled. It was a sweet memory, untainted by pain or regret. And then his smile died when he realized the path his thoughts had taken. It had been happening more and more lately—the realization that, occasionally, the sharp edges of his grief were getting blunt, as if wearing thin from overuse. He wasn’t sure what he felt about it yet, just that it made his chest hurt every time he realized he’d forgotten to be sad.

“Anything good?”

“Hmm?” He twisted to find Van Pelt behind him, looking over his shoulder. She had a yogurt in one hand, a spoon in the other. “Oh…” He glanced back down to the paper. It was the Local section of the L.A. Times. He hadn’t really been reading it. It had just been something to pass the time because the week had been relatively quiet and he’d been relatively bored. “Nah, same old, same old.”

“Did you read about that woman who was attacked by a mountain lion?” She pulled out a chair and sat down.

He scanned the articles, but his interest was captured by a story on the home invasions of the previous year. The perpetrators had been caught just last week, but not before they’d wrecked a line of terror down the state. “Was she killed?” he asked absently. There was a graphic illustrating the timeline of the invasions. They followed a linear route: from north to south, all involving solitary homes on large estates near Interstate 5. Except—and he bent closer to see—for a lone incident last year.

“No, her dog saved her. Thank God.”

“God had nothing to do with it. The animal was just following its instincts.”

“Jane, how can you say that?”

He folded the paper and looked up. Van Pelt was digging around in her yogurt, scraping the sides in agitation. She had dark circles under her eyes belying her usual wholesome appearance. “It’s easy,” he remarked calmly. “And I’ll say it again. It had nothing to do with God.”

“God has everything to do with it.”

“God has everything to do with what?”

They both turned as Cho walked into the room. His hair was damp and he was wearing one of Jane’s favorite shirts—the pale blue one with a slight sheen that caught the light. When he reached inside the refrigerator for his post-workout Sobe, the fabric stretched tight across his back, delineating every muscle.

Jane watched appreciatively, wondering what Cho would do if he reached out and touched. Jump and ask what the hell he thought he was doing? Slap his hand and not sleep with him for the next two weeks?

He sighed and turned back to the paper. Van Pelt was concentrating on the yogurt container, but her cheeks were a bright pink. Jane cocked his head. She’d been doing that a lot lately, watching him. He’d first chalked it up to her general missishness, then to general self-consciousness because she and Rigsby had started sleeping together some months ago and he knew she was waiting to be found out. But no, it was something else. It was almost as if—

“Well?”

He shrugged and gestured to the paper. “Just discussing the relation between God and mountain lions.”

“In other words, I don’t want to know?”

“I wouldn’t if I were you.”

“Jane—” Van Pelt began heatedly when Lisbon hurried into the room.

“Head’s up. We’ve got a hot one. A triple homicide in South Woodbridge. Jane, you want to come?” She checked her gun as she spoke, doing whatever one did to guns to get them ready.

He leaned back in his chair. Cho and Van Pelt had already left the kitchen. “That depends. What’s in South Woodbridge?”

She holstered her gun. “Why don’t you come and find out?”

He hesitated. There was no reason not to go; it’s what he did, after all. But something was bothering him, some odd nagging nothing that tugged on his consciousness in a sly, sneaky way and he wasn’t sure what that thing might be.

“Well?” she asked impatiently.

“Yeah, okay.” He stood up slowly. Lisbon made a face and hurried away. He followed. Then turned and grabbed the paper. He tore out the section about the home invasions, folded it haphazardly and tucked it in his pocket.

***

He hitched a ride with Lisbon and Van Pelt. The trip was quiet—no one saying much. Jane spent the time looking out the window, willing his mind blank so he could remember what he seemed to be forgetting.

It was no use and when they got to Woodbridge, he distracted himself with the view.

Woodbridge was a small town surrounded by vineyards. This early, the vines were nothing more than sticks with a few leaves and they looked strangely sad, as if there was no possible way they’d survive to maturity.

He shrugged off his odd tristesse and touched his pocket.

“Van Pelt,” Lisbon pointed to the right. “There’s the country club. Just keep going— Yeah, there they are.”

He peered over the back seat and sure enough, a half a mile down the pretty, tree-lined road was a small sea of police vehicles, lights flashing. Across the road stood a crowd, obviously neighbors, waiting to see what was what.

“Van Pelt?” he murmured, looking at the crowd.

“Yeah?”

“Slow down. Let’s take a look.”

She reduced her speed, giving him time to examine the neighbors. There was nothing much to see—middle to upper class, dressed for a hot day, with varying expressions of concern mixed and avid curiosity.

There wasn’t space to park on the curb or driveway—Van Pelt had to use the lawn. She frowned as she drove over the curb and Jane could see it pained her, having to deface the homeowner’s property. He wanted to say that they were probably dead and they wouldn’t mind. He didn’t—as she got out, Lisbon had given him a look, the one that said, ‘Mind your manners and keep your mouth shut.’

He shrugged and followed, stretching his arms and legs. He had to walk through a phalanx of cops gathered on the lawn, but when he got clear, he was able to see the house. It was pretty if a little sterile. Fairly new with a tall arched entrance that had been popular a few years ago. It butted up to the golf course and he wondered if the homeowners played or if they’d chosen it for its obvious cost and isolation.

He stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered to the side of the house. The border gardens were modest with the usual roses and lilies, and wound around to the rear of the house. In the backyard, a tall weeping willow lay in the dead center of the bright green lawn. More cops gathered in its shade and as he watched, Rigsby and Van Pelt strode from the house to meet them.

He inspected the area quickly, then returned to the front. Cho was waiting for him on the stoop, trying to make it look like he wasn’t waiting. Jane touched his arm as he passed and went inside.

The interior was as neat as the exterior and had that same blank sterility. The furnishings were tastefully expensive, but not outrageously so. The same for the art scattered about on the mantelpiece, on the side tables. The only thing of any true value was a tiny painting set in an unbecomingly heavy gold frame. He leaned in. It was of a woman and child in a park, delicately beautiful, full of strong darks and lights.

“Is it expensive?” Cho asked quietly at his shoulder.

“Hmm, the market’s down, so maybe three or four?”

Cho stepped closer, brushing Jane’s shoulder with his chest. “Hundred?”

“Hundred thousand.”

Cho’s breath caught and Jane smiled. It really was a lot of money, but well worth it. Even though it wasn’t Hassam’s best work, it was still charming.

“Who’s the artist?”

“Childe Hassam.”

“Childe?” Cho said doubtfully. “It was painted by a kid?”

“No, by an artist named ‘Childe.’ A famous artist who helped usher in American Impressionism.”

“Named ‘Childe.’”

“Hm-mm.”

“Why here? I mean—” Cho gestured, taking in the house, the lack of security.

“I have no idea. Maybe they just bought it. Maybe it’s been in storage. Maybe they trust their neighbors.”

Cho made a face and Jane had to agree. It was a risk, even with the nominal security and the gated property.

“So if it was a burglary gone wrong, wouldn’t the burglars have at least taken the painting?”

“I would have,” Jane murmured. He was getting distracted; Cho chest was firm against his arm and he smelled good. It had been, what, four days since they’d made love? Maybe more and he really couldn’t remember—he hadn’t been that busy, had he?

He glanced sideways. Cho was still staring at the painting. There was a broad window to their right and sunlight streamed in, outlining his delicate profile in gold. They were close enough that Jane could see the fine hairs between his brows, could feel the minute his attention diverted as he became aware of Jane and their proximity.

There was a pause, like a plunge into a cold mountain stream—Jane leaned sideways, his own attention on everything but what he was supposed to be doing. Then Cho stepped out of reach and everything went back to normal.

“Jane?” Lisbon called out, her voice muffled by distance.

He shouted back with out turning, “Coming!” And then more quietly, mostly to himself, “Here we go.”

***

The bodies were in the bedroom. He braced for blood and gore, but the scene was quiet, almost peaceful. A man and woman lay on the bed, both shot through the chest. Another woman lay on the carpet near the bed. Jane bent over—she had a small hole in her temple, but even so, there was still very little blood, very little muss.

“Well?” Lisbon asked, her hands on her hips. Behind her was the local sheriff, suspicious and wary. They must’ve had ‘words,’ as the expression went. Probably something to do with jurisdiction.

As if Jane cared anything about that and he pointed between the two women. “They were sisters. See the resemblance?”

“We know they’re sisters,” the sheriff muttered. “We just don’t know why they’re dead.”

Jane cocked his head. “If you look under the bed or the dresser, you’ll find the gun that the woman on the floor used to shoot her sister and brother-in-law. And herself unless you’re going with a second-shooter theory.”

He thought his comment was amusing, but Lisbon frowned and asked, “Why would she shoot her sister?” She didn’t wait for his answer, though—she knelt and lifted the bed skirt, peering under the bed. She sighed, then looked up at the sheriff. “I take it your men didn’t have time to do their job?” She bent back down.

“Of course they did. They—” The sheriff crouched. He made the same face as Lisbon when he looked under the bed. “Damnit. I guess they were careless. We all know Bob and Jessie. The sister was in town for a visit. There was just no reason for this to happen.”

“There’s always a reason,” Jane said softly, distracted again. The scene, the bodies, the sheriff’s words, all increased the feeling that he was missing something important. But what?

Lisbon stood up. “When’s the coroner coming?”

“She should’ve been here a half-hour ago.”

“It appears to be cut and dry.” She pulled off her gloves and gave them to the sheriff. “I suggest you get your people back in here to go over the scene again to see if they missed anything else.”

The sheriff frowned at her dry tone and turned on his heel, presumably to gather up his men and round them up.

Jane stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels, staring at the couple on the bed.

Lisbon paused at the doorway. “What is it?”

“Nothing. Well,” he amended, “nothing to do with this case.”

“You sure?”

He looked up. She was still frowning. Cho stood behind her, arms crossed, still wearing his bright blue gloves. “Yeah, I’m sure. Like you said, it’s pretty cut and dry.” Which was only the truth and the connection his subconscious was trying to make was failing—there was no point forcing it.

“All right,” she finally said. “Let’s go.”

“I’m going to ride with Cho and Rigsby.”

“No.” She turned to Cho. “I’m sure Jane is right, but why don’t you and Rigsby go into town and talk to the Davies’ lawyer. According to the sheriff, they just changed their will and I want to know why.”

Cho glanced at Jane before saying, “Will do.”

His expression clearly illustrated what he thought of the errand. Jane wanted to pat him on the arm but Lisbon would take it the wrong way. So he just nodded goodbye and followed her outside.

The crowd hadn’t thinned down. In fact, he realized as he scanned the area, it seemed to have grown. Out on the street, beyond the yellow tape, a news crew was setting up. Someone must have talked.

“Great,” Lisbon muttered. “Ghouls.”

“They have a job to do.”

“Running to a crime scene isn’t their job.”

“Sure it is. Besides…” They’d reached the car and he opened the door for her. “It’s human nature. We’re all voyeurs in one way or another.”

“I’m not,” Van Pelt piped up.

“Neither am I,” Lisbon muttered.

Jane climbed in and settled into the corner of the seat. There was no point arguing and he didn’t want to. His good mood of the morning was gone and not because of the sadly typical murder scene. So he fastened his seatbelt, closed his eyes and fluttered his fingers, murmuring, “Home, James.”

***

When they got back to the office, Lisbon said something about a report for the AG, Van Pelt opened up her laptop, and Jane made a beeline for his couch. He wasn’t tired, but he needed to think.

He was half asleep, wondering if a return to the Davies estate would help jog his memory when Cho and Rigsby walked in. “Hey fellas,” he called out. “What did you find out?”

“Nothing,” Cho said. “The lawyer refused to speak to us.”

“What a surprise.”

“Yeah, well, it was a waste of time.”

Said with more than a little bitterness and Jane sat up. Cho was at his desk, taking off his jacket. His expression was as usual, but it didn’t fool Jane—something was up and he was going to find out what it was. “What’s everyone doing tonight?”

“Working,” came Cho’s instant reply followed by Van Pelt’s “Same here.”

“Because I was thinking we could go out and get a case-closed pizza. My treat.”

Van Pelt and Rigsby’s eyes brightened, but Cho muttered, “The case isn’t closed and we still need to finish our paperwork.”

Van Pelt sighed. “He’s right. I’ve got a lot to do.”

Rigsby held up a hand, looking like a little kid. “I can go.”

Jane hesitated, then said comically, “Looks like it’s just you and me, kid” hoping it would goad Cho into coming along. But other than a slight tightening of his shoulders, he ignored them all.

Okay. Jane would give him until five. He was sure to change his mind by then.

***

By five forty-five Jane was starving and Rigsby was pacing between the desks impatiently.

“C’mon,” Rigsby urged. “They’re gonna be in there all night.”

He craned his head. Cho and Lisbon were going over something, probably the endless paperwork they both bitched about. He wandered over, but stopped when Lisbon glanced at him and shook her head. So much for that. Might as well go eat.

“Ready?” Rigsby asked with a hopeful look.

“Yep,” he said reluctantly. “Let’s do this thing.”

***

“…and then he said, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’ Which I wasn’t going to do in the first place, but he didn’t know that.”

“What did you say?” Jane asked absently. He didn’t actually care about the answer. Rigsby had been telling him a story about a bust from his early days with the CBI. Before Jane had become a full-time consultant, before Van Pelt.

“I shot the mirror. He flinched. And that,” Rigsby mumbled around the last of his pizza, “as they say, was that.”

“What did Lisbon do?”

“Oh, you know the boss. She said she’d had the shot and there was no reason to damage personal property. It wasn’t like it cost that much, anyway.” Rigsby frowned and picked at the label on his beer bottle. The mirror must have cost a pretty penny, based on his hangdog expression.

“Well, the thing to remember is that she kept you on the team.”

“I guess.”

“And speaking of…” He got out his cell and held it up. He’d been waiting to do this all night. “She asked me to call her. I’ll just step out…” He jerked his head towards the patio and stood up.

“Sure. I’ll be right here. Hey! Do you want another beer?” Rigsby called out.

Jane, already punching the number, waved a ‘no’ and headed towards the double patio doors.

The line rang too many times and he was getting ready to try the loft number when it clicked through.

“Hey,” Cho said.

“Wait a minute. I need to find—”

The patio was as crowded as the inside and almost as noisy. He had to weave his way around the tables to find a space where he didn’t have to shout. He leaned up against the rail and said softly, “There. All nice and quiet. Where are you?”

“Where do you think?”

“Hmm, that’s a tough one. At your desk, in front of your computer?”

“You got it.”

The view was nice—the patio overlooked the city and it was pretty, what with the pale gold horizon, the dark blue sky. “Is there someone there with you?”

“No. Why?”

He shrugged. “No reason. You’re just using the voice you use when you’re not alone.”

“I’m at work.”

Jane ignored that. “When are you going to be done?”

“In an hour or so.”

“Which means two or three.”

“Probably.”

“Why don’t you do something really crazy and leave it for tomorrow?”

“Because it will be better if I get it done tonight.”

He thought about arguing, thought about pointing out that no matter what Cho said, the Davies case was all but closed. Instead, he tried a tactic that usually worked. “C’mon,” he wheedled. “It’ll be just us boys.”

And when Cho didn’t answer, he added, making his voice whisper soft, “Please? It’s so lovely here, and I haven’t seen you all week.”

“You’ve seen me every day.”

“You know what I mean.”

There was a long pause—too long. He switched the phone to his other ear and turned away from the beautiful view. “What’s wrong?”

“What do you mean?”

And for no reason, an irritation that was surprisingly strong worked its way up his spine to his mouth. “Are you avoiding me?”

“No.”

“Because if you are and—”

“Jane.”

“No.” His voice had risen, but he didn’t care. “If there’s something—”

“Jane!”

“What?”

“Lisbon’s here. Send Rigsby back. We have a case.”

And that took the wind out of his sails. “Does she want me in?” He looked around—Rigsby was hurrying across the patio, holding his cell up.

“No, not yet.”

“Okay.” He wanted to tell Cho that they needed to talk. He wanted to say that he didn’t like being brushed off. But Rigsby was too fast, and he had to hang up, the words still burning his throat.

 

____________

Wednesday

 

…the bark of the dead tree cuts his hand as he turns, as he sees—

Cho grunted and lashed out, hitting nothing but air. He grunted again,  almost a moan, this time rousing fully. He gulped a breath, then another, feeling as if he were going to stroke out, his heart was beating so violently. He took a steadier breath, listening to see if he’d woken Jane.

He hadn’t, of course.

Because Jane wasn’t there to wake.

He sat up. Sweat cooled his cheeks, the back of his neck, and he was suddenly freezing. He fumbled for the t-shirt he’d taken off earlier and drew it over his head, grumbling a little because it had become a habit, stripping down before bed. He always got too hot at night, sleeping next to Jane. Even, apparently, if Jane wasn’t there to sleep next to.

The clock on the nightstand said three-eighteen. Too early to be up, but he pushed to his feet, almost wincing at the chill as he padded to the kitchen. Summer was months away and it still got cold at night.

If Jane were here, no doubt they’d have a discussion about the heat, just as they’d had so many nights before. Jane didn’t like the cold and didn’t understand why Cho refused to turn the thermostat past sixty-eight. Central air, he’d said loftily as he’d wandered into the bedroom one night while he brushed his teeth, had been invented for a reason and there was no point in freezing if one didn’t have to.

Cho had replied that it was hardly freezing, that his heating bill had doubled since Jane had come into the picture, and that he’d gladly turn the heat up if Jane would help with the utilities. Jane had snorted and mumbled something to the affect that paying utilities for two places was foolish.

Cho hadn’t been sure what to make of that comment. If it had been any other person, he’d assume it was a lead-in to a conversation about moving in.

But Jane was direct about those things—if he wanted to move in, he’d just do it and ask for permission after the fact.

So, when he complained about the heat again, some weeks later, Cho ignored him.

But he couldn’t help the little tug of guilt—it made him feel bad, that Jane might truly be cold and he’d toyed with the idea of loosening his own rules, just a bit. He didn’t, but later on when he thought about it, he realized it was a little disturbing. That his routines of many years were starting to bend, to shift—all around Jane, of course.

Which meant he should be grateful that they’d settled on a sketchy routine of two nights on, five nights off, right? Just as he should be grateful that Jane hadn’t gone any further than bringing a few suits over and a pair of sky blue pajamas.

And that was good, Cho had told himself—it meant he could still come and go as he pleased, could live his life as he wished.

He frowned, got a bottle of water out of the refrigerator and took a sip. The cold eased the knot in his chest and he took another, this time relaxing back against the counter.

In the nine months since the Mathias incident, they had made little progress with the Red Men case. Blount had long since returned to England. Luckner had gone back to New York with his crew.

Blount called Lisbon a few months later, saying that Interpol had set up a sting but it hadn’t worked—the Red Men had stayed firmly underground. He’d led the operation and after its failure, had received a reprimand for wasting money and was directed to move onto other things. And he had—he’d informed Lisbon of his orders and they hadn’t heard anything more.

Until three months ago when a hacker’s lair in Prague was raided. The thieves killed everyone and burned the place down. They got away with data on six major European pharmaceuticals and access to several facilities that specialized in high-tech data storage. Next, just four weeks later, three biochemists on a fact-finding junket were murdered in Rome, their computers and data stolen.

Blount had been cautious when he’d notified Luckner, then Lisbon, saying he didn’t know who was behind the thefts and it would be a mistake to assume anything. Because the murders were brutal, even vicious—beyond the usual scope of the Red Men.

That didn’t matter to Jane. Lisbon had passed on Blount’s intel and Jane immediately began speculating what the Red Men would do next because he was sure they had committed the crimes.

At first, he tried to reason with him. Blount had been right—the crimes could’ve been perpetrated by anyone. But like the other, Jane wouldn’t listen and their arguments grew heated. Jane accused him of being willfully blind because it was convenient, and in turn, he accused Jane of ignoring logic and common sense because he was bored and frustrated.

Finally, truly worried that their disagreement would push them to a place they couldn’t back away from, he stopped responding when Jane talked about the case and eventually, Jane withdrew into himself.

Up at all hours, poring over Blount’s notes on the Red Men not to mention Bosco’s notes on Red John when he got frustrated with the former.

He wasn’t sure if Jane was fully aware of the amount of time he spent on the two cases.

On the nights Jane stayed over, he would get up in the morning to find him long awake, in the kitchen with a cup of tea and his notes. He’d nod and say good morning, then go back to the reports, staring at them as if they held a secret.

Cho liked to think he wasn’t a man easily scared, but it was starting to worry him, Jane’s obsessions, his single-mind drive to solve the two mysteries. He always reminded himself that he’d known how Jane was from the very beginning. Known, understood, and sympathized and there was no use complaining now.

It was just…

He thought it would be different, that’s all.

Last year, after they’d wrapped up the Red Men case, they’d returned to Sacramento and settled into what would become their routine. Jane would come over a couple times a week—they’d eat dinner, have sex and go to bed. Sometimes Jane would stay the night, sometimes not. And it was good, fantastic even. Enough that it took a while for him to realize that he was waiting for a transformation, some change that would make good on the promise made at the Carina Luna, that would take them from then to now.

But things hadn’t changed. They’d, in fact, become more of what they were. Distance but not distant; intimacy but not intimate.

It would be okay, he thought more than a few times, if it was just Jane, but it wasn’t. He was having the same problems, unable to be completely honest and say, ‘I love you,’ or, ‘stop this and be with me.’

Because men didn’t say those words. Or, if they did, they said them to women because that made everything okay.

One day, frustrated with Jane’s obsession and his own indecisiveness, he’d sat down at his computer and researched statistics among gay couples even though he and Jane could hardly be called a ‘couple.’ He wasn’t surprised at the figures but they had depressed him nonetheless.

So maybe it was just that his thing with Jane had reached its peak and neither were invested enough to change it. Maybe he was too frightened to make the next logical move. Maybe Jane was.

Whatever, he felt like he was stuck in neutral and no matter how much gas he gave the engine, he couldn’t drop into drive.

He grimaced at the stupid metaphor and finished the water. He was cold—too cold to be standing around in bare feet.

He was turning to toss the bottle into the recycling bin when he heard a noise, faint and distant. He froze. It was probably from a boat on the river but whatever it was, it lilted up and down, and his dream came rushing back.

It was another thing he was trying to get used to, that dream.

More times than he could count, now. Always the same, down to the location, the amount of blood. The sense of dread.

The last time, just a few days ago, he’d actually hit Jane on the back of the head when he’d jerked awake. Jane had complained and demanded an explanation. Which he wasn’t able to give. All he managed was an abbreviated lie followed by a hastily contrived non-verbal apology—he’d pulled Jane close and distracted him with his mouth and body and eventually Jane stopped talking.

The next morning he’d avoided Jane’s glance and kept the conversation to the mundane. Jane had answered in kind, but Cho knew that he was just biding his time, knew the questions would start up again and he’d either have to lie or tell the truth. Either was unimaginable.

He grimaced again, the thought of the waiting conversation somehow worse at three o’clock in the morning, and made himself move.

In the short time he’d been in the kitchen, the sheets had grown cold. If Jane were here, they’d be nice and warm and he sighed. If he were lucky, he’d fall asleep quickly, too quickly to remember the dream, the way it had felt—

… and damnit, there it was, so clear—the house, the garden. And Jane without his vest for once, standing hip-deep in the gray plants with a knife in one hand and blood splashed across his open white shirt, his chest, his ecstatic face. Smiling and smiling and smiling. As he held something up, like a gift, something slippery and wet—

“Shit!” Cho kicked out of the sheets and sat on the edge of the bed, scrubbing at his face, trying to scrub away the horrible image.

It refused to budge and he finally gave up. He ignored his latest Dickens—Martin Chuzzlewit—and got out of bed. He might as well call it quits and go to work—at least there he’d be too busy to think.

***

He got to work at five.

The office was dark and it was nice, making a cup of tea, taking his time. When he logged into his computer he had a stray thought that he could call Jane and ask him if he wanted to meet for breakfast. But then Jane would want to know why he was in so early and there wasn’t a good answer for that.

So, he put away his personal concerns, got out the folders for the last two cases and lost himself in the minutiae of work.

***

“Hey, what are you doing here so early?”

He didn’t look up as Rigsby walked by. He’d finished the work on the Kingman case and was reviewing the Stohlman sheet. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“Just trying to catch up.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Yeah. My review is in a couple weeks and I want to make sure I don’t screw up.”

He wanted to remind Rigsby that it was his own fault that he was on thin ice with Lisbon. If he would’ve just shut up about Van Pelt, she would’ve been able to continue ignoring their affair. Or maybe she honestly hadn’t known. It was hard to believe that anyone that worked so closely with Rigsby and Van Pelt couldn’t know, but she’d had a tough few months.

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Why are you here so early?”

“Just catching up,” he intoned with a hidden smile.

“Ha-ha. No, seriously.”

He put down his pen and turned. Rigsby was tossing a nerf football up and down, already not working. “Seriously? I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d catch up on my paperwork.”

“Why couldn’t you sleep?”

He closed his eyes briefly. Damnit. He hadn’t heard the elevator—Jane must’ve used the stairs.

He put his game face on and turned. Jane was standing in the doorway, hands in his pockets, rocking on his heels the way he did when he was on the hunt.

He was wearing his grey pinstripe with a new blue shirt. He looked beautiful and Cho told himself not to stare. “No reason.”

Jane raised one eyebrow in perfect disbelief. “Really?”

He picked up his pen and tried to remember what he’d been doing. “Yes.” Oh, yeah. The follow-up on the Stohlman case.

Jane drew a breath, but before he could say anything, the elevator chimed, bringing Lisbon and Van Pelt as well as the new gang unit director, a woman Cho vaguely remembered from his days on the street. Lisbon stayed behind to talk to her while Van Pelt strode in with a cheerful, “Morning.”

He nodded. Rigsby muttered something under his breath. Jane just kept staring.

There was a tense few seconds as he pretended to work, as he tried not to shrug or fidget. Then Lisbon finished up her conversation and came in—he breathed a sigh of relief. She was carrying her usual cup of coffee and a white paper bag. “Nice to see everyone so bright and early. Jane, to what do we owe this honor?”

Jane finally looked away and laid his hand on his chest, like something out of Masterpiece Theater. “Lisbon, I’m crushed. You make it sound like I stroll in around eleven every day.”

“You do stroll in around eleven every day. But,” she waved her coffee and added, “I’m glad you’re here. I meant to remind you that your contract is up soon and I need to start drafting a new proposal for the bean counters. Do you have those receipts from the Stohlman case?” She was walking away as she spoke and Jane followed her, but not without a throwing speaking glance Cho’s way, telling him that they weren’t done yet.

Cho sighed and looked at his watch. It was seven-thirty. Too early for a break.

He was finishing up his report, trying not to imagine how Jane would ferret out the information he was trying to hide when he realized that Jane and Lisbon were talking loudly, almost shouting.

He glanced at Van Pelt and Rigsby—they’d both stopped working and were trying to see what was going on. He made a face and returned to his work.

He lasted all of ten seconds. Jane said something about ‘the house…’ and he twisted around, sitting tall in his chair so he could peer over the half-wall.

Lisbon was on her feet, pacing back and forth, pointing her finger at Jane the way she did when she was really frustrated. And he, he was leaning over her desk, jabbing his finger in return, something he only did when he was even more frustrated. It was never a good tactic with Lisbon—she always reacted poorly.

“What’s going on in there?” Van Pelt whispered. “Do you think he bought something really crazy and is trying to expense it?”

They didn’t have time to guess. Lisbon threw up her hands, then made a sharp shooing gesture. Jane hurried from the room.

“What’s going on?” Cho asked as Jane came in.

He smiled brightly. “What’s going on is we might have our first real lead.”

“In what?” Van Pelt asked with a frown.

“In the Red Men case, of course.”

There was dead silence. Van Pelt glanced at Cho just as he looked at her. He didn’t know what she thought, but his surprise told him that no matter what he’d told Jane, he’d assumed the case was too cold to resuscitate.

“What’s the lead?” Rigsby asked.

“Nope,” Jane said with a theatrical gesture. “I can’t tell you. I need to show you.”

Cho stood up and looked again. Lisbon was on her phone, but she had sat down and was nudging a stack of folders back and forth. That wasn’t a good sign, either. “Where?”

“Ah…” Jane held up his finger and took a paper from his pocket. He unfolded and held it up. Like it meant something.

“What is that?” It was just a torn piece of newspaper.

Jane came over to his desk and pushed his miniature motorcycle out of the way, spreading the paper open. They all crowded around it. It was a map of California showing the progression of the recent home invasions. “This, my friend, is the key. I knew there was something odd about it.”

Van Pelt edged between Rigsby and Jane. “That’s the article I was reading the other day. What do you mean? I don’t see anything.”

“No, not the story about the mountain lion. See? The one about the home invasions.” He tapped the article.

“Oh,” she said with a frown.

“See this house? On Sunset Drive?” He pointed to the location near the coast, marked with a number 3. Beside it was a small graphic that showed a photo of a happy couple and underneath, ‘Home of Thomas and Lily Johnson.’

She drew a quick breath. “Hey, that’s near the Carina Luna? See?” She drew a line between the hotel and house with her fingertip.

“It is.” Jane nodded happily.

“And the crime was committed three days before the conference. How weird. But…” She straightened up, frowning again. She was as confused as Cho, apparently. “That’s not weird, is it? How is that a lead?”

“That’s where the showing not telling comes in.”

“What I want to know,” Rigsby said, “was how you got from your expenses on the Stohlman case to this.” He jerked his head to the paper.

Cho wanted to know that as well, but Jane called out over his shoulder, “Do we have clearance or an okay, or whatever you call it?”

They all turned. Lisbon was in the hall, checking her clip. “We do, but we can’t fly; we have to drive. I called the locals and informed them of our visit.” Jane rolled his eyes in annoyance and Lisbon’s look of irritation sharpened. “And it’s just you and me. The rest of you are staying here. In case a real case comes up.”

Her words were firm, but Jane cocked his head. “I think Cho and Van Pelt should go with us. After all, they were on the scene the whole time.” And then, “Right?” when Lisbon didn’t respond.

Finally, she sighed and nodded. “Okay. I’m staying. Cho, you’ve got the lead. You know the drill.”

Which meant trying to keep Jane from doing or saying anything that would cause an incident. He nodded and didn’t say, ‘like that’s gonna happen.’

“Van Pelt, I’ll send the details to your cell. And call me as soon as you know something. Whatever that is.”

“We will,” Jane answered for Cho, already out the door. “Can we stop for fruit?”

Cho exchanged another look with Van Pelt. She smiled. He tried not to smile back.

***

They ended up driving straight south on I-5. Van Pelt had wanted to go 80 but Cho hated that route—the traffic was a pain in the ass and there were always delays. When it looked like there was going to be an argument, he reminded her that he was driving so it was his call. She backed down, not happy. But soon, with Jane’s help, she was smiling again as they each pointed out the sights to the other.

They stopped once so Jane could buy fruit and then again for coffee. By the time they turned west on 152, Cho regretted drinking the coffee so fast. His stomach was knotting up and his chest felt weird, like it was stuffed with cotton or something. He tried to shrug away the feeling and when that didn’t work, he rolled down the window.

Van Pelt leaned over and asked quietly, “Do you want me to drive?”

“No. I’m fine.” He looked in the rearview mirror. He’d thought Jane had fallen asleep, but he was watching, his eyes barely open.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” And then, “Thanks,” because she was trying to be nice.

“Sure.”

Cho chanced another quick glance in the mirror. Jane had closed his eyes again. Which should have been a relief but wasn’t.

Because the closer they got to the ocean, the more the pressure grew. Maybe he was sick or maybe it was a drop in altitude. But that wasn’t right—if there had been any shift in elevation, it would’ve been so minor that he wouldn’t even—

Van Pelt touched his arm and nodded to the right. “There’s our turn.”

He jerked the SUV to the right and took the exit too fast. “Thanks.”

“Sure.” She peered down at the GPS. “We’ve got three miles, then we turn left through the gates.”

“Okay.” The horizon had changed to that pale blank blue that meant they were curving towards the ocean again. He rested his elbow on the doorframe, letting the cool air soothe his warm face.

“It’s really pretty here. If we have time, do you want to stop by the hotel to see how it’s doing?”

“No.”

He regretted the sharp retort as soon as it left his lips, but Van Pelt just shrugged. “Okay.”

She was silent for the last mile, then leaned forward when they rounded the side of a hill. “The gate is supposed to— Oh.” She pointed. “There’s the sheriff. He doesn’t look happy, does he?”

No, he did not. Even from the distance, he could see that the sheriff was kicking a rock back and forth, one hand on his hip, the other holding something. Probably the folder with the case notes. “What’s his name?”

Van Pelt looked at her phone. “Sheriff Peterson.”

“Okay.” When they got within a hundred feet of the gate, the sheriff shaded his eyes, then pushed it open, standing back to let them through. Cho waved as they drove by, slowing down as he got his first look at the house.

It was big. Big and impressive and all by itself at the crest of the hill. It was also ugly. Well, not to most people, probably. Most people probably would give their right arm to live in such a place.

He pulled up next to the sheriff’s vehicle and turned the ignition off.

“We here?”

He turned. Jane was stretching, arms and legs all over the place. Cho told himself that it wasn’t cute, it wasn’t sexy. “Yes.”

“Good.”

Van Pelt murmured, “I’ll see what Peterson has for us.” She got out and headed back down the drive.

“Are you going tell me why we’re here?”

“In time.”

“Because you don’t know, right?”

Jane grinned. “Right. And, thanks, by the way.”

“For what?”

“For not giving me any grief about the trip. Lisbon thinks I’m nuts.”

“She always thinks you’re nuts.”

Jane’s smile broadened. “You’ve got me there. C’mon.” He touched the side of Cho’s neck with his fingertips, just above the collar, then got out.

Cho followed, not rubbing his neck.

Van Pelt and the sheriff were waiting for them on the sidewalk. Jane wandered off without a word, looking up at the house as he strolled. Peterson frowned as if to say, ‘What’s with him?’ but Cho ignored the look out of long practice.

Peterson was mid-fifties, clean-cut and lean. He didn’t look much like a local sheriff—he looked more like he just came from a round of golf or tennis. “Thank you for meeting us, sheriff. Agent Lisbon informed you of our—”

“She did, Agent Cho,” Peterson interrupted with a wave of the folder. “I can’t say I’m happy about this. Tom and Lily Johnson were buried nine months ago. Their kids won’t stand for an exhumation.”

Cho wanted to roll his eyes. Exhumation—they hadn’t gotten anywhere near the point of an exhumation. “Did you ask them?”

“No, and I won’t. Not until I have good reason.”

“Sheriff,” Van Pelt began in a conciliatory tone, but the sheriff cut her off, too.

“Look. Those kids have been through a lot, what with trying to sell this monstrosity and all. The last thing they need is more heartache.”

Cho had no idea why they were here, but the day he let a local tell him his business… “At this point, Sheriff, we just want to examine the scene. We weren’t planning an exhumation. May I?” He held out his hand and after a quick, non-verbal tug of war, Peterson gave him the folder.

The evidence photos were straightforward. Images of the house, the bodies. He called out without looking around, “Jane?”

“Yo!”

“You’ll want to hear this.”

He waited until he heard Jane walk up behind him, then said, “Can you go over the details, Sheriff?”

Peterson glanced at them all, then said gruffly, “The details are simple, Agent Cho. We got a call on July sixteenth from Amanda Hunter—that’s Tom and Lily’s daughter. She hadn’t heard from Lily in weeks and was getting worried, so she asked us to take a look. When we got here, the gate was locked, and so was the house. There was no sign of forced entry. Nothing stolen, no damage.”

Peterson turned to look briefly up at the house. “Tom, he was into fancy doodads, so the whole house is wired. Digital this, that, and the other. But he was careless, according to my computer guy. Apparently, he used the same password for everything, including the gate and the doors, so it wouldn’t be hard getting in. The security company says that there were no alarms tripped or anything like that. I’m thinking someone either hacked their way in or got Tom to let them in.” He turned back around and held up the folder. “It took us a while to find the bodies. They were stored in their own freezer.”

His disgust was palpable and Cho looked at the pictures again. Tom and Lily Johnson were listed as seventy-two and sixty-five, respectively, but you couldn’t tell that from the photos. They were covered with frost, their skin a sickly blue. Each of them had a bullet in the forehead. They must have been placed in the freezer immediately after death—the blood had frozen in place.

“Doesn’t sound simple to me,” Jane murmured over Cho’s shoulder. He was standing too close, his breath warm, and Cho forced himself not to pull away.

The sheriff put his hands on his hips. “According to everyone I talked to, it was easier than it should have been, Mr. whoever-you-are. They were killed quickly and the murderers left no trace, no leads. Which makes it easy. For them.”

Jane reached around Cho and touched one of the photos. It had been taken from a helicopter and showed the house and maybe a ten-mile radius. “It’s ‘Jane,’ sheriff. I’m a consultant with the CBI, and,” he tapped the photo. “Doesn’t that tell you anything?”

“Like what?”

“That this wasn’t any ordinary home invasion. That the Johnsons were targeted for a very specific reason.”

“No, Mr. Jane, it tells me nothing. The Johnsons were just unlucky, that’s all.”

And before Jane could respond, Peterson gestured to the house. “Come on in and see for yourself.”

They trooped after, Cho, Jane, Van Pelt.

Peterson was right, in a way—on first appraisal, the house was clean, with no immediate signs of foul play. The huge foyer they were standing in was innocently pristine, as if it had never seen even a harsh word. Cho looked at the photos again. “You dusted for prints?”

“Some. It’s a big house, Agent Cho.”

“Which means?”

“That, yes, we got what we could and ruled out most of them.” The sheriff frowned. “There were a couple, however…”

He trailed off and Cho asked sharply, “However, what?”

“However, we were never able to match the other sets. Now that the thieves have been caught, maybe we’ll find a match.”

“How many?” Jane interrupted.

The sheriff shrugged. “Fingerprints? Three in all. They were all over the place but mainly in the kitchen, the upstairs study and the living room.”

Jane opened his mouth, but Cho got there first, “Did you send them to the FBI?”

“We did. They came back inconclusive.”

Jane stuck his hands in his pockets. “And did you follow up?”

“No, Mr. Jane, we did not,” Peterson answered succinctly. “We had work to do. Real live crimes, not ghosts chasing.”

“Ghosts,” Jane murmured with a sideways glance at Cho.

He shrugged. They were obviously thinking the same thing: big house or no, it sounded like the Carmel police hadn’t put much effort into the investigation.

Peterson’s frown deepened as if he knew what Cho was thinking and he waved an arm. “Well? Do you want to see the rest?”

He nodded and they continued on.

Through the foyer, past the curved marble staircase and two smaller rooms, onto the sunken living room that looked out over the courtyard.

He scanned the room, too aware that Jane, hands clasped behind his back, was rocking on his heels as he examined the room, taking it all in.

Jane tilted his head back to look at the ornate ceiling. “Where’s the kitchen?”

“You hungry, Mr. Jane?”

Jane turned. His face was alive with curiosity and happiness, as if he’d just discovered a buried treasure. He raised his eyebrow; the sheriff jerked his head and growled, “Over there. On the left.”

Jane nodded and headed to the left. Cho closed the folder. “Can I see the freezer, Sheriff?”

“It’s in the basement.”

He didn’t move and Cho waited, patiently. Finally, he growled something under his breath and stomped off. Cho turned to Van Pelt. “I’ll go with him. Take Jane upstairs and see what you can find. Make sure to look in the study.”

She nodded and hurried off after Jane.

Peterson was waiting at an open door on the far side of the foyer. He turned on a light and began to descend. “This way. Tom was into trains. Last year he had the basement redone to add more room. You can get down here in two ways, through that door,” he jerked his thumb. “And from the kitchen.”

Contrary to what Cho was expecting, the basement was elegant, bright and cheerful. And almost as extensive as the upstairs—the open floor plan held a media center, the train area and taking up one end, a full-fledged kitchen with stove, dishwasher and a floor-to-ceiling, built-in freezer.

Still scowling, Peterson pulled the doors open and gestured. Cho held the photos up to get an idea of how the bodies had been situated.

“Yep,” Peterson said darkly, “they were on the floor like they were slabs of meat. No care, no respect.”

“And they’d been there at least three weeks?”

“Three weeks and one day.” At Cho’s startled glance, Peterson pointed to the folder and said, “Tom had a real fancy watch, but it couldn’t hold up to a deep freeze. It stopped working on June twenty-third at ten-fifteen p.m.”

Cho looked at the pictures again, shuffling through them until he found the one he wanted. “How long does it take for a watch to freeze?”

“I asked that very same question. I was told less than two hours, give or take.”

“Huh,” he murmured.

“That’s what I said.”

***

They went back upstairs. Jane and Van Pelt were nowhere to be seen. He hesitated, then gave Peterson the folder. “I want to take a look at the grounds.”

Peterson nodded to the far side of the living room, then turned to the stairs. “I’ll go see if the rest of your team needs help.”

‘No,’ Cho wanted to say, ‘you just want to make sure they’re not finding anything you didn’t.’

He shook his head, then made his way through the living room, winding around the sofas and chairs, trying to see what Jane had seen—everything in the same position, but the murderers using the place like they owned it.

He couldn’t. The house was too normal, too quiet. He reminded himself that plenty of murder scenes seemed just as bland and that plenty of murderers were neat-freaks.

He unlocked the French doors and went outside. The expansive veranda was flanked by the wings of the house and continued on to broad steps that led to the lawn. The yard was lined with pine trees and plants, probably for privacy, but from who, Cho couldn’t guess—the nearest house was at least a half-mile away.

He walked across the spongy grass until he was stopped by the steep cliff. He hadn’t realized they were so close to the ocean. He crossed his arms and scanned the area. Was this why the house was chosen? Because of its proximity to the ocean and the hotel?

It had to be, because Jane was right—there was no way the criminals responsible for the string of home invasions had included this house. It was too far from the highway—there were equally big homes with better escape routes, no doubt filled with equally expensive objects.

He walked closer to the cliff. There was a long, sturdy staircase down to the beach and he pictured descending the steps, then heading south. If he remembered the diagram correctly, the Carina Luna was just behind the spur of land that blocked his view—he could be there in a half hour if he walked fast and the tide was low.

He closed his eyes. Even though the day was overcast and grey, the clouds were breaking up and he told himself that the pale sunshine was nice. That it didn’t remind him of anything, that he didn’t feel a sick sense of deja vu, because the minute he’d stepped out into the courtyard, the odd pressure from before had returned, this time ten times worse.

He wasn’t clueless, he knew what it was, knew that the house was a reminder of the hotel, of the dream, but why now, why—

“Hey?”

He jerked. And didn’t turn. His heart was racing and his palms were wet with sweat. “Yes,” he answered, hoping Jane wouldn’t hear the dryness in his voice.

“You okay?”

“Yes.”

“Van Pelt thinks she’s got something.”

“Yes?”

He heard the soft crush of weight on grass and the pressure increased as Jane came closer.

“You want to take a look? It’s better if she explains it to you.”

“Okay.”

Jane paused and then murmured, “You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.” He turned, making sure he met Jane’s eyes calmly as he returned to the house.

Peterson and Van Pelt were waiting for them at the French doors. Van Pelt was holding a silver laptop in an evidence bag and her smile was bright, excited.

So excited that Cho felt the leftover unease fade and his sense of equilibrium return. “What have you got?”

She raised the laptop. “I found this in the study upstairs. It was in the desk in a specially made cavity. Apparently, it was missed the first time around. My dad has one so I knew where to look.”

She didn’t glance at Peterson and her voice held no accusation, but he crossed his arms tight across his chest and scowled as if she had, muttering, “Not even their kids knew it was there.”

“So it’s the Johnson’s?”

“Yeah. I booted it up. The password was the same password for all the other stuff. The browser’s history was wiped, but not the network history. It shows that the computer was last used on June thirtieth of last year.”

Cho frowned. “Which means that someone was using it after the Johnson’s were murdered?” Beside him, Jane hummed softly.

“It looks like it.”

“Can we find out who?”

“I’ll contact the Johnson’s ISP and pull the records.”

“How soon?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know; maybe a day, maybe two?”

Jane asked, “Can the CBI’s forensic guys see what else they can find?”

“You mean on the computer or the house?”

“The computer.”

“Yeah, I’ve already called Lisbon. Our people will go over it with a fine-toothed comb.”

“Good.” Jane rubbed his hands and smiled at Cho, then Van Pelt, as if saying, ‘Finally.’ He turned to Peterson and held out his hand. “Well, Sheriff Peterson, it’s been a pleasure.”

Peterson nodded stiffly. “If anything comes of this nonsense, let me know. Amanda will sleep better if she knew her parent’s murderers were caught.”

“We’ll do that,” Van Pelt said gravely.

As they were walking away, Cho murmured, “How did you know?”

“Know, what?”

“That this house meant something?”

Jane shrugged, the back of his hand brushing Cho’s. “The case the other day. It reminded me of the article on home invasions. And I remembered that the home invasions followed a pattern of direction and date—this one didn’t fit the pattern. It was too much of a coincidence, that someone would choose this house, at that time, so close to the conference last year.”

“Why didn’t you think of it earlier?”

It was a rude question, but Jane just shrugged. “Sometimes it just works that way. The facts have to sit and percolate.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

This time around, Cho let Van Pelt drive. He stared idly out the window, avoiding Jane’s glance in the mirror as they drove east, wondering if the Johnsons had died without fear, knowing they hadn’t.

 

_____________

Friday

 

John folded the newspaper in half and picked up his coffee cup, not bothering to hide his irritation. The music had only gotten louder in the last few minutes and it hit his eardrums, almost a wall of noise. If it hadn’t been for the fact that he was working, he would have long since left. English pubs were all right if you were in England, but when one was in Geneva, one expected a bit more class.

Of course, the Pickwick wasn’t a dive precisely, but it was crowded with young people of all nationalities and they were very careless—he’d had beer spilled on him twice now. Which was two times too many and he looked at his watch again.

Villapaldo was late. He usually stopped by the Pickwick between six-thirty and seven and it was going on eight. It wasn’t anything detrimental to the plan, John assured himself. Mostly, he thought sourly, because the plan didn’t really exist. Not yet, anyway.

At seven fifty-five, he admitted defeat and stood up. He got his wallet and dug out a few francs, then tossed them on the table and made his way around the small tables to the door.

It was still sunny outside, but the traffic had died down and the quiet was an instantaneous reprieve. He stretched his arms and sighed. If he had to be at loose ends, he might as well be in Geneva in late March. It was warm, but not hot. Perfect.

He pulled out his mobile, then crossed the street, jogging to avoid an on-coming car. The park would be pretty this time of day, the school children and old men long since gone. He’d take the lake path while wrapping up business. Such as it was.

He dialed without looking and pushed ‘talk.’ It took nine rings for Luke to answer. Not a good sign.

“Where are you?” Luke asked, without a greeting.

“Where do you think?”

“Geneva.”

“Hm-mm.”

“No luck?”

“That remains to be seen. What about you?”

“Just on my way to the airport.”

“Did you go over the data I sent?”

Luke sighed. “It’s pointless, John. I reviewed it yesterday and there’s just no profit in these companies. Not until global warming becomes a fact recognized by all authorities. Until then, we’ll just be stealing their seed money, not the real deal. Do you really waste our time on that?”

“Do you have a better idea?”

“You know I do. I’ve only told you a half dozen times. We shift our focus to our investments and stop taking these stupid risks. We could live the rest of our lives on what we’ve got now.”

“But where’s the fun in that?” He’d reached the path—he took a left, heading for the lake.

“It’s not all about fun, John. I know you’re bored and I know why.”

John tightened his lips, but didn’t rebuke. Luke was the only one he allowed to talk that way. In the past it had given John a warm, almost cozy feeling. Now it just irritated and he said quietly, “That may be as may, but it’s my call. As always.”

There was a long pause, then Luke muttered, “Of course.”

Besides,” John added, forcing his voice to lose any sting, “we’ve got the one job and you’re taking care of that. After that, we’ll regroup and talk it over.”

“Fine.”

“When are you arriving in Caracas?”

“At midnight.”

“And you’ll call when it’s done?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” John hesitated, then hung up and pocketed the phone. After all, there was nothing more to say.

He’d reached the beach and he stopped for a moment to admire the view. It was very lovely, very serene. Even with the bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians that moved to and fro. He leaned his elbows on the railing and let the view fade to one preserved by insistent memory. Of another beach,  this one many miles away, many months ago.

Unlike most of the operations before, he hadn’t forgotten a detail of the failed job. The ridiculously overblown mansion they’d commandeered. The waiting as Mathew proceeded to fuck up one thing after another.

His glee when Agent Kimball Cho came on the scene because at least there’d be something pretty to look at. The way it had felt, the cool breeze as he’d shadowed his quarry along the beach, never getting too close or too far away.

His disgust, aimed mostly at Mathew when he’d realized what he was going to have to do. How the tree had creaked and swayed as he’d climbed to get the best shot.

And later, at the end of it all, the fierce anger that had burned his chest as he watched Mr. Jane and company leave, as if nothing had happened. As if thwarting the plans that had been almost a year in the making meant nothing.

He was still angry. But time had turned his anger tepid and stale. He’d considered an immediate reprisal but had run up against the hard fact that for any such job, he needed a new Mathew. An undertaking that took more time than he’d originally accounted for, their first candidate turning out to be too righteous and ethical. Luke had solved that problem by taking him on a trip and dumping his body in the Thames, down by Tilbury.

After that, it had been one thing after another, but he’d never forgotten that Wallach still owed him, as did Mr. Jane.

As for Agent Cho…

John touched his pocket, then took out his phone and quickly opened it again. Really, the cameras on mobiles were getting better and better. The pictures Mark had sent were crisp, clear.

Agent Cho looked much the same, if a tired. He seemed a little thinner, too, as if he’d lost weight. Perhaps it was the suit. Or perhaps Mr. Jane wasn’t treating him right. Megalomaniacs made the worst lovers.

He smiled. Luke would probably say the same thing and John would only agree—it was one thing to fool others; an entirely different thing to fool oneself.

He put the phone away, then turned back to the path, walking quickly.

Luke was right. This job, a rather idiotic idea of trying to cash in on the global warming frenzy was pointless. If he’d been thinking clearly he would never have given it a second thought. But the week wasn’t a total loss. He’d managed to make a few contacts, make a few decisions. The main being that now that they had Mathew, what they needed was a swift success. Something that would bring in a large amount of quick cash with relatively little risk. And he had the perfect project in mind.

 

______________

Monday

 

“Jane, do you know the story about the watched pot?”

Jane didn’t look up from his Sudoku. “You mean how it never boils if one is actually watching it? That’s an axiom, Lisbon, not a story, but,” he held his hand up as he conceded, knowing she’d be glaring, “you’re right. Sitting here waiting for the forensic guys to do their thing isn’t helping any. I should go home and let the professionals do their work. I should concentrate on something else. I should relax and get some sleep. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” He looked up. “Lisbon, if I go home, I won’t sleep, I won’t relax. I need to be here.”

She tapped the file folders she was holding, then sighed. “I know. I’m anxious too. If they needed it, I’d be out helping Cho and Rigsby on that shooting.”

Jane wrote a ‘three’ in the bottom right hand corner of the puzzle. “It’s after five; do you want to get dinner?” He craned his neck to look around her and added to Van Pelt, “We can all go.”

“No, thanks,” Van Pelt muttered. She’d been working on the Johnson’s case all afternoon. “I think I’m finally getting something.”

Jane nodded, already losing interest. She’d tried to explain what she was doing with the information that the Johnson’s internet provider had sent that afternoon, but it had gone right over his head. Or rather, he had let it go over his head; he wasn’t really interested in the process, just the results.

“C’mon.” He stood up and smiled coaxingly, willing her to agree. “We might as well be full while we wait.”

She hesitated, then shrugged. “Sure. Why not.”

“Can I drive your car?”

“What do you think?”

Jane smiled. It was an old, comfortable routine and he needed that. Contrary to what he’d assumed when they’d left the Johnson’s, things were moving, but very slowly and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was still missing something.

It didn’t help that the CBI was also undergoing changes—the new boss was to arrive in a couple weeks. Lisbon knew who it was, but even Jane couldn’t wheedle the information out of her. It was frustrating.

And on top of all that, something was going on with Cho. It didn’t help that he couldn’t seem to pin him down, either. In the last week, every time he suggested dinner, a walk, or whathaveyou, Cho said he either needed to work or was tired.

And Jane was missing the whathaveyou—it was almost two weeks since they’d made love.

“You coming?” Lisbon called out from the hallway.

“Right behind you.”

***

They ate at the sandwich shop around the corner. Lisbon got a salad because she said she’d been eating too much crap. Jane smiled and got a meatball sandwich, just to make her feel bad.

She finished before he did and she sat there, looking out the window, slowly moving her coffee this way and that.

She looked tired. Tired and a little down. But she wasn’t the type to ask for help and he wasn’t sure if he should offer. She was so thorny that way.

“What are you staring at?” Lisbon said without taking her eyes from the passersby.

“You.”

“What about me?”

“You seem depressed.” He finished his sandwich and wiped his fingers with his napkin.

“I’m fine.”

“Okay.”

“Jane.” She turned with a sigh. “I’m fine.”

“I get it. You’re fine.” He bundled the leftovers for later. “You’re fine. Cho’s fine.”

“What about Cho?”

Damnit. She was frowning, distraction gone, and that’s what he got for letting his mind wander. He shook his head, mostly at himself.

“So you’re not going to tell me what you meant?”

“There’s nothing to tell because there’s nothing wrong.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment and he hoped she’d leave it alone, but no such luck.

“If there was something that would interfere with his work, you’d tell me, right?”

“Lisbon,” he said with a little laugh, “of course I wouldn’t. Why would you think I would?”

“Dammit, Jane—” she started to chastise, but lucky for him, her cell rang. She looked at the display and raised her eyebrow as if to say, ‘speak of the devil,’ then picked it up. “How’s it going?”

She listened for a while, interjecting little ‘hmm’s’ and ‘okay’s,’ finally saying, “Okay, but make sure the locals know.” Another pause. “Then come on back. We’ll let them sort it out.”

She waited, then said firmly,  “No, it’s okay. You’ve done all you can.  It’s not your fault they’re not listening.”

After the next pause, she looked up at Jane. “No, I’m at Rico’s. With Jane. You hungry? I’ll get you something.” She got out a pen, but then put it away. “Yeah, okay, I’ll tell him. Should we get something for—? Okay. See you in a few.”

She hung up. “Cho and Rigsby are on their way back. They got in an argument with the lead detective about jurisdiction and finally gave up.  He wants you to get him a sandwich.”

Jane raised an eyebrow. “The lead detective wants me to get him a sandwich? I don’t even know what he likes.”

“Cho, jackass. Cho wants you to get him something to eat. He says you’ll know what he wants.”

She stated it matter-of-factly, but a faint streak of red had colored her cheeks. Other than a few quick back-and-forths, they’d never spoken much about his relationship with Cho. He figured it was like the Rigsby and Van Pelt thing—if she didn’t know about it, she didn’t need to do anything about it.

Although, he thought as he got up to get an eight-inch roast beef sandwich with extra horseradish, it wasn’t quiet the same thing. Since he was a consultant, he could sleep with whomever he wanted and no one could say boo.

The thought made him grin and he turned his smile on at the wrong time and made the girl behind the counter blush and blink. It took several tries for her to get what he was saying.

He was leaning on the counter, waiting for the order to be filled when Lisbon’s cell rang again. He couldn’t hear what she said, but this time the call was brief and good news because her expression changed, going from glum to—

“What is it?” Jane asked as he hurried over.

Lisbon got up and gathered up her trash. “You’ll never believe it, but it looks like we’ve got a solid lead. Finally. Your friend, Mathias, apparently had a Facebook account.” She dumped the trash with a flourish.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

***

Jane almost ran back to the office. Or at least he tried. Lisbon kept slowing him down, refusing to hurry, and since Van Pelt would never go into the details without her…

By the time they made it upstairs, his mind was working furiously, heart beating too loud, all the aggravation of the last few months disappearing. He felt alert and focused, like he hadn’t in months.

Van Pelt was waiting for them, as were Cho and Rigsby. The rest of the staff had left and the place was dark, intimate. Perfect for thinking and plotting.

He smiled broadly and tossed Cho the bag from the deli, then hurried over to the conference table where Van Pelt waited with her computer. She had that gleam in her eye, the impish one that said she had something really good.

“Okay.” She turned her laptop so they could all see. “It wasn’t easy, but the guys and I managed to get into his account. He had set up some security that was—”

“Boring,” Jane interrupted with a singsong voice, because, really, who cared?

Lisbon and Rigsby glared, but Van Pelt just shrugged. “Yeah, sorry. Anyway, he was good, but for some reason he didn’t cover his tracks as well as he could have. See?” She pointed to a string of numbers that meant nothing to Jane. “This leads us to…” She bent over her computer and typed in something and up popped a page. “We contacted Facebook and they said we’d need a court order to give us his information, but by then we’d decrypted his password.”

She hit a few more keys, the page changed and there he was.

“Yes,” Jane whispered. The picture was at least fifteen years old, judging by the clothing, but it was him. “Mathias, as I live and breathe. Or rather…”

He leaned closer, bending over Van Pelt’s shoulder, but Rigsby got there first. “Joseph Littlefield? Who’s Joseph Littlefield?”

“Another alias?” Van Pelt guessed.

“Hmm, maybe, maybe not,” Jane said. “Not unless he started using aliases when he was just out of college. Lisbon?” He turned to her, but she was already on the phone, walking quickly to her office.

“Who’s she calling,” Rigsby asked.

“Inspector Blount by way of Director Luckner, I would imagine,” Jane murmured. “I hope he can dig up more information. Isn’t Facebook supposed to tell you things?” Because other than the old photo, the page was bare of details. “He hasn’t updated it in a while. Years, in fact.” He touched Van Pelt’s shoulder. “Is that all there is?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s a disappointment.”

“Well,” she said with a shrug, “Now we know his real name. That’s something.”

“True.”

“Maybe he used it to keep track of his friends?”

“Who are they?” Cho spoke for the first time. He was halfway through his sandwich and Jane remembered the Sobe he’d meant to buy.

He jogged to the kitchen and got a bottle of water. When he got back, Van Pelt was saying, “…nobody. A man in IT, a teacher. Nobody important or high up in the government.”

“Something else Blount can tell us,” Jane called out. “Here.” He handed Cho the water.

“Thanks.”

“De nada.”

“Jane?” Van Pelt murmured, chin on hand.

“Yes?”

She enlarged Mathias’s photo with a couple taps. “The thing I don’t get is why so careless? He had to have known we’d find the computer.”

“But we didn’t find it,” Cho said. “Not for nine months.”

“Yeah, but still, it’s weird.” She turned to look at them all. “Isn’t it?”

Jane sat on her desk and clasped his hands together. She was still so naive, even after almost two years with the CBI. “Based on Cho’s report and my personal experience, it’s clear that Mathias’s kind of arrogance didn’t allow for the acceptance that others were as smart as he.”

“So, he figured that if anyone found the computer, no one would think to check out the hard drive?”

“That, and the assumption that if they did, they wouldn’t know how to break his security code.” She didn’t look convinced, but he shrugged. He knew what Mathias/Littlefield had been thinking as if he were standing there, smirking at them all. “It all adds up.”

“What does?” Rigsby asked.

“Why Mathias was killed.” He didn’t look at Cho. It was still a sticky subject, the day he’d let himself be taken hostage by a man he knew to be dangerous. It made Cho grumpy, that nine-month old memory, and there was enough of that going on.

“I thought someone killed him to keep him from talking,” Van Pelt said, with a quick look between Jane and Cho.

“That was part of it, but dollars to donuts, the other part was that he’d become a liability. I bet, once we catch the leader of the group, we’ll find out that he or she killed Mathias because he’d become a loose cannon.”

Rigsby chuckled. “You really think a woman could be the leader of the Red Men?”

“Why not?” Van Pelt asked sharply.

Rigsby’s smiled died. “Huh?”

“Why couldn’t a woman be the leader of the group?”

Rigsby shook his head and stuttered, “I, I— I just meant—”

“Kids!” Jane called out, stopping them before they could get going—they’d be at it all night if he didn’t. Their on-again, off-again love affair looked to be mostly off and they were constantly snapping at each other. It had been entertaining at first, but now? “All I was saying was that it’s becoming clearer, the way the group operates.”

None of them looked pleased by his declaration, especially Cho. Jane opened his mouth to explain when Lisbon came back.

“Okay.” She held up her cell. “I just got off the phone with Luckner. He’s going to relay the news about Joseph Littlefield to Blount’s office. Van Pelt, anything else?”

“No, sorry. I’ll see where his Facebook network takes me, but I don’t have anything now.”

“That’s fine. I didn’t expect it to be easy. Cho?”

“Yes?”

“Dig up that profile you started last year. Take a look at it and see if the new information leads us anywhere.”

“Sure, boss.” Cho threw his trash away and began to type quickly.

“The rest of you,” Lisbon said to Jane and Rigsby. “Let’s go over the facts again and see if anything new shakes loose. It’s been almost a year. Maybe we’ll see something that we didn’t see before.”

***

It was nine when Lisbon tossed her pen down and muttered, “Yeah, okay, I guess it really won’t be that easy.” She ran her hands over her face. “Looks like we’re going to have to wait for Blount, after all. It’s…” she looked at her watch and frowned. “Damn. He probably isn’t even at work yet. Let’s call it a night.” She pushed away from the table and stood up. Van Pelt and Rigsby followed suit.

Jane stayed put and watched Cho, still staring down at the profile they’d been working on for the last three hours.

Three hours. He leaned back in his chair and stretched. If it had been up to him, they would have quit hours ago. It had been clear from the get go that they didn’t have enough information and were simply guessing. Not that he minded guessing—a lot of his theories were born from guessing. But as the night had progressed—and as everyone began to get frustrated—the theories became pointless and so far off the mark, even he didn’t find it useful.

He stretched his arms again and swallowed a yawn.

“Sleepy?” Cho asked softly, still looking at the report.

He raised an eyebrow. Normally Cho didn’t use that voice in public—he generally saved it for the bedroom. “A little.”

“And since it’s been almost four hours since you ate, you’re probably hungry.”

He grinned. “A steak sounds great right now, doesn’t it?”

Cho finally looked up. The half-light made the circles under his eyes deep and dark; he looked exhausted and Jane remembered the day had included a six-hour drive. He touched the back of Cho’s hand, not surprised when he drew away. “C’mon,” he urged. “My treat.”

Cho snorted softly. “You mean I’ll buy dinner and you’ll pretend you’re going to pay me back?”

“I’m wounded.”

Cho pushed to his feet. “No, you’re not.” He went to his desk and began to put away the folders, his gestures efficiently smooth, and once again Jane wondered what the hell was going on.

***

He didn’t ask if he could spend the night—he just assumed. When they left the restaurant and walked to their cars, parked side by side, he told Cho he’d meet him at his place and pretended that he didn’t see Cho’s hesitation.

And when they got to the parking garage, Cho didn’t chastise him for using Lisa’s second space as he expected. He just waited by the elevator and they went up together.

Still in that odd state of calm, they went through their usual routine: He took off his jacket and vest, then headed for the couch where he sprawled comfortably in his corner. Cho tossed his bag on the kitchen table, flipped through the mail, then went to the bedroom to change.

He was watching one of the CSIs when Cho returned. He was wearing sweats and was pulling on an old black t-shirt that was so threadbare it was almost indecent. Jane’s belly tightened with desire and appreciation and he tapped the seat cushion restlessly. There was something endlessly endearing and incredibly sexy about the fact that Cho, usually so particular about his appearance, was comfortable enough to wander around in clothes that were practically falling off him.

Or maybe it wasn’t comfort? He’d been in such an odd mood; maybe it was that he just didn’t care anymore. That happened to all couples, of course. They all went through that period after courtship where the bloom rubbed off and things subsided into the everyday.

Cho sat down and picked up the remote. Without asking, he began to flip through the channels, one by one. He stopped where Jane thought he would: on one the many ESPN baseball channels. Still without a word, he settled back and put his feet on the coffee table.

“Long day?” Jane asked facetiously. He took off his shoes and pulled off his socks.

“Yeah.”

“And you’re thinking that you should go over that profile again, just to make sure you haven’t missed anything.”

Cho didn’t look at the bag like Jane expected. He just shrugged and muttered, “Yeah.”

“I wouldn’t.”

“Yeah?” Cho said for the third time, still speaking to the TV. “What would you do?”

“Let the details sit, let them simmer until they all blend together to form a perfect picture.”

“Is that what you do?”

“You mean generally?’

“Uh-huh.”

Jane shrugged. “Generally, yes. I sift and rearrange, keeping an open mind as to all possibilities.” He touched Cho’s knee with his foot. “I thought you knew that.”

Cho shifted, not really away, and muttered, “I guess I don’t know as much as I thought.”

That was the second time he had said in so many words that he didn’t know Jane well, and it was as surprising as the first time. He straightened up and leaned sideways, bending to see Cho’s face. When Cho flipped the channel again, he took the remote away. “Stop that.” And then, “What was that supposed to mean?”

Cho sighed, finally looking over. “Nothing.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Really. I’m just frustrated. I don’t want to re-open the Red Men case if all it’s gonna do is lead us back to where we are. It’s a waste of time and resources.” He took the remote back.

‘Liar,’ Jane wanted to say, but Cho’s face had closed up again. He wouldn’t get anything out of him now except more evasions and half-truths. “Okay,” he said quietly. If words wouldn’t work, actions would. Cho always responded better to the non-verbal and besides, it would be fun—it had been a while since he’d seduced him into anything.

He slid across the sofa and caressed Cho’s arm. He made his movements measured, heavy with purpose, because he didn’t want to spook him, didn’t want to do anything that would make him run. Still with that same methodical touch, he tugged the remote away, hit the power button and dropped it to the floor. All without looking away because he couldn’t—Cho’s eyelids had lowered, his lips had parted, and Jane didn’t want to miss a moment.

He pressed closer, whispering, “Okay,” against Cho’s rough cheek, his own breath coming sluggish and thick in his effort to take it slow because he thought he knew what was wrong. Maybe familiarity was breeding a little contempt, causing Cho to draw away because he was bored. Maybe it was time to try something new.

He smiled in anticipation, hummed with approval when Cho turned his head, when he opened up to Jane’s mouth.

‘That’s it,’ he said to himself and he wondered if he could get away with an endearment or two like, ‘Sweetheart,’ or ‘Baby.’

Probably not, but the thought made him smile anyway, made his chest warm and he wanted to kiss Cho and never, ever stop.

Cho started to say something, but he murmured, “No,” and bit his chin, just to make him forget about words for a while, just to make him tip his head back in pleasure.

When Cho tried again, he twisted and slid onto his lap, kissing him in earnest, long heartfelt kisses that soon had him moaning softly in the back of his throat, something he only ever did when he was completely in the moment. It was time. He stood up and held out his hand. “C’mon.”

He walked backwards to the dark bedroom, not letting go once and when he got to the foot of the bed, he sat down and pulled Cho to him, nuzzling his belly through the ratty t-shirt, rooting and licking and nipping gently on the smooth muscle.

Cho moaned, louder this time, and clutched at Jane’s head, his hair.  “Jane?” he muttered, a question in his voice.

“It’s okay,” Jane whispered, forgetting why he was reassuring the second he spoke, not even sure what the words meant—he’d shoved Cho’s t-shirt up so he had better access and the valley where hip met stomach was surely made for his mouth, his tongue, and he wanted…

He wanted.

Images paraded through his mind, a confusion of desires, passing so quickly that he only comprehended bits and pieces—Cho above him, broad shoulders cutting the light as they made love. Cho on his back, legs spread wide, hands fisting the sheets as Jane mouthed him…

It was all too much, the things he wanted, and he shook his head, making sure his hair rubbed against Cho’s stomach.

“What is it, what’s wrong?” Cho asked, his voice and hands suddenly so tender.

And it came to Jane that it had been a long time since he’d been that tender, and he spoke without thought, without preparation, “I want to make love to you.”

There was silence and then there was silence. This was definitely the latter and he looked up, a sick certainty as to what he’d find.

And yes, Cho was staring down, his face a mask, his mouth open in such surprise, it was a wonder Jane didn’t hear the crack as blood froze in his veins.

He sat back and cocked his head. “Did you think I’d never ask?”

“I thought you liked things the way they were.”

“I do.” And he punctuated his assurance with a smile and a squeeze. “I do, but don’t you want to—” He shrugged. “Mix it up a little?”

Cho didn’t answer but answered all the same by distancing himself without actually moving a muscle.

So much for trying something new—Jane felt his smile die. “Does it bother you so much?”

“I don’t know. I never thought about it.”

‘Liar,’ Jane thought again, but this time bleakly because Cho might lack some imagination in the bedroom, but no one was that vanilla. Besides, his reaction wouldn’t be so extreme if he hadn’t wondered… “Is it because you were in a gang and bangers don’t get—”

Cho pulled out of his grasp and shook his head sharply, “Don’t.”

Jane’s hands and chest were cold and he laced his fingers together. “Do you want me to leave?”

Cho did that thing with his fingers, something he only did when he was nervous or unsure, and turned in a sharp circle. “No! No,” he said, softer the second time. “I just need a minute to think.”

Jane gave him a moment, then said gravely, “This isn’t something you can rationalize, Kim. You either want it or you don’t.”

“Jane, getting fucked is something most men never want, period.”

“Eh,” Jane said with a little shrug. “Most men don’t have a clue about their own desires or motivations. I made a very good living on that fact.” When Cho jerked his head up, shocked, he added, “What, you think all of my marks were women? No, a lot of them were men who wanted the same thing from me, only they were generally less open about it. In some cases, they didn’t even know it.”

He smiled. A tiny river of anger was coursing through him, white hot. It was be so lovely to open up to it, but he couldn’t—it would consume them, burning them both alive.

But Cho, he was already on the edge of that same anger—his hands were curled into fists, every line of his body was taut. “You’re not saying you seduced them are you?”

“Not sexually, no.” Now, who was the liar? “But emotionally? Of course—I did it all the time. I do it all the time. You’ve seen me.” Said insistently, because surely this wasn’t a surprise?

He waited a heartbeat for Cho to get it, to see reason. Because there was no way to fix his past or the way he operated and he wasn’t going to try. He was what he was and Cho needed to accept that.

And after a moment, he did. He nodded, a little stiffly, and his fists uncurled.

“Come here,” Jane said with a firm gesture. When Cho got close enough to touch, he gathered him in, arms around his hips. He rested his cheek where he’d just kissed, pushing away everything but the way Cho felt. He knew what the result would be if he thought about what just happened and he wasn’t ready for it. He had no intention of giving Cho up, just as he had no intention of letting Cho give him up, but they needed to be equal in this or it wouldn’t work.

He waited until Cho’s flight or fight response died, until his own emotions were checked. Then, without a word, he stripped them both and got them in bed so they could begin again.

 

_________________

Thursday

 

Cho shifted from side to side, trying to ease the strain on his thighs when a heavy weight landed on his back, pushing him forward. He was pissed but not surprised—he knew who it was.

“Hey,” Jane murmured, his voice breathless with excitement. “Ask Clive if he knows where Jenkins put the stash. I bet it’s in the house.”

“Jane?”

“Yeah?”

Cho elbowed him, not gently. “Will you get the hell out of here? You don’t have a vest on.”

Jane hesitated, then said, “Yeah, okay. I’ll be behind my tree.” He patted Cho’s shoulder, then scuttled away.

He wasn’t taking any of this seriously. Had, in fact, dubbed the case, ‘the case of the dirty money launderer’s dirty laundry.’ Cho couldn’t blame him. If Clive Pearson hadn’t been on elementary school property, if he hadn’t run, they would have left this one to the locals who would eventually contact the Feds. But Pearson had run and it was too late to do anything but see it through.

He held his breath and took a quick look around the corner of the shed.

The scene hadn’t changed—the small, dusty-yellow house with its sagging veranda was empty of everything but a refrigerator and a sofa. The screen swayed in the light breeze, half torn off its hinges.

It was supposed to be simple—flush him out and bring him in. Pearson had taken refuge in the house and though he was unarmed, they’d decided to wait for Chief Harrison as he knew Clive from when he was young.

But Pearson had been surprisingly quick—the second Cho had called out, saying the house was surrounded, the front door banged open and he’d charged out to the middle of the yard. Before he could even blink, Pearson had dropped to the ground and slithered under the crawl space. Like a snake.

They’d taken cover, Cho behind the shed, Rigsby behind a rusted out Ford. Van Pelt was somewhere to the left, on the other side of the shed, waiting for his signal.

He looked around, making sure Jane was behind one of the big oaks that circled the property, then yelled, “Pearson! It’s over! We’ve got you and you know it. Make it easy on yourself!”

He heard a muffled noise, then a shout, “I didn’t do it! I swear!”

He rolled his eyes—they all said that. He nodded to Rigsby, who nodded to Van Pelt. A few seconds later, she fired a smoke grenade.

It was a sweet shot, perfectly placed—it landed just under the porch and a plume of grey smoke poured out from all sides.

Pearson shouted something unintelligible, and came scrambling out. And that should have been easy too, but the wind picked up and sent the smoke cloud out towards the yard, away from the house.

Cho straightened and took a deep breath to yell a warning when Pearson surprised him again—he came running out of the cloud, waving his arms, running like a jackrabbit with vertigo.

Cho holstered his weapon and hurried to meet him, thinking to block his path. But Pearson stumbled to the right at the wrong moment and bypassed his outstretched hands. He took off again, this time heading for the road, straight towards Jane. Who was somehow not behind his tree anymore. Who was somehow frozen in place, hands up. As if that would do anything.

Cho shouted and ran, but it was already over. Pearson plowed into Jane, they went flying back, down in a tangle of plaid and wool. He was on Pearson in a flash, jerking him back, dragging him off Jane. “You okay?” He got his cuffs and quickly fastened them around Pearson’s wrists.

Before Jane could answer, Pearson nodded and whined, “Yeah, man, but you didn’t need to do that. All that smoke and stuff? I was coming out, honest.”

Jane choked on a laugh and Cho growled, “I didn’t mean you, you idiot.”

Rigsby and Van Pelt ran up—she had gotten a good dose of smoke and was squinting and blinking, her eyes watering.

Pearson pulled on his cuffs, trying to twist around. “Well, how was I to know that? I couldn’t see who you were talking to. I was just answering in general, you know?”

This time it was Rigsby that snickered. Cho glared and pushed Pearson towards him, saying, “He’s all yours. I’ll wait for the chief. Van Pelt?”

She was blinking and squinting. “Yeah?”

“You okay?”

“I’m fine. I’ve got eye drops in my purse. I’ll be fine.”

“You and Rigsby get going. We’ll meet up in town.” He turned. Jane had wondered off towards the house. His back and hair were covered with dirt and weeds and he was waving the smoke away while peering into it. “Hey?”

Jane didn’t turn around. “Yes?”

“Don’t go in there, okay? Wait for Harrison.”

Jane gestured vaguely, which Cho took to mean either, ‘okay, okay,’ or ‘how stupid do you think I am?’ Whatever. As long as he stayed outside.

He turned back to the SUV—Rigsby was cuffing Pearson to the door handle. Even from the distance of a hundred feet, Cho could hear him complaining. He sighed and walked back to Jane.

Who was standing in front of the veranda steps, craning his head to look inside as he absent-mindedly brushed off the debris.

Cho gave him a minute, then asked, “Are you really okay?”

“Yep.”

“Seriously, Jane. He hit you pretty hard and this place is full of junk.”

Jane turned. “No, I’m fine. I’m going to need to get this suit dry cleaned, but I’m fine.”

Cho shrugged and stepped closer. “I should’ve had you go with Rigsby. No way do I want you messing up my car. Here…” He reached for Jane’s shoulder, holding him in place while he brushed off the worst of the leaves and dirt.

Later on, when he had time to think about it, he wondered what the hell got into him because he did something he’d normally never do—he held on and let his touch become personal, intimate. Even as he told himself to stop, he exchanged back for head, brushing his hand over Jane’s hair, letting his fingers slip through Jane’s curls.

And Jane, he leaned back, almost purring and Cho stepped closer, pressing his chest into Jane’s shoulder, pretending to comb out twigs and leaves that were no longer there.

It had been four days since That Night—and he couldn’t help it, he thought about it in caps—and although neither had talked about it, it was there between everything they did, everything they said. So much so, that he’d taken to avoiding Jane’s gaze and last night, he’d actually said he was busy when Jane asked if he could come over.

He was embarrassed for Christ’s sake, something he hardly ever was. And he couldn’t stop his reactions, couldn’t help feeling that a barrier had descended, deep and impassable, sealing them off from one another.

But for all that, for all he wasn’t sure what was going on and how to fix it, they still had this. Whatever that was worth and he pressed harder, wishing they were anywhere else so he could kiss the side of Jane’s face. “I’m glad that asshole didn’t hurt you,” he whispered.

“Yes?”

“Yeah.”

“How glad?”

There was a smile in Jane’s voice and Cho was about to answer when a noise, like an indrawn breath, made him jump around. Rigsby had returned and was standing by the corner of the shed, staring with his mouth open in shock.

Cho froze. And remembered he was holding Jane, almost wrapped around him. He dropped his hands and stepped back, dully noting that Jane had turned as well. No one spoke and he suddenly wished for Rigsby’s normal motor mouth because he sure as hell couldn’t say anything.

Finally, Rigsby stuck his hands in his back pockets and stuttered, “Er, I just wanted…” He shrugged. “Lisbon just called Van Pelt. She’s got some news about the Johnson’s computer or something like that. She wants you to call.”

“Van Pelt?”

“No, Lisbon. Lisbon wants you to call her.”

Said almost angrily and Cho nodded, unable to make it easier. Thankfully, Jane was there. With a smooth, “I’m on it,” he got his cell out and began to dial.

Rigsby pivoted and stomped off.

“Well, that cat’s out of the bag.” Jane said cheerfully, the phone still pressed to his ear. “I’d like to be a fly on the wall for the conversation he’s having with Grace.”

Cho turned, his neck stiff with accelerating shock. Jane was bouncing on his toes as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

“Hey, Lisbon. You called?” There was a pause, then Jane rolled his eyes. “No, I’m fine. What’s going on? I— He’s here, but you can— Oh, all right.” He reluctantly handed the cell to Cho.

He took it with fingers that didn’t want to work right. “Hi, boss.”

“Rigsby said Pearson tried to make a break for it. Are you guys okay?”

“Yeah, we’re fine.” He glanced sideways at Jane. “Jane got knocked over, but that’s business as usual.”

Lisbon snorted. “You got that right. Listen,” her lighthearted tone changed, became serious. “I’m waiting on a call from Blount. We might have some interesting news. When will you be back?”

“Harrison should be arriving any minute. He’d wanted us to wait for the arrest, but Pearson had other ideas.”

“Okay.” She paused then, said, “Okay, give him thirty minutes. If he doesn’t show, call him and tell him that I need you back at the office, asap, and that he’ll need to go over the scene without you. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay.” He hung up and handed the phone back to Jane.

Jane smiled. “She sounds excited.”

“Yeah.”

“I wonder what it could be.” Jane stuck his hands in his pockets and kicked the dirt, turning in a circle. “Maybe Blount found our guy.”

“Maybe.”

Jane shrugged. “Or maybe it’s just be some more boring hacker mumbo-jumbo.”

“Maybe.”

Jane stopped kicking, stopped turning. “It was bound to happen, you know.”

His voice was gentle, but matter-of-fact and Cho didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “You think?”

“Yeah. I mean, considering how close we all work together.”

“Not according to Lisbon’s rules.”

“You mean the, ‘Keep your personal life out of your work’ rule?”

“Yeah.”

Jane made a face. “Piffle.”

Cho sighed. “Jane—”

Jane took his hands out of his pockets and reached for Cho’s shoulders.  “You really didn’t expect this?” He squeezed gently.

Cho shrugged because he really didn’t know. He hadn’t been hiding anything about his relationship with Jane.

Had he?

It hadn’t bothered him, confirming what Van Pelt had asked, last year at the Carina Luna. She’d been more embarrassed about it than he. But telling her, a woman colleague, was far different from telling a male colleague and he almost winced at the memory of Rigsby’s stony expression, his obvious embarrassment. So maybe it wasn’t so much as being comfortable with the idea that he and Jane were sleeping together so much as comfortable with the idea of not facing it.

Something of his confusion must have shown because Jane cocked his head and said, “It’ll be okay.”

“Says you.”

“When we get back, you can talk to him.”

Cho said nothing.

“Knowing him, though, he’ll need to talk it over and I’m afraid you’re on your own there.”

“Coward.”

Jane squeezed again and smiled. “But I’ll enjoy it all from the sidelines. He’ll probably want to go out to dinner, just you two.”

Cho groaned because he’d thought the same thing, all those months ago. “Don’t. I’ll turn in my badge if he tries to give me any dating advice.”

Jane laughed out loud. Then looked over Cho’s shoulder and nodded. “Here comes your cavalry.”

And that’s all they said. On the way back, Jane fell asleep, curled against the door, as Cho tried to push away the memory of Rigsby’s shock, of his own.

***

They were pulling into the office lot when Jane woke up. “We here?”

“Yes.” Cho slid into a parking space. It wasn’t quite four, but the lot was half empty. Not unexpected these days because of the budge cuts. “Lisbon called.”

“When?”

“About an hour ago.”

“Any news?”

“No, she just wanted to talk about Pearson.”

“What time is it?”

“Four.

Jane got out of the car and stretched. “That’s good,” he called out, mind clearly not on the conversation.

He reached for his stakeout book. “I’m going to run around the corner to get something to eat. You want to come?”

Jane bent down. “It’s only four.”

“Like that ever made a difference to you.”

“Ah, ah, ah.” Jane wagged his finger. “You can’t fool me.”

Cho tucked the book in his pocket and peered up. “Fool you? How?”

“I know you just don’t want to go in and face Rigsby. C’mon. Take it like a man and let’s go see what Lisbon has for us.” And he was off, striding across the parking lot without waiting.

“You take it like a man,” Cho muttered under his breath and got out.

Jane was right, though, Cho decided, as excitement replaced dread. Who cared what Rigsby thought? What mattered now was the news from London.

Still, he followed slowly and by the time he got upstairs, Jane was already in with Lisbon, and Rigsby and Van Pelt were at their desks. Cho told himself that it wasn’t shame that made him pass the bullpen and continue on to Lisbon’s office. He was just doing his job.

Lisbon waved him in when he got to her doorway. She was on the phone, and by her expression—and Jane’s—whatever news she had wasn’t good.

Cho sat down next to Jane and listened as Lisbon gave a lot of ‘Yes, sirs,’ and ‘No, sirs.’ Finally, when he was beginning to wish he’d just gone to his desk because at least then he could be working, she said, “Understood. Let me know if we can help on our end. Goodbye.”

She sat the receiver in the cradle and leaned back in her chair. She gave Cho a speaking glance and said succinctly, “Well, that sucks.”

“Nothing’s come in?” Jane said with a frown.

“No, worse. There’s a problem with the records. Apparently they’ve found a Joseph Littlefield that went to Oxford, but Blount can’t get the details, so he’s going to go look for himself. He doesn’t think we’ll have anything for a few days.”

“Damnit,” Jane muttered. Cho exchanged glances with Lisbon. Jane was generally easygoing about these things and the bumps in an investigation’s road rarely fazed him, rarely made him swear.

“Yeah,” Lisbon said with a ‘back-to-square-one’ sigh. “But we’ve got other things to do and the case has waited this long. It can wait a few more days.”

“Maybe one of us should fly to England,” Jane said.

Lisbon snorted. “You’re kidding, right? On what budget? On whose budget?”

“I’ll use my own money.”

“No.”

“It’s my money, Lisbon,” Jane said in that mildly affronted tone he got. “I can do what I want with it.”

Lisbon leaned forward. “Jane, if you so much as step foot across the state line, I’ll fix you with an ankle bracelet.”

Jane raised an eyebrow. “That’s illegal.”

“I’ll find an excuse.”

“Like—”

“Jane,” she said tiredly. “Just be patient. Go take a look at the Red John case again. Go—” She made a waving gesture, as if hoping to conjure something out of thin air then asked hopefully, “Cho?”

He nodded and stood up. “C’mon. Give her a break.”

After a moment, Jane got up and left without saying another word. Cho rolled his eyes at Lisbon, then followed.

Rigsby was still at his desk, and without breaking his stride, he changed destinations and went left instead of right. He really didn’t have any reason to be in the kitchen, but a drink wouldn’t hurt and tea would take a while to fix. He opened a cupboard and got out a cup.

“Hey?”

He sighed silently and turned. Rigsby was in the doorway, file folder in hand. He was trying to look like he just happened to be there. “Yeah?”

“You have time for a beer after work?”

“I don’t know. I was planning on an early night.”

“With Jane?”

He froze. No one was around, no one heard. He met Rigsby’s gaze squarely. “Yes.”

Rigsby nodded and frowned at the folder, tapping it restlessly against his palm.

He looked like a little kid, one that had been slapped around and Cho remembered what Jane had said after the incident with the hypnotist—that there was some sort of abuse in Rigsby’s past, most likely from his father. And as much as he didn’t want to deal with this, they’d known each other a while now and he didn’t want to lose the friendship. “Listen.”

“Yeah?”

“What about tomorrow night?”

Rigsby stopped his restless tapping and looked up. “Yeah?”

“If Blount comes up with anything, we might have to work, but…” He shrugged.

Even that was enough. Rigsby straightened up and nodded. He didn’t smile, but was a little less grim around the mouth, so that was something. “Yeah, okay.” He backed up. “That sounds good. Thanks.”

He watched Rigsby stride off, wondering what he would be content with hearing: the truth or a lie they both knew was a lie.

He sighed and filled the cup with water.

***

When he got home—late because he’d decided to go to the store—the aroma of dinner hit him the minute he closed the door.

He followed the scent to the kitchen. Jane was in front of the stove, idly stirring something in a pan. He was still wearing his work clothes, minus the jacket, and had Cho’s striped green and white apron on. He looked a little ridiculous. Cho had to stifle a grin.

“Hello,” Jane murmured without turning around.

“Hey.” Cho sat the bags on the table.

“You’re home late.”

Cho shrugged. “I had to finish up some work.” He didn’t mention Rigsby—there was no point in bringing up something he could solve tonight. He came nearer and leaned on Jane’s shoulder, one hand on the small of his back. “That smells good.” And not just the sauce; Jane was wearing some new cologne and a curl of desire warmed his belly.

“It should. I’m using the last of the wine from the Beckworth case. Taste…”

He dipped the spoon in the sauce, blew on it, then held it up for Cho. Who tasted it but didn’t really taste it. His body was on a different track and what he wanted couldn’t be eaten. Sort of. He kissed Jane’s shoulder and stroked his back, up and down.

Jane turned. And rubbed something off his lower lip. “Sauce,” he explained, then, “What’s in the bags?”

“Groceries.”

“Did you get a lime?”

“No.

“Pity. A little lime juice would go great with the rice.”

“I’ll pick one up tomorrow.”

“It’ll be too late, but okay.”

“Do I have time for a shower?”

“If you hurry.”

Cho kissed Jane’s ear just to watch him shiver, then went to take a shower.

***

Dinner was good. Chicken, rice, and salad—simple, but good.

Afterwards, he washed the dishes while Jane got his book and curled up in his corner of the couch.

‘His corner.’

Cho shook his head and reminded himself to stop thinking like that. There was no ‘his’ anything—just Jane’s place and his place. Two separate homes for two separate lives.

He finished cleaning the kitchen a little gloomily and folded the dishrag neatly by the sink. He turned off the kitchen lights, then the main set and settled into the opposite corner of the sofa, automatically picking up the remote.

“Anything on?” Jane asked as he turned a page.

“Same old, same old,” Cho lied—he hadn’t really been paying attention. “How’s the book?” Jane was reading a biography on William Blake. Cho had taken one look at the illustrations and said he’d stick with Dickens.

“Good. Oh,” he looked up. “Do you want your Dickens?”

Cho shook his head, but Jane got up anyway and went to the bedroom.

Without thinking or planning, he followed, not hurrying, but quickly enough so that when he got to the dark bedroom, Jane was just reaching for the book. When he straightened, Cho was there.

Stepping close and wrapping his arms around Jane’s waist, running his hand down Jane’s belly and under his trousers when he sucked in a startled breath and said, “No reading tonight?”

He cupped Jane’s shorts, his dick, pressing and pressing until he got the reaction he was looking for. “No.”

“Are you sure?”

He nuzzled beneath Jane’s collar and licked his neck. “I’m sure.”

“Okay.”

Jane turned on the light, then twisted in his arms and Cho kissed him eagerly, telling himself that this wasn’t an apology fuck. That all that was over and he had nothing to be sorry for anyway.

Still, he avoided Jane’s gaze as he slipped him out of his clothing like he was a thief and Jane a precious object d’art hidden in a locked house.

Not an analogy that made him happy and he pushed the thought away, instead concentrating on the familiar things that always got him hot—the feel of Jane’s body against his own, the rough silk of his skin, his hitched breath, his sighs and groans.

There was a moment, tiny but noticeable, when Jane pushed him down on the bed and lay on him. Unable to help himself, he stiffened. Jane didn’t say anything. He just rolled them both until they were on their sides, legs tangled.

They had sex that way; like dinner, it was simple but good.

Afterwards, he was too tired to move. Jane turned off the light, then pulled the covers up over them both.

***

The dream, when it came, was shallow and only half real. He managed to cut it off before the final scene and woke with a jolt. He laid there, heart pounding, cold with sweat, listening to see if he’d woken Jane. Except for the ticking of the clock, the room was quiet and he sighed. After an uncounted time, he relaxed and fell back asleep.

 

__________________

Saturday

 

Mark jumped out of the cab and ran into the shop, cursing the wet. He’d gotten lazy, spending so much time in Majorca and Nice and lately, California, and had forgotten how cold a typical London day could be. He paused in the foyer to shake the water off his overcoat, then continued on.

Luke was in his usual spot, in the far right corner, back to the wall. The paper was spread out before him and his head was bowed as he did one of his infernal word puzzles. With the light from the stained glass windows shining on his cheek and dark hair, he looked like he had an awful skin disease.

Mark sat down.

Luke wrote something, murmuring, “You’re late.”

“Traffic.”

“Five blocks?”

“I took a cab.”

Luke’s head was bent too far to see his expression, but Mark knew his lips were bent in a smile. “Five blocks?”

Mark kicked his shin, but gently—it wouldn’t do to make him angry. “And have you bitch about me being even later? I don’t think so.” And then, “Did you order for me?”

Luke finally straightened up. “Of course.” The wound from the Caracas job was fading. Soon, there’d only be a faint line that ran from his hairline to his temple. And then he could get his hair trimmed again. Mark knew he hated the fringe that he was forced to grow in order to hide the distinguishing mark, but John’s rules were John’s rules and even Luke had limits.

Luke cocked his head. “What is it?”

Mark shrugged. And then sat back when the girl brought a pint and a plate. Shepherd’s pie. Perfect. He tucked in, ignoring Luke’s sigh—he was hungry and he always thought better on a full stomach.

“So,” he mumbled as soon as half the pie was gone. “Any news?” He wiped his mouth with the napkin.

Luke tossed his pen down. “You tell me. I’m here because of you.”

Mark wiped his mouth again, to give himself a moment. Now that he was here, with Luke in arm’s reach, he wondered if this was a good idea. Luke and John were close, to say the least. And even though Mark had been with them for almost twelve years, that couldn’t stack up to what those two had together. Whatever that was.

Luke sighed and stretched into the corner of the booth. “Mark,” he said with a low grumble. “I just got in from Mexico. I’m tired. What do you want?”

Well, when he put it that way… “I’m worried about John.”

Luke nodded, as if Mark answered as expected. “And?”

“And, I’m worried he’s losing his focus.”

“I wouldn’t concern myself too much with that,” Luke said with a shrug. “John gets bored easily. He’ll tire soon. He always does.”

“He does, does he? Where do you think I’ve been these last weeks?”

“John said you were training the newbie.”

“Yes, well, do you know he had me take a trip to the States? To Sacramento, California, specifically?”

Luke went still. Then he picked up his pen and began to trace a figure eight on the tabletop, around and around. “No, I didn’t,” he finally said. “Did you take Peter?”

“I wanted to leave him here, but John said to bring him. He wanted to see how the kid behaved amongst Americans.”

“And?”

Mark made a face. “Overly impressed, but he held it together. He thinks Mr. Jane is the bees knees.”

“He does, does he?” Luke said, mimicking Mark’s own words with a snarky smile.

Mark frowned, then said seriously, “He did all right. I think he could use a few more weeks of training. He’s got some rough spots.”

“Did you say this to John?”

Mark hesitated, then said, “Yeah, I did.”

Luke sighed. “Mark. You know what he’s like when you second-guess him.”

“Yeah, but do you want to be stuck in the field with someone you can’t count on?”

Luke looked out the widow while he thought about it. Finally, he admitted, “No. I take it you want me to convince him?”

“Yeah, because if you don’t, I’ll go out there myself.”

Luke looked up, his gaze suddenly sharp and feral. “I’d think twice about that if I were you. I know he likes you and trusts you, but don’t push it. He’s in a foul mood now that the Switzerland job is a no go.”

Mark didn’t ask for details. When John wanted him to know, he’d tell him. But he couldn’t be sorry—the global warming idea had been ridiculous and had no chance of making any profit. Not that he’d said that to John, of course.

Luke returned to his puzzle. He filled in a square, then murmured, “He’s in Paris for a few days. I’m picking him up on Tuesday. He’ll want to visit the old man first, so we’ll be making a trip down to Woodgate.”

“You’ll talk to him?”

Luke nodded slowly. “I’ll talk to him.”

 

______________

Tuesday

 

Jane was finishing his tea when his cell rang. He felt for it blindly because he almost had the jumble after spending the last hour on it. “It’s your dime.”

“Who answers the phone like that?”

“Well, good morning to you too, sunshine.” Cho was behind him at the sink, washing the dishes. The water was shut off. Jane looked over his shoulder, mouthing, ‘Lisbon.’ “I’ve got a riddle for you: what’s green and—”

“Jane. Luckner just called.”

Jane sat up, jumble forgotten. “And?”

“He thinks you’re right.”

“About?”

“What do you think?

He ignored her sarcasm with practiced ease. “And Blount?”

“He needs convincing.”

Her tone was too dry and he wondered what else Blount had said. Probably something along the lines of, ‘I don’t need a psychic telling me what to do or who to investigate.’ “I’ll bet he does.”

When can you get here?”

“An hour?”

“Fine.” She hung up before he could say anything else.

“What’s up?” Cho picked up the dishcloth and dried his hands. He’d been for his morning run and, as usual, he’d stripped off his t-shirt, shoes and socks the minute he walked in the door. Something Jane had no problem with generally, but it was a little distracting, considering their current state of, well, affairs. “Luckner called this morning.”

“And?”

“And, since he’s a very smart man, he thinks I’m right about the connection between the Johnsons and the Red Men.”

“Big surprise there,” Cho muttered. He began to wash the countertops that he’d washed not ten minutes ago.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you’re usually right.”

“Not always. Sometimes not ever.”

“Hmm.”

Cho was rubbing the same spot on the countertop, over and over. He looked tired and out of sorts. Probably because he’d had another nightmare last night, the second in the last three days. Only, Jane wasn’t supposed to know that, was he?

Wasn’t supposed to know that he’d been having nightmares for a while now and they weren’t getting any better or less frequent.

Just weeks ago he’d woken up from a belt on the back of his head. He tried to get Cho to talk about it, but he’d looked so ashamed, he’d just shut up about it. And let Cho seduce him into one a.m. sex, which he really didn’t have a problem with.

The next morning, he brought the dream up, albeit obliquely, and Cho had ignored him. A few days later, when he’d suggested that he come over for the weekend, Cho had told him he was working.

So, no, there was no sense pushing, not yet. Just as there was no sense in reaching out and hooking his fingers under Cho’s shorts to drag him closer. After the fiasco of the week before, he needed to go slow. That though it felt as Cho was hiding behind a wall made of brick, time and patience would tear down any barrier, no matter how strong, no matter how thick.

So, patience—patience was what was required now.

He leaned his chin on his fist and said, “Hey?”

“Yeah?”

“Why don’t you stop cleaning up after me and go take a shower and get dressed. By the time you get back, I’ll have breakfast waiting.”

“I can make my own breakfast.”

“Let me. What do you want?”

Cho shrugged. “Eggs and toast?”

“Got it.”

Cho hung the dishrag over the sink divider. As he was leaving, he edged by Jane’s chair and that was too much temptation for one man—Jane turned back around, pretending to finish the puzzle, all the while focused on Cho, now padding away.

***

They took separate cars to work. Jane grumbled—it was such a waste, even though Cho was right—who knew what the day would bring?

But he didn’t hurry and when he got to the office, they were all there, waiting. Lisbon was sitting on Cho’s desk, kicking her heels, a folder in one hand. She tapped her watch. “Glad you could make it.”

“I know you are, Lisbon.” Jane nodded to the others and sat down on his couch, crossing his legs and giving her his, ‘well, what are you waiting for?’ look.

She tightened her lips, then announced “Okay. I talked to Inspector Blount and Director Luckner this morning and we think we have a break in the so-called Red Men case, but first, Cho? Where are we on Pearson?”

“He lawyered up.”

“You’re kidding.”

Cho shook his head. “Nope, and it’s not a public defender.”

“Would this lawyer happen to work for Stewart Jenkins?”

“He won’t say, but it’s a good bet.”

“Damnit,” she muttered softly. “Well, we’ve still got him on the original charges so we can hold him for a couple more days.”

“And by then,” Cho said, “we’ll have his prints from the house and the rifle he left at the school.”

“Hopefully.” She opened the folder. “Okay, back to the Red Men case and don’t think I don’t see you rolling your eyes, Jane. The Jenkins case is just as important.”

Jane grinned. He thought she hadn’t noticed.

“So, Inspector Blunt called this morning. Luckner agrees that the home invasion case last year could be connected with the Red Men case. Blount isn’t convinced, but is willing to listen to the details. He’s had time to go over the new evidence and he might have a lead on Joseph Littlefield, AKA Mathias Evans.”

“AKA who knows who else,” Jane murmured dryly. Mathias probably had a couple other names floating around out there—he’d almost have to, considering the scope of his crimes.

Lisbon nodded. “Unfortunately, that might be the case. But, we’re getting somewhere. Here—” She held up a couple sheets of paper. “Blount faxed these over. It’s Littlefield’s bio, or at least what we know so far. Take a look.” She handed the sheets to Cho. “The photos on the second page are from school archives, I think. They’re bad, but Mathias is recognizable.”

Cho looked the bio over and handed it to Rigsby.

“Apparently he’s from a fairly well-off family. Or was. They seem to be all dead.”

Rigsby got up and gave the papers to Van Pelt. Jane couldn’t stand it anymore. He got up and hurried over to peer over her shoulder.

The first page of the bio was a short list of facts, the second was a mish-mash of badly copied photos. All were old, most were blurry. He reached over and turned back to the first page, ignoring Van Pelt’s little huff, and began to read.

Littlefield, age thirty-six in 2009, was born in Boughten, outside of Northhampton. He’d gone to several schools that Jane vaguely knew from nineteenth century literature. St. Mary’s, Oxford—Littlefield had attended both. Surprisingly, he’d majored in—

“He was going to be a priest?” Van Pelt asked in disbelief. Jane felt the same surprise—arrogant and sneaky, Mathias had been as far from priest-like as one could get.

“Looks like it,” Lisbon answered. “Blount said he’d gone through the whole program or whatever they call it over there.”

“Divinity school,” Jane murmured. There was nothing on the bio saying why he’d changed career paths. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. When it didn’t work out, he joined the military. Who was he with, Van Pelt?”

Van Pelt scanned the sheet, slapping Jane’s hand away when he pointed over her shoulder. “Third Commando Brigade. Whatever that is.”

“Front line unit, trained in special tactics,” Cho muttered. They all turned to look at him and he shrugged. It was just something he knew.

“But something happened,” Jane broke in. “Why? Why chuck it all and enter the military? Going from one to the other is a pretty big leap.”

“The Third Brigade is trained to go in first into any crisis. An army buddy of mine had a cousin who was in the brigade. They’re hardcore.”

Jane raised his eyebrow. Anyone who Cho thought was hardcore had to be tough. He looked at the sheet again and said absently, “Which makes it even stranger, right?”

“What are you thinking?” Lisbon asked.

“That people don’t just switch from the priesthood to the military without a significant alteration in their viewpoint.”

“I don’t know,” Rigsby countered. “Maybe he just got tired of wearing robes and being all priestly.”

“I doubt that would qualify as a reason. No… Van Pelt, may I…?” he asked as he pointed to the sheet. She gave it to him and he went back to his couch and sat down again. “This is something else, something big.”

“Like a sea change,” Cho murmured.

Jane looked up at him. “Exactly like.” Cho was watching him with and odd blank look in his eye—he shook off the bad feeling and said, “So Littlefield joined the military for some reason. He was only there for a short time.”

Lisbon nodded. “Blount was just as puzzled. He’s doing more digging but it might take work. The military generally likes to keep quiet about ex-personnel.” She looked at Cho as she spoke and he nodded gravely.

“Hey, Lisbon?”

“Yes, Jane.”

“Can I take a look at his Facebook page?”

“I thought you already went over it?”

“Oh, I did. I just want to see it again.”

“The boys in the lab have the computer. I can tell them you’re on your way.”

“No, never mind. It’s not that important,” he muttered. The idea was crazy anyway—none of Littlefield’s friends were part of the group. No one was that stupid and he was just grasping at straws, trying to make the pieces fall into place.

He went back to the bio and studied the photos, holding the paper up to the light to see better. Even taking into account this was a fax of a scan, the photos were bad. They were a disordered series of crooked images, the oldest being fifteen or twenty years old, judging by the clothing and haircuts. “Why did Blount even bother with these? It’s not like they—”

He paused and peered at the sheet, trying to see if he was really seeing what he was seeing. The oldest photo, taken sometime in the early nineties, had been placed underneath the others so its very top and bottom third were missing. But the important part was there—three young men smiling at the camera. Behind them, in the background, was what looked like the entrance to a formal building made of brick and ivy. Probably a school.

The boy in the center had his arm slung over the shoulder of boy to his right, and it took a moment for Jane to recognize Joseph Littlefield AKA Mathias. His hair was much lighter, almost blond, and he was wearing a suit and tie, but it was Mathias. The man on the left, hand up, palm toward the camera was unrecognizable—he was obviously trying to hide his face—the only thing noticeable was that he seemed to be smiling.

But the kid on the right, dark-haired and tall—

“Oh,” Jane murmured—maybe he was imagining it. But no, and he called out, “Oh!” again and raised his hand. “Lisbon?”

“Jane, I’m four feet away. What is it?”

He jumped up and hurried over, pointing to the image. “Here.” He shoved the paper at her. “I’ve seen this man.”

The rest of the team jumped up as well and crowded around.

“See?” Jane pointed again.

Lisbon took the papers and held them up. “No, I don’t see. What is it?”

“I’ve seen this boy before.” Jane jabbed at the photo for the third time. “Very recently, in fact.”

“Jane—”

But Jane wasn’t listening. He leaned around her so he could see Cho, “Remember? At the Catamaran Club? During the Mashburn case? The time when I proved to Mashburn that I could read people by body language?”

“Which time? The time you ruined the expensive—”

“Yes, of course that—”

“No, I don’t—”

“He was right there, almost within—”

“I was busy. Remember? Investigating the murder of—”

“Hey!” Lisbon said loudly with an abrupt wave of her hands. “Do we need to be here for this?”

“Never mind,” Jane shook his head. Excitement was coursing through his body and he spoke quickly, “Lisbon, remember while I was trying to rule out Mashburn as a suspect? I bet him that he could hide a ring anywhere on the patio where we were dining and I’d find it. I—”

“Why would you do that?” Lisbon interrupted.

Jane shrugged. “To illustrate how easy it is to read people. May I continue?”

She frowned, but nodded.

“He, of course, had to be convinced, but while he was hemming and hawing, I got a good look at the crowd. And Lisbon,” Jane grabbed the photo from her and shook the sheets of paper. “This man, the one next to Mathias or Littlefield or whoever he is; he was in the crowd.”

No one said anything and in the silence, he could hear the hum and clunk as the refrigerator jerked to life, and further off down the hall, a phone began to ring.

“Jane,” Lisbon finally said, breaking the hush, “that’s impossible. These are Mathias’s college photos, so that would mean the photo is at least fifteen years old, and—”

This time it was Cho who interrupted, leaning around Lisbon to say, “Are you sure?”

Jane nodded. “Remember? Here.” He passed the sheets back to Cho.

“He was there after the Lamborghini went over the cliff. You were ahead of me, Mashburn was on my left and this man…” He held his hands up, squinting into the distance as he re-imagined the scene. “The day had been hot, but not unseasonably. Mashburn had been entertaining if more than a little egotistical—typical of the rich. And the stranger?” He closed his eyes, gesturing with his right hand—he could almost see it. “He was on the left, hands in pockets, watching the show. When we all traipsed out to the parking lot, he came as well.”

He opened his eyes, straightened up, and raised an eyebrow. “Remember now?”

Cho shrugged. Lisbon was equally skeptical and Jane shook his head in frustration. He took the bio back and looked at the photo again—if he wasn’t sure before, he was now. “He was there.”

“Considering the murders last year and your theory as to why they occurred, should we assume he’s stalking you?” Lisbon asked doubtfully.

“What else could it be?”

“One,” she held up a finger. “I’d need hard evidence to prove that this man is the same one in that picture. Two, if it is him, why wait so long? Why not just come after you last year? I know I would.”

He gave her a look that said, ‘very funny.’ “I don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing, I just know they are.”

She took a breath, probably to argue with him, when her cell rang. She sighed and opened it up. “Lisbon.”

Her face changed and she slipped off Cho’s desk. “Have the locals been notif— Okay, we’ll be there as quick as we can. I call with an ETA when we’re on the road.” She hung up. “It’s a bad one. A triple homicide in Geyserville.”

Rigsby sighed and went back to his desk as Van Pelt rose and pulled on her jacket. Cho began to clear his desk.

Lisbon was already out the door, calling out over her shoulder, “We’ll take three cars in case we have to split up. Jane, you can come or not—it doesn’t look like we’ll need you on this one.”

Jane glanced at Cho, then muttered, “Stay behind? I don’t think so. Rigsby? I’m with you.”

***

The drive was uncomfortable. Jane had expected nothing less. Rigsby had a lot to say but didn’t say it—he kept throwing sidelong glances Jane’s way ever few miles or so, and every time Jane looked over, giving him the opportunity to speak, he jerked his head forward and tightened his hands on the steering wheel.

It was more than a little funny.

And a little boring—he’d expected some sort of third degree, had planned on it, but it seemed as if Rigsby was keeping his questions for Cho.

The trip took almost two hours—by the time they pulled into the parking lot of a cute bed and breakfast, he was ready for action.

He didn’t get much chance to act.

As he opened the car door, Lisbon strode over and blocked him, saying quietly, “I want you to stay here. We just found out that the suspects returned and are holed up inside. We’re going to see if we can get them out without any fuss, but until I give the all clear, you sit tight. Okay?”

She had her game face on, serious and intent, and he nodded several times. “Sure.” He looked over her shoulder. Cho and Van Pelt were strapping on their vests. Beyond, in the adjacent lot, were three cop cars, their lights flashing. “Be careful.”

“We will. You too.” And she and Rigsby were gone, running over to suit up.

He watched, feeling the same sense of distance he generally did at a crime scene, as if he were in the audience and a play was being enacted all around him. The overture was the stealthy movement of the teams as they crept up to the house, weapons raised. Next the opening act: Lisbon calling out and, when there was no response, the actual assault. The entre-act would be the worst—waiting because who knew what would happen, who would get hurt?

He rested his elbow on the doorframe. The day was pretty, the sky was clear—off in the distance, he could hear a bird, maybe a meadowlark or thrush. If this were a play, this would be when the dear friend or lover got killed, out of the blue, as it were.

As if to prove his point, a sharp round of gunfire split the calm and he ducked behind the dashboard. He waited and when nothing else happened, he sat up. A few seconds later, two cops came out with a woman in tow, fighting them every step of the way, screaming her rage. She was dark-haired, thin, and covered in blue paint from her neck on down.

He sighed and got out of the car. Van Pelt and Rigsby came out first with another cop. Lisbon was next, followed by Cho. They paused on the porch and talked. She patted Cho’s arm—a rare expression of approval—and then they continued on to the parking lot.

When they got closer, he saw they both had blue smudges on their arms—Cho had some on his cheek. He raised one eyebrow and Cho said, “She’d had a falling out with her partner. They’d robbed a bank yesterday morning. The die-pack exploded.”

Jane craned his neck. “Where’s the partner?”

Cho began to unfasten his vest. “She shot him five times. The coroner is on her way. Are you okay?” He was breathing hard and his face was flushed.

“Did anyone else get hurt?”

“Just the three back at the bank. Are you okay?”

Jane waved his concern away, saying “Oh, yeah. Fine. Just bored waiting, that’s all.”

He didn’t miss the glance Lisbon gave Cho, but all she said was, “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For staying in the car,” she said as she turned to where Rigsby and Van Pelt were waiting. “For listening to me for once.”

He rolled his eyes, but it took an effort. His temples were damp and he was shaking, just a bit. “I’m fine,” he repeated insistently. And that was stupid—insistence was always a dead giveaway.

But Cho just said, “Okay. I need to put this away.” He hefted the vest. “Do you want to ride with me?”

“Nah, I’m fine.”

Cho hesitated, then murmured, “Don’t tease Rigsby too much, okay?”

“Sure, fine.”

Cho sighed, then left.

It took an hour to wrap things up. By then, Jane’s reaction had subsided and when they got on the road, he was calm and collected. He spent the next two hours staring out the window, not teasing Rigsby.

 

__________________

Thursday

 

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can.”

“No, you can’t.”

Cho wanted to bang his head on the table. Jane and Rigsby had been sniping at each other all morning and it was driving him nuts. So maybe it would be better to bang Jane’s or Rigsby’s head on the table. That at least would be fair.

“I’m telling you—”

“Prove it,” Rigsby retorted.

“How can I prove that I can levitate when you won’t let me try.”

“I didn’t say that. I just said that you have to stand in the middle of the room with nothing within ten feet.”

“And that’s—”

Cho looked over his shoulder. Jane was sitting at the conference table, feet propped on a chair. Rigsby was sitting on the window ledge, tossing his nerf ball up and down. “Don’t you have something to do?”

“Yeah,” Van Pelt chimed in. “We’re trying to work.”

“And I’m trying to prove to Rigsby that it’s possible to levitate, but I can’t do it without harnessing the life energy of the—”

“‘Life energy,’” Rigsby mocked with a grin. “It’s just one of your tricks.”

“It’s not a trick at all. It’s just—”

“Guys?”

They all turned. Lisbon was coming through the door, cell in one hand, a folder in the other. “I’ve got Inspector Blount. Would you like to talk to him or argue about whatever it is you were arguing about?”

The rhetorical question was left unanswered as she made her way to the conference table. They all followed—Cho headed for the seat next to Jane, then hesitated, then said a silent screw it. Who cared what anyone thought. Anyone, of course, being Rigsby.

Lisbon waited until they were settled, then hit the speakerphone button and laid the phone on the table.

“Inspector? We’re all here.” She reached blindly for a chair as she opened the folder, then sat down. “I’m giving my team copies of the case notes you sent earlier.” She handed out the sheets, sliding them across the table.

“Who’s ‘we’?” Blount asked.

Blount’s voice was muted, but held that same stern tone that Cho remembered so well. It set off a chain reaction of memories that he instantly suppressed. His past dealings with Blount were in the past.

“Agents Cho, Rigsby, Van Pelt. And of course, Patrick Jane.”

“What about Agents Michaels and Johnson?”

“They’ve been reassigned, sir. And,” she looked quickly up at Jane, adding, “I’m lucky to get the opportunity to work on the case at all.”

Blount was silent for a moment then said, “I understand, Agent Lisbon. Please go ahead.”

“So, we’ve got an interesting development. We reviewed the documents you sent yesterday and Jane thinks he can identify one of the men in the photos.”

Jane snorted at the, ‘thinks he can.’

“Sir?” Lisbon said when Blount didn’t answer.

“Yes, Agent Lisbon, I’m still here. Frankly, I’m stunned by the news. By the very good news. Mr. Jane, are you there?”

Jane leaned forward. “I’m here.”

“Who have you identified?”

“He’s in the photo about—” Jane flipped through the sheets. “It’s the photo about halfway down.”

“The one on the left?”

“No, the one on the right. Of the three young men.”

“Yes, I see it. That’s of Littlefield with a few of his Oxford chums.”

“Well, one of those chums, the man on Littlefield’s right, our left, was just in California. About three weeks ago, as a matter of fact.”

This time the pause was longer and Cho pictured Blount’s florid face, his shock. He wished he were there to see it.

“Are you quite sure, Mr. Jane?”

“Quite. He was at a club that Cho and I visited during an investigation.”

“Do you recognize this man, Agent Cho?”

Cho leaned forward, just like Jane. “No, I don’t.”

“Hmm. Well, this is good and bad news. My assistant has identified all but a few of Littlefield’s companions in theses photos and we now know that man to be a Mark Engert. He and Littlefield were at Oxford about the same time, although I believe…” Blount’s voice faded, then came back. “Yes, Littlefield was almost four years older than Engert. He would have graduated soon after this picture was taken.”

Van Pelt leaned forward. “What’s the bad news, sir? Oh,” she said before Blount could answer. “This is Agent Van Pelt. From last year?”

“Yes, Agent Van Pelt, I remember you quite well.”

Van Pelt colored, and repeated, “You said there was good news and bad news?”

“Yes. Unfortunately, Engert is one of two people that we can’t seem to find. He’s gone missing.”

“Who’s the other?” Jane asked.

“Look the photograph taken at the garden party.”

They all bent over their copies. Jane was close enough that they brushed shoulders and he felt rather than saw Rigsby look their way.

There was only one picture that Blount could be referring to—it was one of the clearer ones, of a group of young people sitting at a table under an umbrella. It was daytime, on what looked like college grounds on a very hot day.

The kids were teenagers or in their early twenties. Mathias was turned sideways to the camera which was probably why Cho hadn’t recognized him. His shirt was open at the throat and his forehead was shiny with sweat. A girl sat next to him. She was wearing a sundress and holding a drink. Even in the copy, Cho could see that she was very fair with long, blond hair.

“She was in love with Littlefield,” Jane murmured. He was touching the photo with his fingertips.

“How do you know she was in love with him?” Van Pelt asked before Cho could.

“Everything. Her body language, mostly.”

Cho followed Jane’s finger as he outlined the girl’s figure and he saw it—she was smiling, but it was more than that—everything about her was bent towards Mathias.

“Who is she?”

“Sarah Guy. The daughter of a rather important figure at Oxford at the time.”

“Do you know him?”

“Dr. Guy? I knew of him, Mr. Jane. He was a bit above my pay grade.”

“And?” Lisbon asked.

“He was one of Britain’s top minds on artificial intelligence. He’d been with Imperial College, working on the cutting edge of nano technology, and Oxford snatched him away. It was quite a coup and made all the newspapers.”

“You’re speaking of him in the past tense,” Cho said.

“Unfortunately, that’s the case, Agent Cho. He was killed, murdered— some believe—almost seventeen years ago.”

“Uh-oh,” Jane murmured and Cho could only agree. That could not be good.

“‘Uh-oh,’ indeed,” Blount said heavily. “When I realized who Miss Guy was, that she’d gone to school with Littlefield, I began to look a little deeper into her background. It seems that she and Littlefield were quite an item in their sophomore years until she broke it off in the spring of ’94, right before their graduation. That summer she went on holiday to Italy with a few friends and disappeared one night. According to Sarah’s brother, the Guys were frantic and did everything they could, but it was as if she’d simply vanished. Dr. Guy died soon after. Two weeks, to be exact.”

“That’s so sad,” Van Pelt murmured.

Jane nodded and agreed absently, “It is. It’s also very interesting. How did Dr. Guy die?”

“Hit and run.”

“Uh-oh,” Jane said again.

“What does it mean?” Rigsby asked, looking around the table. Cho shrugged. He had no idea where Jane was going with this one.

Jane tapped the sheet of paper. “I don’t know. Yet. It’s just too much of a coincidence, don’t you think? Both family members dying within weeks of each other. Statistically, it’s improbable.”

Blount answered before anyone else, “Yes, it is.”

“Can you do me a favor, Inspector?”

“I can try.”

“Can you contact Sarah Guy’s brother and ask him if he knows why Sarah and Littlefield stopped seeing each other?”

Blount hesitated, then said, “Peter Guy is away on business, but I’ll track him down.”

“Good.”

“He was questioned at the time, Mr. Jane. I doubt he can add much to the investigation.”

Jane waved that away. “You said you were interviewing Littlefield’s classmates?”

“Well, there we’ve run into a wall. He kept in touch through his Facebook, but managed to give very little actual information. We interviewed five of his so-called friends and each one of them gave us a different story. One thought he was still in the military, another thought he was some sort of investment banker, and so on and so on.”

“Hmm.”

Cho waited, and when Jane stayed quiet, he said, “What about his military record?”

“Oh, yes…” Blount’s voice faded then returned again. “It seems he was only in the service for a short while. He rose quickly, whether by his own merit or family connections. His marks were good, but there was some concern that he wasn’t working within acceptable standards of conduct and behavior.”

“Meaning?” Lisbon asked.

Jane got there first. “Mental instability. Misplaced aggression.”

“I’m afraid you’re probably right. The department hasn’t been too forthcoming, but I gather there was an event in the Middle East that led to his departure in ’96.”

Jane picked up the bio. “What about this Engert?”

“Yes, what about Engert?” Blount murmured, almost too low to hear. “What’s the connection between he and Littlefield and why was he in California?”

“You said he’d gone missing?”

“Well, that’s a bit of a guess. About twelve years ago, Engert was involved in a boating accident off the coast of Chichester. According to news sources, he’d been out alone and encountered a sudden squall. The boat washed ashore, but his body was never recovered.”

Van Pelt leaned in. “Did he have any family?”

“Let me… Here—his father died of cancer in ’91 and his mother, a few years later. He had no siblings and was never married.”

“Too many accidents, too many convenient deaths,” Jane said almost gleefully and Cho waited for him to start rubbing his hands like he did when things got really interesting.

“Indeed, Mr. Jane. Normally, none of this would be suspicious in the least, but taken together, and now with your news, we have the makings of a lovely little plot.”

“So Littlefield is dead, Engert is alive, they both knew each other in college and are presumably part of the Red Man group,” Jane muttered, as if to himself. He turned to Lisbon. “I’m assuming you can run this photo through some sort of Homeland Security database to see if Engert was here with Littlefield last year, right?”

Lisbon looked at Van Pelt, who answered slowly, “It’s not like on TV. Facial recognition can work, but this image is pretty bad.”

Jane bent over the phone. “So the next question would be, can we get a clearer picture?”

“Mr. Jane, you’re not going to like this next bit of news.”

Jane made a face. “The Oxford database on Engert is wiped clean.”

“Not quite. But he was studying theology, and the department’s photos were vandalized some time ago.”

“Don’t tell, me, twelve years, right?”

“On the money. The photos you see before you are from the personal collection of the few friends those boys had.”

“There’s your connection,” Cho said. Everyone turned to him and he shrugged, adding, “If you’re going to be a priest, you have to study theology, right?”

Jane smiled at him, beaming so hard Cho thought he was going to kiss him, right then and there.

“Okay, so we’re getting somewhere.” Jane turned to Lisbon. “What about a sketch artist?”

She frowned. “Can you give an accurate description? You only saw him for a few seconds.”

And then, before Jane could answer, she sighed and muttered, “Of course, you can describe him accurately. Your few seconds are like a normal person’s hours.”

Cho snorted, Van Pelt grinned; even Rigsby cracked a smile.

Lisbon turned to Van Pelt. “Van Pelt? Go see Jennifer. See if she has time to sit down with Jane. If she balks, just tell her I’ll hit him if he tries to hypnotize her again.”

Jane grinned happily, then jumped up and followed Van Pelt out of the room.

“Rigsby? See if you can find any connection between this Engert and Mashburn’s club. I doubt you’ll find anything, but lets cover all bases. Ask about Littlefield, also. You might need to drive out there.”

“Will do, boss.” Rigsby got up and strode to his desk.

Lisbon pulled the phone to her. “Inspector Blount, thank you so much for your time.”

“Not at all, Agent Lisbon.”

“I’ll call Director Luckner and inform him of our progress.”

“Please do. I might be taking another trip to the States soon; I have a feeling that this case is starting to break open.”

“If the Red Men are shifting range, it will be good to have you here, sir.”

“Let’s hope it was an isolated incident. Is Agent Cho still there?”

“I am,” Cho said.

“If there’s anything else you’ve missed, please keep me informed.”

Lisbon’s mouth dropped open, but Cho just clenched his jaw. “Will do.”

Blount disconnected and Lisbon picked up the phone. She was frowning, on the verge of anger. “Blowhard. I’m going to call him back and suggest he take care of his team his way and I’ll take care of mine my way.”

“Don’t. He’s still mad about last year.”

“You mean when you were right and he was wrong?” she asked. “Okay. We’ve got new data; let’s see where it takes us. And if he gives you any more grief, let me know.”

Cho nodded. He liked that she had his back, but he wouldn’t tell her if Blount said anything else. There was no point in getting her involved. Not for penny-ante crap like that.

He picked up Mathias’ bio again. He needed to review his own conclusions and see if the new information fit. He wasn’t like Jane—he couldn’t just take vague suppositions and make them come together. He needed more. Like a clear image of the man they were looking for—hopefully, if Jane got something they could use, maybe this wouldn’t be an exercise in futility.

 

_________________________________

Friday

 

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

 

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 I bring?”

“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

 

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.

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, I never 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. “I mean… 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. I mean,” 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.

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

 

“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 I need 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. I heard 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.

 

______________

Friday

 

“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 FBI presence. 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 FBI agents, 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

 

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, I can 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. I mean, 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.

 

________________________

Saturday

 

John watched a young businessman as he waited for Luke to answer. The boy was no more than twenty-seven or twenty-eight, obviously American, and had his head stuck in his laptop. Not literally, of course, but it might as well have been. He hadn’t looked up in at least thirty-five minutes. John could have stolen his briefcase, his carry-on—even his wallet, and he’d be none the wiser.

“Hello?”

Luke’s voice was tight and low. “Where are you?”

“In Atlanta.”

“How’s the weather?”

“John.”

“Because I was thinking of—”

“John!” Luke barked.

John paused. Luke never used that voice, not with him. “What is it?”

“It’s Mark.”

“What about him?”

“He and Mathew never showed up for the rendezvous. I went down to the target location and got there just in time to see their SUV being towed. I went to Starbucks and asked around. Apparently two unidentified men were taken into custody about thirty minutes earlier. By the description the girl gave, it’s Mark and Mathew.”

John looked around nonchalantly and got up. He strolled to the big picture window and stared out.

“John?”

“Are they still in Atlanta?”

“I don’t know. I went to two nearby police stations, but I have no idea where they are.”

“You need to find out.”

“Okay.”

“Use a ruse to get the information.”

“Like Buenos Aires?”

“Or Madrid. Either will do.”

“Okay.”

John paused again. A cloud had moved over the sun and the window showed his reflection and he stared at his own face. It was an attractive face. It had stood him well these years, made it easy for him to do what he did, but suddenly he was tired of it all. What had Luke said? ‘Back then, you said you were just in it for the kicks and that we’d be onto something else in a few month’s time.’

Had he really said that? He couldn’t remember the conversation, just as he couldn’t remember any of the feelings he used to have.

“John?”

“Yes,” he said slowly, “I’m still here.” A new plan was forming, bold and dramatic, but that was his MO, wasn’t it?

“Do you have any other instructions?”

“I do. Listen…”

As he began to relate the newly minted details and the order they needed to happen, an odd lightness began to fill his head, his chest. As if he were at the edge of a deep canyon, already taking that first step—

Just the thought of the descent—and the landing—filled him with a sick kind of joy.

***

Luke listened carefully and when John was done, he said, “Are you sure about this?”

“Never more.”

“Okay.” Then, “I’ll see you soon.”

“You will. And now I’ve got to run—my flight is boarding.” He hung up before he could changed his mind.

He returned to the waiting area and sat next to an elderly woman. They smiled at each other.

So, roughly ten hours flight time, then another five to the States, depending on his means of travel. It was going to be close and he’d be lucky if it didn’t blow up in his face. But if it worked, the payoff would be more than worth it.

“Are you going on holiday?”

John turned to the woman. She was dressed in her best clothes, like people used to do when they went on a trip. “Yes.”

“Me too,” she said confidingly. “I’m visiting my grand-niece. I’m so excited.”

John opened his mouth to respond, but just then, the pretty attendant at the desk announced, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is your first call for Flight 157 to Tortola, British Virgin Islands. We’ll be boarding shortly.”

The women next to him leaned over and patted his arm. “It’s going to be a good trip. I can tell.”

John made his smile extra brilliant. “I’m planning on it, ma’am.”

 

______________

Saturday

 

“I’m telling you, Lisbon, this is a mistake. A big mistake.”

“I know it is, Jane. You’ve been saying the same thing for two hours now, and all the insisting in the world isn’t going to make the British government back down.”

Jane paced from one end of Lisbon’s office to the other. Rigsby and Van Pelt watched him, Cho did not. “And Engert and Roberts will be loose or long dead. It’s what he’s” he pointed sharply to the window, “ is waiting for. We’re playing right into his hands.”

Lisbon ran her hands over her face, her hair, then clasped them over her head, saying to her desk. “Jane, I know. I get it. And there is nothing, nothing I can do.”

“So we’re going to let Engert and Roberts go without interrogating them further?”

“We’re not letting them go. We’re escorting them to England where they’ll be tried and convicted by their own government.”

Jane paced to the door again. In the bullpen, Luckner was on the phone as he’d been all morning. Talking to his supervisors, to the A.G. To anyone who’d listen. But it didn’t seem to matter—London had called, insisting that Interpol take the lead in the investigation and that was that.

“What’s going to happen to her?” he asked.

“Who?”

He nodded to Patel who was sitting at the conference table, working on her laptop. “Patel.”

Lisbon shrugged. “If Blount finds out she’s the reason why we got even the little we did, I imagine she’d be sent off to a field office somewhere.”

“If she’s lucky,” Cho added quietly.

“Which is why we’re not going to say a word, right?” Lisbon looked sternly at each one of them. They all nodded and she added, “If I have to, I’ll blame it on Jane.”

He didn’t smile at her weak joke, didn’t say that he’d gladly take more blame if he could just get a chance at Engert. He gazed at the bullpen, not really seeing it. He could take the back stairs, then come back up on the elevators.

“Jane,” Lisbon said, a warning in her voice.

He sighed and held up his hands. “I’m not going to do anything. Besides,” he sat down next to Cho on the sofa and crossed his legs. “There’s nothing to do. I might as well go home.”

“Well, we’re not so lucky. I need you, Cho, to write up your report. Rigsby and Van Pelt? The same for you. Make sure you cross every t and dot every i. We’re into serious overtime here, and I need to account for every detail.”

“Boss?” Rigsby asked with a hopeful gleam. “What about—”

“Yes,” Lisbon interrupted with another wave. “Work until noon and then take off. Go.”

Rigsby and Van Pelt headed for the door. Jane got up as well. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do for the next five hours. He knew if he went home, he’d just wander from room to room, too infuriated by the turn of events. He could sleep here, but wasn’t sure if he could do even that. He went to the door and held it open, waiting for Cho.

Who didn’t stand up. “Hey, boss?”

Lisbon was already working, writing something on a form—probably expenses. “Yeah?”

“Can I talk to you?”

She looked up. “Of course.”

Cho glanced at Jane. “Alone.”

Jane raised his eyebrow. Cho just waited, calmly.

Jane raised an eyebrow, feigning an insult that felt a little too real. “Okay,” he finally said. “I know when I’m not wanted.”

He took his time, though, opening the door then closing it, but Cho didn’t call him back. He even stood in the hallway a moment, thinking to read their lips, but Cho was still watching him, waiting for him to leave.

He huffed and went to the bullpen, ignoring Rigsby’s, “What’s going on?” and Van Pelt’s curious glance. He threw himself onto the couch wishing he’d had the forethought to have bugged Lisbon’s office, but who knew Cho would choose today to do something underhanded and sneaky?

He crossed his arms over his chest and stared up at the ceiling. It couldn’t be about anything but work. Cho would never talk about personal problems, not with Lisbon. They were close, but not that close.

At least, he hoped they weren’t. He twisted around to look. Cho had moved and was now sitting in front of Lisbon’s desk.

He made a face and settled back. Secrets were all right for others, but not for him.

He was trying to work up enough steam to get him off the couch and down to his car but exhaustion found its way first. He fell asleep while trying to make himself move.

***

“Hey.”

Jane opened his eyes, but slowly because his eyelids felt heavy, as if he were drugged.

Cho was crouched by his side, forearms on knees. “You awake?”

He closed his eyes. “No.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to be.”

“Why?”

“It’s time to go.”

“Go where?”

“C’mon.”

When he opened his eyes again, Cho was standing, his hand extended.

He yawned and let Cho drag him upright.

The bullpen was quiet and Jane remembered it was Saturday. Afternoon, by the looks of things. He stretched, not missing the way Cho quickly checked him out before glancing away. He smiled. “What time is it?”

Cho went to his desk and got his cell and his workout bag. “A little after three.”

“Where are Van Pelt and Rigsby? And,” he craned his head to look, “Lisbon and Luckner?”

“Van Pelt and Rigsby left around noon with one of Luckner’s men to escort Dr. Wallach to the airport. Luckner and the rest of his team are escorting the prisoners. Patel is with them. Lisbon is updating the A.G. Let’s go.” Cho jerked his head towards the elevators.

His voice was unyielding and if Jane had an idea to wait around to see what came of Lisbon’s meeting, he forgot about it. Cho would probably just hustle him off anyway.

Downstairs, it was just as quiet. Ken, the security guard who’d married his high school sweetheart the week before, waved. Jane waved back.

When they got outside, he found his sunglasses and put them on. It was a beautiful afternoon, bright and sunny. He followed Cho to their cars and when he angled to the right because his was parked in back, Cho said, “No.”

“Why not?”

Cho looked around, a quick back and forth, and Jane realized that he was nervous, shoulders tight, swinging his keys on his finger.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Cho.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course.”

His response was instant and Cho relaxed, muttering, “C’mon.”

Once again, he led the way, this time to his car. His overnight bag, the one he took when he went out of town, was in the back, but Jane didn’t ask about it. He had no clue what was going on. Cho was hiding something, some secret, but that was okay—it had been a difficult few days and he was content to go with the flow.

So he buckled up and said nothing as Cho steered them through the Saturday traffic, as they got onto I-5 and headed south.

He was tempted to remind Cho that they had been this way just recently, but he didn’t. He was pretty sure he knew where they were going, but he didn’t want to spoil the surprise. And he didn’t want to make a fool of himself—Cho could very well be taking him to a crime scene.

But no, as they got closer to the coast, Cho began the circuitous route that would take them to Carina Luna and Jane, still silent, felt his face grow warm. He leaned back and rested his head against the doorframe, trying not to get too excited—they wouldn’t be in their room for at least a half an hour.

They were ten minutes from the hotel, on the long, lonely stretch of road that paralleled the coast when Cho’s phone began to ring. He made a face, but answered it anyway.

“Who is it?” Jane asked lazily, not really caring.

“Lisbon,” Cho muttered, then, “Hey, boss.”

Whatever she said, it was serious enough for Cho to look quickly in his rearview, then brake and pull to the side of the road. Jane sat up and tried to hear, but all he got were long periods of silence punctuated by Cho’s, “Where?,” and, “Was anybody else hurt,” and “Uh-huh,” then finally, “Give me two hours, we can— Are you sure?”

Apparently she was sure. He said slowly, “Okay, if you’re sure.” Then, “Yeah, we will. See you on Wednesday.” He closed the phone and pocketed it. Then turned to Jane.

With his sunglasses on, Cho looked dangerous and secretive. Jane reached over and took the glasses off, letting his fingertips brush warm skin. That didn’t help much—his gaze was at its most wooden and Jane’s stomach clenched. “What is it? What happened?”

“About an hour ago, as Luckner and Patel were escorting Engert and Roberts to the airport, a black Humvee ran them off the road. Engert was killed instantly. So was Luckner.”

Jane had known the minute Cho had started talking that it was going to be bad, but bad, it seemed, could always get worse. “Christ. And Patel?”

“She’s in intensive care. The surgeon thinks she’ll make it, but says that the next twenty-four hours will tell. She broke her ribs, her right femur, both ulnas and her collarbone.”

Jane closed his eyes briefly, forcing away the image of Patel, broken and in pain. “What about Luckner’s men?”

“Two are dead, the other is fine. I’m not sure who died.”

“And Roberts?”

“He’s also in the ICU, but his injuries aren’t so bad.”

“How’s Lisbon?”

“Furious. She’s on her way to the hospital. Patel’s husband is flying in. He should be here tonight.”

“How do they know Engert was killed instantly?”

Cho tightened his lips. “Because he was shot in the temple and throat.”

“What does that mean?”

“That the marksman was either lucky or very, very good.”

Roberts had been right, poor bastard. At least he’d survived. “What about Luckner. Does he have a family?”

“Lisbon’s finding out.”

“I take it she told you not to come back?”

“She says there’s nothing we can do right now, but it’s up to you. Do you want to?”

Jane was already shaking his head. “No.”

“Me neither. Here…” Cho took his sunglasses and put them on. Then, as he reached for the gearshift, he reached for Jane instead. He dragged him close, kissing him hard. Then he let go and put the car in gear.

***

The hotel was as Jane remembered. Last year, they’d arrived almost the same time of day and memory after memory came rushing back. Cho pulled up in front and Jane laid his hand on his arm. “Hey.”

“Yeah?”

“I know this latest news has put a damper on your surprise but can we pretend, just for a few days, that nothing happened?”

He fully expected Cho to say, ‘you know I can’t do that,’ but all he said was a surprising, “Yes.”

Jane patted his arm again and got out. The bellhop was already waiting with a smile and a trolley. Jane paused, “Oh, I don’t know if we have enough luggage for that, but…” He waved him on.

Cho had just the one bag. Jane wanted to make a joke, something about why bother with clothes as he was going to keep him naked for the next three days, but held off. The bellhop was still in earshot and Cho wouldn’t appreciate being embarrassed that way.

When they entered the double doors, he looked around, turning in a circle. They’d painted the lobby a soft gold that picked up the light, making everything glow. He waved. “It’s different.”

Cho looked around. “It is?”

“They painted.”

“They did?”

“It was eggshell before. Didn’t you notice?”

“I guess I had other things on my mind,” Cho answered dryly.

Jane didn’t ask what things, because with the happy memories came the bad—of missing Cho so much. Of worrying he was in danger and there was nothing he could do about it.

“Agent Cho?”

He turned. A women, blond, with a polished face and suit, came across the floor towards them, her hand held out.

“I’m Sheila Crenshaw, the manager of the Carina Luna.”

They took turns shaking hands and Cho asked, “What happened to Miss Bryant?”

Crenshaw’s face grew still. “You were here for the incident, weren’t you?” She clasped her hands together, putting on a false expression of sympathy. “It was decided, after the trouble last year, that she should move on to another facet of the hospitality industry.”

Jane kept his expression blank at her diplomatic words, but only just. ‘Another facet of the hospitality industry.’ Please. That was double-speak for they fired her ass because she made some big mistakes.

He must have made a noise because Cho cleared his throat, loudly. “Thanks for finding room for us.”

“It’s not a problem, Agent Cho,” Crenshaw said as she turned to the desk. “I was brought in a few days after the incident and the owners were very grateful to the CBI. The situation could have turned out much differently without your expertise.” She stopped at the desk. “Henry will sign you in. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your stay more enjoyable.”

Jane had a few things in mind, mainly along the lines of, ‘leave us alone and you’ll get a big fat gratuity,’ and, ‘don’t blame me if you don’t bother to knock,’ but he couldn’t say either of those things so he just smiled. And gave the clerk his I.D. with a smile that made the boy blush.

Cho signed them in.

Jane craned his head to see what suite they were assigned, but Cho wouldn’t move enough to see. That was okay—it was too much to hope that it would be the magnolia-less Magnolia Room at this short notice and really, any room would do.

He went to stand in front of the wide staircase, hands in pockets, looking up at the ceiling. The shock from Lisbon’s news had faded and his excitement had returned. It had been a while since he’d been on a proper vacation and never with Cho.

“Sir?”

He turned. Cho and the bellboy were waiting for him by the by the double doors. Jane gestured, ‘After you,’ and they took off, through the doors and out onto the empty patio. It wasn’t yet five. The sun hadn’t broken the treeline and the patio was still awash in light. They could come back later when it was cooler and sit under the little string lanterns and eat dinner.

When they got to the center path, the bellboy went left. Jane turned to Cho and leered as lasciviously as he could. Cho shook his head and murmured, “Stop it,” in that reproving tone that never worked, but he adored anyway.

“Here we are,” the bellboy announced. “The Magnolia Room.”

And indeed, it was the same suite, same yellow flowers that he’d forgotten to try to identify and it was odd—they’d only stayed a few days, but he felt like he was coming home, or maybe on a second honeymoon and he was smiling much it hurt.

The bellboy unlocked the door, then gave Cho the cards and left, walking away a little faster than he’d come.

“Well,” Cho said, holding the door open for Jane.

“How’s your back these days?”

“It’s okay. Why?”

“Because I feel like you should carry me over the threshold. Or I can carry you. As long as it’s not too far.”

“Jane?”

“Yes?”

“Get inside.”

Jane got inside.

Cho tossed his bag next to the bed as Jane went off to investigate. Thankfully, the management hadn’t done much to the room. The television was new and he thought the wastebasket in the study might have been changed from wood to brass, but other than that, it seemed the same. Just the same and his heart began to beat faster.

He found Cho out on the balcony, staring at the gardens, the narrow strip of beach. He’d taken off his jacket and his white shirt was brilliant, almost blinding.

Jane leaned on the doorframe, remembering a year ago, a similar situation, a similar feeling. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Do you want to take a walk? We’ve got plenty of time before dinner.”

Cho turned. His face was blank and still, like it had been an hour ago when he’d told Jane that the Red Man had done it again. Like it had been that night, weeks ago, when Jane had asked to make love to him.  “Talk to me.”

“I don’t want to go for a walk.”

“Okay, we won’t.”

“I want to forget that we managed to hunt down an international ring of murderers only to screw it up in the end.”

“Okay.”

“I want to forget that three of our own were just murdered.”

“Me too.”

“I want to spend the next three days in bed with you, with occasional breaks to eat.”

“Ditto.”

“I want to know that all this means as much to you as it does to me.”

His mouth dropped open because his shock matched Cho’s. Who stood there, eyes wide as if he couldn’t believe he’d just said what he’d said and it came to Jane that he was afraid. And except for one other incident, he’d never seen Cho truly afraid. Ever.

It wasn’t pleasant, knowing both times were on his account.

“Jane?”

“You’re waiting for an answer from me, and I don’t know what to say because I thought you knew…”

He broke off, confused as to how to say what should be so simple. From the time he was very young, he’d used his words, his voice, his body, to sell and convince—this shouldn’t be any harder, should it?

“I know you loved your wife,” Cho mumbled. “I know that most of the time, you’re thinking of her.”

Cho glanced down at his wedding ring and, instinctively, he clenched his hand into a fist. As if Cho would take the ring away by force. Which was ridiculous and he made himself relax. And he made himself take a step forward, then another until he was right before Cho, feeling as if he were trudging through quicksand.

He didn’t touch, even though they were so close he could see the fine creases in Cho’s lower lip, the dark folds at the corners of his eyes. He didn’t speak for a moment, either. Whatever he did or said in the next few minutes was important and he couldn’t use his old methods—this was too important for that.

“You’re right,” he finally said, his voice rusty hoarse. “I do think of her. All the time. Just as I think of my daughter. Just as I think of my father, for completely different reasons.”

Cho shifted from foot to foot, as if he were preparing to run and Jane reached out, still not touching. “No, I know you’re not asking me to forget them. I’m just—”

He had to stop again and start over. “Cho, I think of you all the time. I think of you when I’m in bed next to you, when I’m not. When I’m driving to your place, when I’m driving to mine. When I’m doing silly things like filling the gas tank or trying to decide what color of socks to buy.”

He laughed, barely. “Just yesterday when we were at the conference table, you went to get some tea. When you got back, I watched you, waiting for that moment when you take your first sip of tea. You always close your eyes, just a bit, and I know that look. I love that look, just as I love you.”

The words, said aloud for the first time, sounded perfect and horrible and he tried them again, “I love you. I’m in love with you.” There, that was better. Why hadn’t he said them before? He’d felt then, as far back as last year.

Cho’s expression hadn’t changed. Except—

For the tiny pulse in his neck, for the way he swallowed, like it hurt. And the red that bloomed across his neck and cheeks that wasn’t in anyway due to the setting sun.

“This wasn’t how I planned the evening,” Cho finally said.

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” Cho’s voice dropped to a harsh whisper, “I thought we’d go to bed and I’d ask you to fuck me, and then, maybe later on tomorrow I’d tell you that I was in love with you and ask if you felt the same way about me. But you beat me to the punch, like always.”

He’d tried for sarcasm but missed terribly and Jane asked, even though he knew the answer, “Are you disappointed?”

“What do you think?”

“I think this state has decency laws and you need to come inside. Now.” He grabbed Cho’s tie and yanked, back into the suite, the sudden dark making it hard to see, but it didn’t matter. Because Cho was kissing him over and over, whispering his name over and over. Not ‘Jane,’ but, “Patrick, Patrick…”

The second honeymoon feeling was back, stronger than before, and he sighed into Cho’s mouth, smiled when Cho actually smiled in return, a victory of sorts because lately he’d been nothing but serious when they’d made love…

“You’re not going to have to make a trip to the hotel’s gift shop for anything are you?” he murmured against Cho’s lips.

“What do you think?”

“I think you’re too much of a boy scout to come unprepared. I think your suitcase is filled with things that would make your mother blush. I think I want to get you naked. I think I want you to get me naked.”

By the time he was finished, Cho was busy kissing him again.

With a smile, Jane pulled away and went to throw the deadbolt on the front door, then close the French doors. He left the curtains open because he wanted the sun that streamed in, wanted to see as much of Cho as possible. He expected Cho to argue or protest, but he just sat down on the bed and began to take off his shoes.

When he reached for his tie, Jane hurried over and pushed his hands away. He wanted to do this.

And it was like all the times before, only not. Cho wasn’t completely loose, but he was pliant. Letting him remove his clothing, piece by piece, and as he slipped Cho’s shirt off, unbuckled his belt, he felt as if he was removing the first of the bricks in the wall that Cho had surrounded himself with. It made him feel weirdly powerful, incredibly thankful.

Finally, when Cho was naked, he took his own clothes off, but quickly, throwing them wherever and when he was done with that, he urged Cho down and stretched out next to him.

Had it been like this, that first night at the Magnolia Room? Had he felt this same sense of wonder and discovery?

Maybe, maybe not, and it didn’t matter, anyway—he skated his hand over Cho’s chest, barely touching the contours of sleek muscle, the faint trail of hair. When Cho shivered and arched up, trying to make contact, he pinched him gently and kept going, murmuring, “You’re so beautiful.”

Cho breathed a laugh. “You don’t have to sweet talk me. I’m all yours.”

“Are you?” Jane said absentmindedly. Here was a bit he loved in particular—the smooth plane of Cho’s ribcage where it rose then fell—a sharp concave drop to his hips. Beautiful. He rubbed his body against Cho’s like a cat, using the movement to slip over and on so they were chest to chest, hips to hips.

“And it’s not sweet talking,” he added. “It’s a fact. I love this…” He kissed Cho’s neck then chest. “And this…” He nuzzled his way down to the slight swell of Cho’s belly, feeling the muscle under his lips shift sweetly. “So sexy. I think of you sometimes, when we’re at the office. You’re five feet away from me and I think of this body under all that wool and I want to laugh out loud because I get to see you—I get to feel you—and no one else does. It’s wonderful.”

“Patrick,” Cho mumbled, moving restlessly, hips, hands, even his feet, scrubbing against the sheets.

Not yet, Jane thought. There was still so much more… “Tell me,” he whispered.

“Tell you what?”

“That you want this as much as I want this.”

“I want this. I want you.”

“Good.” Jane kissed, then licked the crease that ran at an angle, dividing Cho’s belly from hip, letting the coarse hairs tease his tongue and chin.

“Jesus,” Cho swore softly and grabbed his hair, wrapping his leg around his back, his ass.

Because oral sex had never been a favorite of his, no matter the partner. He’d tried a few times, but it was one of the few things his mouth wasn’t good at and he’d chalked it up to disinterest. But maybe it was something else because now he couldn’t wait and gently guided Cho into his mouth, slowly, mindful of his teeth, trying to make it good, trying to do the things Cho did for him.

“Jesus,” Cho swore again, pulling his hair so hard it hurt, and then again, when Jane brought his hand into play, “Christ, stop.” Even as he held his head firm, even as he spread his legs wide. “Stop.”

He did. Slowly, reluctantly. He didn’t have to ask why—Cho was shaking, breathing so hard he was almost panting, his head tipped back to catch air.

Jane knew that sensation and he kissed the inside of Cho’s thigh, murmuring, “Where is it?”

“In my bag.”

He slid sideways and reached down, rooting around until he found the slim box. He pulled himself up and tore the flap off only then realizing that it wasn’t the lubricant he’d bought days ago—it was the usual white tube of KY. “Hey—where’s stuff I bought?”

“You mean the, ‘Just for Her, Personal Warming Liquid?’ I left it at home.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Supposedly, it smelled like lavender.”

“Oh,” Jane said again, this time with a broad grin. “No wonder the lady at the register smiled at me. No doubt she thought I was being nice, buying it for my girlfriend. Or wife.”

“I’m not your girlfriend. Or wife.”

Cho’s voice hadn’t changed in tone, but that didn’t fool Jane. He took the lubricant out and tossed the empty box on the nightstand. The plastic was cold and he rolled it between his hands—this was another subject he had to get right. “No,” he finally said. “And, I’m not your girlfriend or wife, either.”

Cho just watched him.

“Well,” he shrugged because that wasn’t quite right. “In a way I am.”

Cho pushed up on one elbow. The sun had fallen further and it sent a broad band of gold across the room, across his hips and thighs. “What do you mean?”

He rolled closer and stroked Cho’s side, wondering if it was his own heat or the sun that made his skin so warm. “You know what I mean. That even though we’re both men, there’s something of that element in our relationship. We can’t always be top dog. And no,” he added hurriedly because Cho had started to frown, “that doesn’t mean what you think it means. We play those games all the time—everyone does. Pushing at rigidly defined gender roles. Using them to advantage if we can.”

“Like you do when you insist that people call you ‘Jane’ instead of ‘Patrick?’”

“Sort of. I’m used to the reaction now, but in the beginning I did it to throw people off and make them vulnerable.”

“But that only works because our gender roles are so rigidly defined.”

He smiled. “That’s what I love about you…” He leaned over and kissed Cho’s waist, his hip. “We’re always on the same page.”

Cho fell back and brought Jane with him. “I hate that expression.”

“I know you do.”

Cho cocked his head and stroked the side of Jane’s face. “I’m assuming you don’t use it on me?”

“You mean my tricks?”

“Yeah.”

He kissed Cho’s palm. “You assume right. You’ve always seen through my smoke screens.”

“Then, okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Okay. I’ll be your girlfriend.”

Jane looked up, his face still cradled in Cho’s hand. His expression was unruffled, his tone even, but not with the deadpan manner that fooled so many. No, this was different—acceptance, understanding. Trust.

He closed his eyes pressed his cheek into Cho’s palm, trying to remember that he was here for sex, not to write lyric poems because that’s what he felt like doing—writing or singing or finding some permanent way to express his love.

But if he couldn’t do that, he could do something else that might be more meaningful…

He straightened up and looked Cho straight in the eye. “Kim?”

“Yes?”

He held out his hand, the one with the ring, and said, “Take it off.”

Cho froze. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“I don’t think—”

“Then don’t. Don’t think. Just take it off.”

Cho hesitated, then reached out, his grip tentative. When Jane nodded, he pulled and held it up like an offering. They stared at each other for a long moment, then he stretched his arm out and without looking, dropped the ring on the nightstand.

It felt too odd, being ringless, and he needed to act, to move or he’d realize what he’d done and there was no way—

“Jane,” Cho said gently, halting his crazy panic attack. “Give it to me.” He took the tube without asking, unsealed it and flipped the top off. Still with that same calm, he took Jane’s hand and squeezed. Too much, but Jane didn’t say anything. He was breathing again as panic abated and desire returned. He kissed Cho and slipped his hand between his thighs.

He tried to remember how it had been, that first time with Cho, wanting to use it as a template for what felt good. But his mind was blank, as if all memory had been erased and his only existence was the all-encompassing now.

So he leaned up for another kiss, distracting Cho with his lips and tongue as he made the first tentative push. His finger slipped in, not easily, and he looked up to make sure Cho was okay.

He was frowning, eyes closed, a wash of sweat across his forehead and cheeks. He was in pain, real or imagined, and that was nothing Jane wanted. “Hey. Look at me.”

Cho opened his eyes.

He was ashamed, Jane realized. Ashamed of his fear. “Don’t. It’s okay if you don’t want to—”

Cho clasped Jane’s forearm, preventing him from moving, and shook his head. “No, I told you. I want this. Don’t stop.” He shook his head again.

“Okay. It’s okay, I won’t, I—”

Now… he slipped his finger in, pushing as gently as possible. Waiting for a moment, then more.

Now… he nudged Cho’s leg up so he had more room, then pushed harder, when Cho’s little sighs became groans and he gave his first awkward thrust.

Now… it was probably too soon but he added another finger, hoping it was okay, and it had to be because Cho gripped his arm, guiding and forcing him in and it was a roundabout way of making love but was really okay because…

Now… Cho groaned, “Patrick,” and grappled him up by shoulder and hair and made a space for him, not perfectly, but perfect enough and he found his place, then slid in, just a bit.

He just rested at first because it felt too good. Because he hadn’t had this in so long. Because it was important that he take it slow. Because he had to wait.

For Cho to look up.

And nod.

Now, he thought, as he leaned down to brush his lips against Cho’s chest. Now.

***

He didn’t fall asleep. He tried, because the moment he came, following Cho by maybe two minutes, his world of the immediate re-ordered itself and he realized he was tired. So tired and filled with a delicious lethargy that just the idea of moving made him that much more exhausted.

But, on the tail end of that thought, his mind woke up and he started to think. Of Luckner and Engert and Patel. He rolled to his back and stared at the ceiling, stroking his own chest, wondering if Patel had children or not.

Finally, when he remembered that he wasn’t supposed to be thinking about the last few days, he scooted off the bed, carefully, so he didn’t wake Cho, and headed for the bathroom.

And then changed direction halfway there, padding to the French doors instead. He opened them and stood there with his eyes half shut in pleasure.

The sun was too far down to throw out any light and a breeze had kicked up, sending a fresh rush of air that cooled his body. He smiled.

And was still smiling when he went to the bathroom. He cleaned himself up, idly thinking about room service, about a walk later on, about how sex with men was messier than with women, but probably because men had the easy part.

He imagined telling Cho that. He’d just give him that look and say there was an easy solution to his problem.

He grinned, turned out the light and went back to bed.

He didn’t get back in, not right away. He stood there a long moment, staring. Cho was still on his back, legs spread, one arm out flung, palm up. He looked peaceful and remote, all expression smoothed away. Like he was a fallen statue or a painting of a sleeping man.

He loved watching Cho, even though he didn’t get many chances. It embarrassed him, having Jane watch him. He always shrugged it off, but if Jane didn’t stop, eventually he began to fidget and finally, get up to do something else.  As if Jane’s gaze was a physical thing that either hurt or was too heavy.

It had to be something to do with his upbringing.

He hadn’t pushed for information, knowing that Cho was private at the best of times. but maybe it was time to start asking. He’d earned the right, hadn’t he? Maybe they could throw a dinner party, invite friends from work and maybe one of Cho’s sisters—it would be fun and a good way to work into the family. Maybe they could take a trip to Oakland. Maybe he could learn a little Korean.

He was thinking on that, envisioning his method of attack because it was going to be an uphill battle, when Cho made a sound, almost a grunt. He moaned again, this time louder, then clawed at the sheets. Jane climbed into bed and eased into his unwitting embrace, hoping his presence would stop the nightmare in its tracks.

It did until the next one came, an hour later.

 

________________

Sunday

 

A noise, loud and sudden, broke him free of the dream and he woke with a jerk. He listened, breath held tight in his chest, but the noise didn’t repeat.

“It’s the people next door.”

He turned his head. Jane was on his side, turned towards him, eyes closed. “Do you want me to check it out?”

“Can you arrest them?”

“No. I’d just scare them a little.”

Jane smiled, then said without opening his eyes. “Then never mind. Earlier, they were on their patio, laughing and talking. The man has a laugh like a donkey. They just went to bed. At least they’re inside now.”

Cho twisted to look over his shoulder. Jane had opened the French doors sometime after he’d fallen asleep. Or passed out was more like it because he couldn’t remember anything after coming, Jane still inside him. He had a vague recollection of being cleaned up, but maybe that was part of the dream.

He rolled to his side and remembered that a just a few hours ago, Jane had fucked him. He tested the pain and found it acceptable.

“Are you okay?”

Jane had opened his eyes and was watching him. “Yes.”

There wasn’t much light, and his face was featureless, almost flat, his voice low. “Sure?” He began to stroke Cho’s chest with his fingertips. He hadn’t put the ring back on—it was laying on the nightstand where Cho had dropped it and just the thought, what it meant that Jane left it there…

He’d thought the sex would hurt, but it had been the physical pain he’d prepared for and he covered Jane’s hand, holding on too tight. “I’m sure.”

“Good. The last thing I want—” Jane leaned over and kissed him—“is to hurt you.”

“I know.”

“But I do it all the time, don’t I?”

He frowned. He was tired and still in a post, getting-fucked-by-Jane daze, but that didn’t make sense at all. “Huh?”

“I’m hurting you. I mean…” Jane pulled back. “I’m assuming it’s me because they only started after I began spending so much time at your place, right?”

He’d hardly call a few nights a week, ‘so much time,’ but they’d deal with that later. “What are you talking about?”

“The dreams. Well,” Jane shrugged. “Nightmares, really. You’ve been having for almost a year now.”

Cho froze.

“You had two tonight. Which is one more than usual.” And when Cho didn’t answer, he shrugged again. “I know we’ve been pretending that everything’s fine, but I’m tired of pretending. I can’t do it anymore. Not when—”

He stopped and shook his head sharply, as if trying to dislodge something that was stuck in his throat.

Cho gripped his hand and said, “Wait—” He turned on the lamp, then settled back down.

In the yellow light, Jane looked suddenly old or maybe just older. The lines around his mouth and eyes were stark and deep and Cho thought, ‘this is what he’ll look like when he’s sixty.’ Still attractive, but on the downslide of beauty.

Normally, the thought would’ve had little effect. Normally, he’d just shrug it off as his imagination gone wild.

But things weren’t normal. The sea change he’d waited for had happened and it wasn’t just having Jane in him, taking and giving at the same time. It was the realization that he’d laid a bet on a future he hadn’t planned on but had hoped for nonetheless. And now that the bet had been called? It was time to deal with it, deal with the fact that he was in it for the long haul. And no amount of disregarding and delaying would change that fact.

For better or worse.

So, he took a shallow breath and said, “Yeah.”

“Yeah, what?”

“Ever since the case last year. The Red Men case, I mean, I’ve been having nightmares.”

“You told me that you don’t dream.”

“I don’t.”

Jane thought about that, then asked, “What’s it about?”

“You.”

Even though he was trying to speak evenly, as if this were no big thing, his voice must’ve given him away, because Jane said, “Come here. Come—” and drew him over to lie on his chest. He was warm and solid, and Cho wrapped his leg around his hips.

“Tell me,” Jane said.

“Yeah, just give me a moment, I can’t—” Now that he had the chance to talk, he couldn’t remember any details, so he squinted, hoping that would work. “Okay. I’m in a house. Just a normal house with two floors. Sometimes it’s the house I grew up in, sometimes it’s not. But it always has a long flight of stairs.”

Jane stroked his head, his shoulders. “What are you feeling?”

He’d never asked himself that question and was surprised at the answer. “Okay. Tense, but not scared.”

“Go on.”

“So, I get to the top of the stairs and walk down this long hallway. I think at this point I’m in a different house, but I’m not really sure how I know that. I get to the door—”

He had to stop—the images were now perfectly clear. Jane tightened his arms and in a moment, he was able to continue. “So I get to the door and open it up and the room is covered in blood. It’s everywhere. On the floor, the walls, the bed.”

Jane made some noise. “Is there anyone in the bed?”

He rubbed his cheek against Jane’s chest in apology for having to do this. “No, the room is empty.”

“No face on the wall?”

“No.”

“What happens next?”

“Usually I slip in blood, but sometimes the room just disappears and suddenly I’m outside. In a garden full of dead bushes and trees.” He had to stop again. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.

“I take it the garden is this garden?” Jane jerked his head towards the French doors, the grounds beyond.

“Yeah.”

He wrapped his leg around Cho’s. “You don’t have to keep going. You can tell me in the morning.”

“No, it’s okay.” ‘I’m ex-military. I’m a cop. I can handle it.’ “So I’m in this garden and I’m trying to get to the beach.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, I just know I need to be on the beach.”

“Okay.”

“The wall isn’t in the dream and I’m almost there, I can feel the sand under my shoes. But then I hear this noise…”

He paused again. Saying things out loud was supposed to release their power, right? What a lie—just saying the words made everything more real and he couldn’t help the shiver that went from the back of his neck down.

“Wait…” Jane let go and sat up, reaching for the comforter, dragging it up until they were cocooned. Then he pushed Cho on his back and covered him, kissing his temple, his cheeks. “Is this better?”

Cho nodded. In the morning, when the sun was up and the shadows were gone, he knew he’d be ashamed of his fear. But the morning was six hours away…

“So, I hear this sound—it’s like a flute or something and I know someone’s behind me.”

“How do you feel now?”

“Petrified.” Jane stroked his arm. “Anyway, I hear this noise and I turn. And you’re there.”

Jane stopped his petting. “Me?”

“Yeah.” He closed his eyes, speaking quickly—he needed to get this over. “You’re not wearing your jacket or your vest. Your shirt is unbuttoned and you’re covered in blood. Even in the dark, I can see it. Like the sun is shining only where you are only it’s not the sun. There’s blood all over you and you’re smiling. You’re so happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so—”

He squeezed his eyes tight. What would happen if he opened his eyes and Jane was there, covered in blood like in the dream? His stomach rolled and he reminded himself that he’d never gotten sick over the sight or smell of blood, not even at the most horrific crime scene.

“Am I hurt?” Jane whispered, “Did Red John get me?”

He shook his head sharply. “No, that’s not it. I don’t know how I know it, but I know that you’ve just cut someone up. You’re holding someone’s heart in your hand.”

There was a long, long pause, then Jane asked, even softer, “Do you think I’m Red John?”

His eyes flew open, his jaw dropped. “No.”

“Do you think I could become Red John?”

He opened his mouth. And nothing came out. Because, yeah, he’d seen it enough in his line of work. How violence could twist people into doing things they’d never imagined they could do. How it ruined lives and families. And how people sometimes became the thing they hated the most.

“That’s not good,” Jane asked when he’d taken too long to answer.

He shook his head. “It’s not that.”

“Then what?”

“I think having your revenge might be a mistake.”

“That’s not what you said last year.”

“Last year I didn’t know how much I loved you.”

His statement was bald, bleak, and Jane’s mouth dropped open. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“I need to find Red John,” Jane said after a moment.

“I know you do. I do, too.”

“He needs to pay for what he did to me.”

“I know. And he needs to pay for all the people he killed.”

Jane frowned, going on as if he hadn’t spoken, “And what he did to my wife and daughter.”

“I know, I know. It’s just…”

“What?”

“I’ve been thinking…” This wasn’t going to sound right. “What would your wife say if she knew you had killed someone because of her?”

“Don’t.”

“You don’t talk about her much, but I know you loved her and she loved you.”

Jane swallowed hard. “She did.”

“Jane, there are a lot of things I don’t get about love, but one thing I do know is that when you love someone, you want that person to never be hurt and to always be happy. It’s in all the books.”

There was a long pause while Jane digested his words. Finally, he said, “So, you think killing Red John won’t make me happy?”

“No, I think it will. For about forty-eight hours you’ll be higher than you’ve ever been. And then I think you’ll come down and you’ll be so lost, no one, not even me, will be able to find you again.” It was one of his worst fears, that Jane would sink so far into his guilt and grief that he’d never break free. And it could still happen even though things had gotten better, even though he’d made them better.

This time the pause was horrible and thick and he wondered if he’d gone too far. But it needed to be said. He’d needed to say it so Jane knew where he stood because he wasn’t going to let Jane destroy himself just for Red John.

He cupped Jane’s cheek and traced the crease that bracketed his mouth. “All I’m asking is that you’ll think about it. And when the time comes, you’ll think about me and Lisbon and all the people who care about you before you kill Red John. Before you change your life forever.”

“This isn’t a subtle attempt at blackmail, is it? One of those, ‘do as I say or I won’t sleep with you anymore,’ kinds of things, is it?”

“Would that work?”

“No.”

“Then, no, it isn’t.”

By the time he’d finished, Jane was nodding, barely. “Okay. No promises on the outcome, but I’ll think about it.”

“Okay?” he said hesitantly.

Jane’s smile was weak. “Okay.” And, he continued in the same breath, “And the next time you have a nightmare that involves me, could you please tell me?”

He wanted to do something to express his relief at Jane’s surprising surrender, but all he managed was, “Next time I have a nightmare that involves you, I’m going to wake you up and tell you all about it. You’ll never be able to sleep again.”

Jane pinched his waist and he jerked away playfully, then winced at the pressure, remembering the two-hour old memory.

Of Jane, seducing him with words and touch, heavy, moving so carefully, watching his expressions. It had been an odd experience—feeling so vulnerable, so exposed, and not just physically. Being the target of Jane’s complete attention, his every move and response examined and scrutinized had been wonderful and overwhelming, both at the same time.

Just like now. Jane was watching him with that same searching gaze. “What?”

“I was wondering—did you like it?”

“Yes.” Which was a bit of a lie. It had hurt, a lot, but that kind of pain wasn’t a big deal. And afterwards, when the pain lessened…

“Good.” Jane licked his chin. “I wanted to show you that it doesn’t need to hurt. That it can be good.”

Cho brushed his hand over Jane’s head. That was an odd comment and it got him thinking—

“Because I want to do it again,” Jane murmured. “And when we get back to Sacramento, I want to make love to you in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in living room.”

“Not at Lisa’s?”

Jane bit his jaw. “We can. We can do it wherever you want. In the elevator, in the car, at the office. And my house, we can’t forget that.”

“I’d have to be invited to your house for that to happen.”

Jane stilled, then brushed Cho’s cheek with his own. “I know. I’m sorry about that. I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable there again but I’ll try.”

“It’s okay.” Even though it really wasn’t. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Jane shook his head. “No, it’s not right. When we get back, I’ll make some changes.” He kissed the underside of Cho’s chin, then his throat.

He wanted to hear what those changes were, but the thing Jane said a minute ago reminded him of a question he’d never asked and now was as good a time as any… “Hey?”

“Hm-mm?” Jane said into the hollow at the base of his throat.

“I’ve always wondered. I mean, that first time, last year.”

“When you made love to me?”

“Yes.”

“What about it?”

Cho reached down and combed his hair through Jane’s curls. “That wasn’t your first time, was it?”

Jane stopped moving, stopped kissing. Then he shook his head and said, “No,” his voice muffled.

“When was it?”

Jane straightened up and ran his hand over Cho’s chest, his gesture oddly practiced, as if he were performing one of his magic tricks. “A long time ago,” he finally said.

“When you were a kid?”

“Little more than one.”

Cho opened his mouth to ask for details, then didn’t. Jane wasn’t looking away but it seemed to Cho as if he were holding his gaze on a dare. Or warding off any condemnation or pity by simply not flinching. Knowing Jane, the latter would be the worst, so he just whispered, “It’s okay. I don’t care.” Also a lie, but they’d work around to that. “When you feel like talking, we’ll talk.”

“And when you feel like talking about your family, we’ll talk about that as well.”

“Jane—”

“Nope. Quid pro quo, okay? And I want to hear about your old girlfriends, too.”

“What old girlfriends?”

“Oh, I heard all about them from Lisbon.”

“Jane—”

“Okay, no,” Jane shrugged and went back to kissing, this time starting with his clavicle. “I don’t know anything about them, at least not the juicy details. Which you’ll tell me when you feel up to it.”

“Yeah,” Cho said after a moment because the tense moment from before was gone and he could afford to be generous. Besides, Jane was right—fair was fair. “Okay.”

“Don’t be grumpy. I’m sure you’ll get more out of it than me.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that I’m not holding out hope that you’ll actually deliver on your part of the bargain.”

“That’s rich coming from a man who changes the rules at the drop of the hat.”

“Whatever.” Jane said absently, then again when he moved his mouth to Cho’s shoulder, then down his arm, “Whatever.”

But Cho wasn’t ready to let go of the subject even though his dick was buying what Jane was selling. “Well?”

Jane stopped. And looked up. “Kim?”

“Yeah?”

“We have two more days. Do you really want to spend that time talking—something we can do at home—or spend it doing?”

When he put it that way… “Doing.”

Jane kissed the curve of his elbow, licking into the crease, smiling when he jumped because who knew the inside of the elbow could be so sensitive? “Good. And now that we’re on the same page, let’s order room service.”

“Jane—”

“This is your big romantic gesture. Don’t go cheap on me now that you’ve gotten me to concede to your wicked demands.” He leered so dramatically, so over the top, that Cho could only roll his eyes and say okay.

***

The next three days passed quickly. Later, Cho remembered them as hours of happiness, but chopped up as if he were experiencing them as segments of time, and not whole days…

Jane playing in the surf even though the water was really too cold to play in, then running up to where Cho was sitting and shaking water all over the place, laughing when he shouted with pretend anger and reaching up to wrestle him down…

Jane shopping in the hotel gift shop, curious about everything while Cho pretended boredom. Only to go back later when Jane was asleep to buy the small crystal amethyst he’d picked up several times and held to the light…

Jane convincing him that making love in the glass-walled shower wasn’t a guaranteed way to break his neck. Proving his point, hot on his back as they both held onto the rails, his face pressed against the cold tile, thinking that he shouldn’t love it this much, getting fucked by Jane, but knowing it was too late, that he was already addicted…

Dinner on the patio while the quartet played in the background, remembering his loneliness from the year before, the time he’d fantasized about being here with Jane, just like this, the reality so much better than his poor imagination. Talking about nothing much as the night drew on, until Jane, looking beautiful in the transitory light, said, “Let’s dance,” and Cho, caught in the moment, actually considering it before saying, “No.” Then adding, “Let’s go back to the room,” when Jane looked disappointed but resigned.

They checked out at noon.

Jane wanted to go the long way home, so they drove east, taking side roads where they could. They stopped for an early dinner in a town so tiny it didn’t seem to have a name. Jane thought it should be called Applegrove because of all the orchards and went on about living in a small town and how great it would be.

Cho just nodded, listening and not listening, answering Jane’s comments absently. Because the further from the Carina Luna they got, the darker his mood became. He knew why—for three days, he’d lived in the false world that it was just he and Jane and nothing else. For three days he’d managed to forget their failure. That they’d had the Red Men in their hands and they’d let them go. Been forced to let them go, he reminded himself, because that mattered.

And, as they got closer to home, the more he felt as if he were strangling, like his tie was too tight even though he wasn’t wearing a tie. The pressures of everyday life, of his job, weren’t something that he generally thought too much about—things were as they were. But now those same things—or rather, his attitude towards them—had changed again and he wasn’t quite ready to jump back into his regular life.

When they got to the outskirts of Sacramento, Jane grew quiet as well and by the time they got to downtown, they were both silent.

He was navigating the late afternoon traffic when Jane touched his arm. “I need to pick up my car.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Saturday seemed a week ago. “Do you want me to drop you off?” He should check in with Lisbon, but a small part of him said he had another fourteen hours of vacation and he should take them.

Jane shook his head. “No, let me out by the gates. You go home and I’ll be there before you know it. I’ll even get dinner. Is Thai okay?”

He wondered if Jane realized what he’d just said, that he’d used the word ‘home’ as if he meant it and no other. “Sounds good.”

He stopped around the corner from the guard shack. Jane unbuckled his belt and opened the door, but before he could slide out, Cho touched the back of his hand and said, “Don’t be long.”

Jane paused, half in the car, half out. “Did Agent Cho just touch me, out in public?”

“Yeah, Agent Cho did. And Agent Cho will kick your ass if you’re not home in twenty minutes.” The word felt odd on his lips and he hoped he wasn’t doing anything stupid like blush.

Jane grinned and got out. He took his jacket off and draped it over his arm, then strolled around the corner, waving cheerfully.

He watched Jane go, wondering if he should follow just to make sure he didn’t sneak up to the office, then decided not. He was tired and home sounded so good right now. Home, with Jane.

He grinned, put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb.

 

_________________

Wednesday

 

John often thought, when comparing his life to others, that he was just plain lucky. He’d always managed to get the best of any situation, in small ways, in large ways.

Take, for example, his current situation. He could have arrived at the CBI headquarters at any hour, but he managed to get there just in time to see Agent Cho and Mr. Jane pull up to the curb. They talked briefly, then Mr. Jane got out and Agent Cho left, driving right in front of him.

He was smiling, John noticed. And wearing a t-shirt instead of a suit. They must have taken the afternoon off and he pictured them on a beach somewhere, enjoying each other’s company.

He’d give anything to follow, to call a cab to drive to an address he’d learnt by heart. But no, he thought as he watched Mr. Jane turn and enter the building, his dance card was full and Agent Cho, unfortunately, was going to have to be put away, untested, untasted.

The parking lot was almost empty and the officer posted at the guard shack nodded when he walked up.

“Officer,” John said, not bothering to hide his accent, but making it even more exact, more British. “I’m with Interpol.” He handed over his documents. His very fake documents. “I’ve just come from hospital where my colleague, Inspector Patel, is situated. I’ve been instructed to pick up a folder she left by accident this weekend.”

The guard shook his head. “I don’t know anything about that. You can ask upstairs.” He handed John’s documents back, then nodded towards the entrance. “Just go through there. They can show you what floor you want.”

John smiled. “Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

The entryway was the familiar guard and metal detector set-up. He handed over his papers again. The guard examined them more carefully than the other—he even asked to see John’s I.D. But those documents were perfect, as well—even if the guard knew what to look for he’d still be fooled and John was in under a minute.

Really, it was too easy.

At the end of the corridor, there was a handy sign listing all the departments and which floor they were on. He was tempted to stop at Major Crimes because he’d love to get a glimpse of what they considered a ‘major crime.’ It would be nothing on his scale, globally-speaking, but again, that would have to wait.

He pushed the arrow button on the lift and clasped his hands together.

When he exited on the first floor, he stood there for a moment drinking it in. To his right lay a series of rooms—no doubt personnel office or interview rooms. To his left was a large open space filled with the usual desks and equipment and straight ahead were more glass-enclosed offices. They had to be for administration.

Even though the place was almost empty, it hummed with low-level noise, perhaps due to all the exposed brick or maybe because of the glass. But it had a pleasant air, nonetheless, and he noticed with absent-minded surprise that his heart was beating faster. It had been a long while since he’d felt fear and he reminded himself that he’d done much worse things, been in much worse situations. And since this was a situation of his own choosing, well…

A beautiful redhead passed by on her way into the office. She was carrying an armful of folders. He remembered her from the Carmel airport—Agent Van Pelt. He smiled at her but didn’t move, waiting until his heartbeat slowed, until his facial muscles relaxed. Then he strolled down the corridor.

Agents Michaels and Johnson were nowhere to be seen. Agent Van Pelt had sat down at a desk and was watching him curiously over her shoulder. Agent Rigsby was hunched over his computer. Further down, in an office at the end of the corridor, he could just make out Mr. Jane’s blond head. He was talking to someone on the other side of the desk. Probably Agent Lisbon.

John could pull a weapon and shoot them all. It would be so easy.

But, of course, he had no weapon and was here to do more damage than that. So he put on a smile he knew to be charming, and continued on. When he got to the office, he saw that Mr. Jane was indeed chatting with Agent Lisbon. He was sitting back in the chair, one leg crossed over the other. He looked happy, relaxed. As happy and relaxed as Agent Cho. John wished he had a camera because that smile was going to be gone in seconds and he’d like to get a before and after shot.

But enough of that. He opened the door and leaned in. When they both looked up, he announced blithely, “I’m John. I believe you’re looking for me.”

 

_____________

Wednesday

 

“Jane, if you don’t calm down, I’m going to lock you in a holding cell.” Lisbon jerked her head at Rigsby and he dodged to the side, blocking Jane’s way again. “I’m serious.”

“No you’re not,” Jane said without turning around. “You’d never do that. You need me.”

“Yes, well, I know you’re good at what you do, but we’re pretty good, too.”

Jane peered on tiptoe around Rigsby shoulder. When their visitor had made his announcement, the entire office had exploded into activity. Lisbon had called for back-up, then escorted John to Interview One with strict orders not to let anyone in, especially Jane. She’d instructed Van Pelt to get on the phone with Blount, then she’d called Washington. She was still waiting to talk to Luckner’s replacement.

And Rigsby, he was assigned the task of keeping Jane in her office while they got organized.

“I’m just trying to help.”

“If you want to help, call Cho.”

“I already did. It went straight to voicemail.”

“Then call again. We’re not going to start this without him.”

“Lisbon, he’s on vacation. He’s not picking up. Would you?” He glared at Rigsby, who just shrugged.

She started to answer, and then held up her finger as her attention was drawn back to her cell. “Okay, well, when he calls in, please tell him it’s urgent.” She listened a moment and then muttered, “Thank you.”

She hung up and pocketed her phone. “How long has it been?”

“Since I called Cho?” Jane looked at his watch. “Nineteen minutes, give or take. He’s—”

Van Pelt knocked on the door and opened it, forcing Rigsby to the side. “Boss?”

“What’d he say?”

She edged around Rigsby and came to stand by Jane. “He’s arranging for an escort to England, but in the meantime, he understands if we want to go ahead.”

“That’s generous of him, considering,” Jane mumbled. Rigsby had moved back in place and was watching him steadily. Unless Jane wanted to be tackled, there was no way around.

“Well,” Van Pelt said with a shrug. “His exact words were, “‘If you can get anything out of the bastard that hurt Rita, be my guest.’

Rigsby grinned. “Good impression, Van Pelt.”

She smiled over her shoulder. “Thanks.”

“Lisbon,” Jane pleaded.

“Yeah, okay.” She stood up and pulled on her jacket. “You and I will go in. Van Pelt, make sure we have two cameras running—we don’t want to miss anything due to a technical screw-up. Rigsby, call Cho again. Maybe he’ll pick up for you.” She gave Jane a glance, then nodded to Rigsby. He moved out of the way and they trooped out, Jane in the lead.

But before they got to the interview room, he pulled her aside. “You know what I’m going to do, right?”

“You’re going to humiliate, confuse and conflate.”

“Yes, like always, but I just need you to be as non-reactive as you can.”

“Jane—”

“Lisbon.” He stared deep into her eyes. “This man came to us. We both know he’s up to something and it could be anything. Another bomb, a spree killing, anything. He’ll let us know—he wants us to know—but he’ll also want to play with us. I need to get him to that point faster than he wants to go.”

She watched him carefully. He could see that she hadn’t thought that far ahead, so surprised were they by John’s appearance. She turned to Rigsby and muttered, “He’s right. Get this building locked down and inform the A.G. of Jane’s suspicions. Don’t panic him, but let him know we’re working on some answers.” She reached for the door and turned back. “And get Cho in here.”

“Will do, boss,” Rigsby muttered with a quick look at Jane.

“Ready?”

Jane nodded. Rigsby nodded. Even the officer at the door nodded. Lisbon took a deep breath, then pulled the door open and they went in.

The room was the same as always—low lighting, a little too cool and it had to be his own excitement that made him feel as if were entering a field of energy that hit his skin in invisible waves. He wished he could look in the mirror to see if his hair was standing on end because it felt like it must be.

Lisbon pulled out a chair and sat down, but Jane stayed standing, observing the man at the desk.

He was sitting, back straight, hands folded in front of him in a very precise manner. But not ex-military. No, this was someone so used to commanding respect and obedience that his arrogance had become second nature.

He was about six-one or -two and had prematurely gray hair. It had a silvery cast and made a striking contrast with his ice-blue eyes. That, plus his even, attractive features gave him an air of glossiness, even to his nails and his slick half-smile.

His clothing was good, but not overly so—his suit was inoffensively bland and cost maybe a thousand dollars. The watch, however, was a Tag Hauer, worth around five. Not chump change by any means and Jane didn’t wonder at the dichotomy—he knew what this was. The suit was the costume, hiding in plain sight as it were, but the watch, peeking out from the crisp white shirt was a ‘screw you’ to the rubes in the audience.

Jane had used the same gimmick many times and he wanted to rub his hands together—this was going to be so much fun. But he didn’t. They were both waiting.

“Mr. Jane,” the man finally spoke, the gleam in his eye acknowledging Jane’s ploy as if saying, ‘Very well, I concede the first hit.’

“John,” Jane said agreeably. “If ‘John,’ is your real name.”

“It is, Mr. Jane. Oh, and Miss Lisbon,” John murmured sweetly. “We can’t forget about you.”

Lisbon smiled, just as sweet. “It’s “Agent Lisbon.’”

“My mistake; I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not.”

John smiled. “No. I’m not.” He turned back to Jane. “Mr. Jane, please sit. We’ve got so much to talk about.”

His voice matched his beauty and Jane wondered how young he’d been when he realized its power, when he’d realized he could make people do what he wanted when he used that seductive, mellow tone.

He smiled again and reached for the second chair, dragging it around the table to sit at right angles to John, as he’d done with Roberts. He laced his fingers together in imitation and smiled confidingly. “Indeed we do. I almost don’t know where to start.”

“At the beginning?”

Jane waved that away. “No, we know most of that already. Schooled at Oxford, studying religion, no doubt bent on being a priest. You were the third man.”

John cocked his head. “The ‘third man’?”

Jane nodded. “We’ve got a picture of you, taken when you were quite a bit younger. You’re standing next to Joseph Littlefield and Mark Engert and even though you’re only in half the shot, it’s you.”

“Ah, yes,” John said with a thoughtful nod. “I remember. I’d told Joseph to destroy that photo.”

Jane tapped his chin, pretending to muse, waiting for John’s eyes to track his gesture. He didn’t, and Jane’s inner glee only increased—it was rare that he was challenged so thoroughly. “That must have made you angry because even then you were taking care not to let your face be photographed, at least at school. That takes a lot of foresight and control.”

“It does.”

“Of course, it’s more than a little pathological, but we wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have some issues, now would we?”

He smiled congenially and John smiled back, just as congenially. “Such as?”

“Your father.”

“What about him?”

“Oh, I think we’ll find that he’s at the core of all this…” He fluttered his fingers, making the gesture too flamboyant. John gaze didn’t wander.

“Why?”

“The usual thing—daddy issues. He wanted you to follow in his footsteps, but you had other plans.”

“Close enough.”

“You started out small—petty larceny, small forgeries. Things that were big at the time and now seem so small.”

“One has to start somewhere, Mr. Jane.”

Jane leaned in. “Jane, please.”

John cocked his head. “I supposed everyone says, ‘like the girl’?”

Jane grinned happily. So charming, so in control. “And so, the years go by, and with each small crime comes the desire to make your mark in another way. Coming from a certain class of society, a better class of society, you had many open doors at your disposal.”

John nodded. “All except the highest and those could be… Pushed, if needed.”

A reference to the royal family and Parliament? Blount would find that interesting. “But that didn’t stop you, and you soon discovered that two are better than one.”

John shrugged. “Not exactly, but again, close enough.”

“So you and your companion set up shop and are joined by a second and a third to make four. Why four?”

“Because three weren’t enough and five were too many. And it’s a nice round number, don’t you agree?”

“Eh,” Jane said with a shrug. “I think it suited the, ‘Mathew, Mark, Luke and John,’ framework better, even though you had to manufacture a Mathew. Another dig at your old man?”

He had his first hit, true and palpable. John’s eyes narrowed and his smile grew a little less charming. But for just a split second, and then his features smoothed out again. Across the table, Lisbon shifted slightly in her seat.

“You think we didn’t know that?” Jane added with a flick of his fingers, and this time, John glanced down, following the movement. Yes. “It wasn’t that difficult—all those Mathews, the connection to the Catholic church… How many did you go through? Mathews, I mean?” Lisbon shifted again—he was going to have a lot of explaining to do when they were finished.

“You’re very good, Mr. Jane,” John murmured. “Just as the newspapers and magazines all said.”

Jane nodded modestly. “A fan. I’m flattered.”

“Hardly a fan.”

“Enough of one to know that you knew you had to keep me away from the conference last year. By hook or crook.”

“Indeed,” John agreed with smile that grew mischievous as he turned to Lisbon. “You probably thought it was his vanity running amok when he told you what was going on?”

She didn’t react, didn’t respond. Just as Jane hoped, and he wanted to hug her. She was a good at her job. Not as good as Cho, of course, but good enough to know when to sit back and let the suspect hang himself.

John turned back, but Jane got there first, “So your father—or so you’ve probably rationalized all your life—set you on this course. I’m assuming you target technology and the like because it can do the most damage to large corporations—get them where it hurts, so to speak.”

“Well, that and the fact that it’s very lucrative.”

Jane nodded. John’s mannerisms were starting to soften, bit by bit. “I’m sure it is.” Said with just the right amount of condescension and snobbery and John’s eyes narrowed again. “I mean, if you have to work, you have to work. I understand.”

“I don’t think you do. Just because you rubbed elbows with a better class, that doesn’t make you one of them.”

“Whatever.” Jane waved that away as if he were bored. “I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“Sarah Guy.”

John stilled. Another hit. “I vaguely remember a girl named Sarah.”

“Liar. You remember her very well.”

John smiled. He’d already recovered from the blow. “She was a few years younger than me.”

“And in love with Joseph Littlefield?”

“Yes.”

“Was it you that murdered her or did Littlefield?”

“No one murdered her. She died of an unfortunate accident.”

“And then, a few short weeks later, her father dies. That’s quite a coincidence, don’t you think?”

“The world is made up of coincidences.”

Jane raised one eyebrow. He’d told Cho much the same thing, years ago. “What happened? Did she find out you were, what, going to steal her father’s work?”

“Mr. Jane, you have quite the imagination. Sarah Guy was of no importance and her father’s work, as you call it, wasn’t valuable by any stretch of the imagination.”

“Oh, no, I’m sure you weren’t interested in…” He turned to Lisbon with false confusion. “What did Interpol call him? Britain’s top mind in artificial intelligence?”

“I wasn’t aware of his research.”

“And yet, for some reason, you killed his daughter because of it. But,” he shrugged interrupting John before he could respond. “It really doesn’t matter. What about the Johnsons?”

John frowned, truly puzzled this time. “Who might they be?”

“You know—the couple here in California that you shot then tossed into their own freezer so you could use their house as a base of operations?”

John was nodding. “Ah, yes. I forgot them for a moment.” He glanced at his watch.

“All the dead bodies starting to run together?”

“Not at all. They just weren’t that important.”

Jane felt his smile harden. Lisbon glanced at him, but she made no other move and he didn’t have to look at her to know that the effort to stay passive was showing in every line of her body. He wanted to touch her arm and say it was almost over—there were beads of moisture on John’s upper lip—he was starting to sweat. “And then there was Mr. Wilson and the Sullivans.”

“I know those names mean something to you, but they mean nothing to me.”

“They’re just the people—and I’m sure they’re the tip of the iceberg—that paid with their lives so that you could do what you do. So you could add some bizarre meaning to your equally bizarre existence.”

John chuckled. “My life isn’t that awful, Mr. Jane, I assure you.”

“Of course it is,” Jane responded quickly, “You’ve been waiting to die the minute you decided everyone else was to blame for your lot in life. Since you decided that if you couldn’t be happy, then no one should.”

He sat back and crossed his legs and rested his laced fingers on his knee. John followed every movement. “You killed your own associate to further your own ends. You killed innocent people because they were in your way. And now you’re bored even of that. You’ve come to give yourself up as some grand finale, to prove some ridiculous point. Why else make the long trip when you could have so easily strolled into Scotland Yard or Interpol? Blount would have welcomed you with open arms.”

John said nothing for a moment, then he agreed gently, “But where’s the fun in that?”

Lisbon stirred again and Jane remembered his own flippant words—was it only a week ago?

“I could have so easily killed you out on that tarmac,” John said thoughtfully, looking at his watch again. “But I didn’t.”

“So reasonable,” Jane answered, just as soft. “So thoughtful. Why didn’t you? I’ve always wondered.”

“Because it wasn’t you that made the mistake. Mathew had become a hindrance, but you…” John hesitated.

“‘But me,’ what?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t kill you because I like you.”

Lisbon snorted softly under her breath.

“It’s true, Agent Lisbon. I admire Mr. Jane. I’ve often wished I had half his talent, but I’ve had to satisfy myself with my relatively poor skills.”

Jane smiled. “And what a nightmare for the world would that would’ve been.”

“Hmm.”

“But, I suppose you’re referring to your ability to manipulate your men and convince them to kill for you.”

“That’s a rather crude way of putting it, but in a nutshell, yes.”

“That kind of long-term influence is hard to maintain.”

John made a face. “Not in the least. You become a god to someone and there’s very little work that needs to be done after. Continual pressure doesn’t even enter into it.”

“What hubris.”

“But a reality, nonetheless.”

“There’s reality, and then there’s reality.”

“And reality—any reality—is another thing one can control. It’s just a matter of will and projection.”

“Well, project all you want, in the end it won’t matter,” Jane said, finally letting his voice harden, relieved that the charade was almost over.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning you’re going to go to jail for a very long time—or hang—if they still do that in your country. And Sarah’s mother and Mr. Wilson’s daughter will find closure at last.”

“You’re assuming a lot, Mr. Jane.”

“I’m prone to that, I must confess.”

“You’re prone to much else.” John glanced at his watch again, then back up. He cocked his head and smirked.

Here it came, the thing that John had been holding back, the denouement, as it were. “Such as?”

“Vanity. And arrogance.”

“Yes,” Jane said slowly. “Lisbon tells me that all the time.”

“I’m sure she does. Your vanity is all-encompassing—does Agent Cho appreciate that, I wonder?”

Jane could actually feel his smile slip from his face. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Now who’s the liar?”

John’s voice had changed, become sharp and biting and Jane said through a dull kind of shock, “So it is Cho you’ve been following.” Lisbon took a quick breath. Jane touched her arm, telling her, ‘not yet,’ telling himself the same thing because it wasn’t time to let his thoughts travel where they wanted to travel—he had to stay focused.

“‘Following’ is such a dramatic word.”

“Would you prefer ‘stalking?’”

“I prefer neither, actually, because it doesn’t matter.”

“Why?”

But John ignored the question, saying instead, “I mentioned arrogance a minute ago.”

“Yes?”

“It’s your arrogance that led you here. If you were a comic book hero, it would be your ultimate weakness.”

“Meaning?” Jane mimicked sarcastically.

“Meaning, do you ever watch television?”

“Sometimes.”

“Well, if you did, you’d realize that it’s the product of bad fiction, that the villain gives himself up and spills his guts for no reason.”

His heart tripped. Lisbon sat up straighter. “Meaning?”

John leaned forward, so close, Jane could smell his cologne and the underlying musk of sweat. Could see his light beard and the thin ring of black around his blue irises. “Meaning, do you honestly think that I flew thousands of miles just to verbally spar with you?”

“I suppose the answer would be no, as unflattering as it is.”

“That would be correct.”

Jane slid closer until they were inches apart. He’d give anything to put this man under and tear his mind apart, but Lisbon, of course, would never let him. “Then what did you fly thousands of miles for?”

“Better yet, Mr. Jane, you should ask me the one question you should have asked thirty-three minutes ago.”

“And what question is that?”

“All this talk of knowing me so well, of knowing my methods so well. Did it never occur for you to wonder what the one remaining member of my team is up to?”

Jane stilled. And took a sharp breath. “Luke,” he whispered. John was right—vanity, and events—had made him forget someone he should never have forgotten.

John nodded. “Luke.”

Lisbon had enough of being quiet. She leaned forward and snapped, “Luke? Who’s Luke?”

“Ask Mr. Jane.”

“He’s the fourth man, Lisbon. The last Red Man,” Jane said without taking his eyes from John’s. “And I wouldn’t worry about him. He couldn’t get through security if he tried.”

“Another wrong assumption, Mr. Jane. I imagine you don’t even know who you’re looking for, much less where. Besides, he arrived in the States days before I did.”

“The SUV that ran Director Luckner off the road?” Lisbon said, deadly soft. “The man that killed Engert?”

“And missed someone important, but no one’s perfect, not even Luke.”

Lisbon shook her head. “You had your own man kill his teammate?”

“Of course, I did. That shouldn’t come as such a surprise—I always make sure my messes are cleaned up. I thought you knew that.”

“He’s bluffing, Lisbon.”

“Jane,” John said, using his name for the first time, “look at me—am I bluffing?”

Lisbon shoved the chair back and leaned over, fists on the table. “Where is he?”

John looked at his watch again, making a production of it. “I can’t say exactly; we didn’t have much time to plan. But, if things are happening the way I instructed, he should be pulling up to a certain river-front flat any time now.” He tapped the crystal as if in emphasis.

Jane froze.

John looked up and nodded. “Yes. I wonder what your Agent Cho is doing right about now?”

It was so still, this moment. Jane could hear the thump of the ancient air conditioner, the chime of one the elevators. And below all that, an odd rhythmic rushing sound, an in and out like the tide—it took him a second too long to realize it was his own heartbeat pounding away.

“I thought that might be a shock. You should see yourself, Mr. Jane. You look like a deer in—”

By the time Jane was on his feet, Lisbon had her cell out and was rushing the door, pushing it so hard it slammed against the outside wall. Rigsby and Van Pelt hurried from the observation room.

“Rigsby,” Lisbon said as she punched in a number. “Get a unit at Cho’s place. Tell them the situation, but to wait for us. You two, go.”

She jerked her head and they ran for the elevator. She turned to the guard. “Call for back up. If that man in there escapes, I’ll have your badge.”

He tried to answer, but she was already on the move, running to follow the others and Jane shouted, “Lisbon!”

When she turned, he pointed to the stairs. “Faster.”

They took off, skipping steps, Jane almost falling at one point, so reckless was he going. And then they were on the first floor, out the door, racing for her car.

“Hey!” She threw her phone at him, saying, “Keep calling,” even as she hit the remote.

They got in. Jane punched buttons, fumbling a little—he’d called this number so many times his fingers should be able to dial on their own, right? For some reason he was having trouble making them work.

“Jane?”

916. Then a 3 and a 7, but everything after that was blank—

“Jane!”

“What?” he answered without looking up.

“Hit the pound sign, then 2. And fasten your seatbelt.”

***

Afterwards, when he related the events of that afternoon to the higher ups, he glossed over the part where they drove from the office to home. He never liked to admit that he lost his mind for a while there, that he couldn’t seem to regain control, that he couldn’t remember Cho’s number. That he couldn’t stop thinking about bag of used tea leaves he’d left on the kitchen counter the week before and how much Cho hated that.

And that he wasn’t sure if he could stand it, losing a loved one again, being alone, again.

***

The ride up was a necessary evil. The elevator was old and loud, but it didn’t really matter—Luke was waiting for him. Jane knew that as well as he knew his own name. Subterfuge was pointless.

When the car jolted to a halt, they found Rigsby and Van Pelt in the hall, flanking the door, preparing to enter. Lisbon darted next to Rigsby and turned to look back at Jane. She jerked her head, telling him to find cover.

He paused. The door was open a crack. Off to the left, near Lisa’s apartment, was a small white paper bag with the words, Hotel Carina Luna on it. It wasn’t his, so that meant Cho had bought something on the sly, probably a gift for him because for all his words and his stoicism, he was a closet romantic.

Jane nodded stoically, as if answering a question no one had asked him yet. Lisbon was going to hate him for this, but it couldn’t be helped. There was no point in all this firepower. He knew his role, knew what was waiting for him on the other side and nothing, not her guns or his own cunning was going to save him from that.

He gave her an apologetic smile that she didn’t see, took a deep breath, and dove for the door.

 

______________

Wednesday

 

He was so mad. So goddamn fuckingmad and he tested his restraints again, trying to pull his wrists apart, trying to move his legs. Still too tight—he should have known better—there was a reason flex-cuffs were used in situations like these.

“You can struggle all you want, Agent Cho, but you won’t be able to break free.”

Cho didn’t look around. The man, Luke, was standing by his windows, looking down at the river as he’d been doing for the last half hour. He was waiting and Cho knew what he was waiting for—who he was waiting for and he couldn’t help himself—he yanked again, this time twisting at the same time, hoping the plastic would give.

“Really,” Luke called out. “You’re going to cut off your circulation and lose those hands. Then what good would you be? To your department? To Mr. Jane?”

“Fuck you.”

Luke snorted and moved away from the windows, circling around to the kitchen. He grabbed a chair, dragging it until he was a good eight feet away and sat with a sigh. He was white, tall, with dark hair. He reminded Cho of Mark and the first Mathew—they all had the same bearing that said ex-military or something like it. Luke was taller than the others, though, and moved as if he were long used to sneaking around in other people’s homes, long used to tying other people up.

The odd thing was, he seemed familiar, but Cho couldn’t place him.

“It won’t be long now. I think another fifteen minutes will do it.”

Cho thought so too and he imagined it, Jane pushing the door left so conveniently cracked, coming in to find the apartment trashed, Stewart Jenkins dead in the corner of the apartment, and this asshole with a gun…

Luke cocked his head. “How is your arm?”

He’d pulled on his jacket when he’d gotten out of the car earlier, and he couldn’t see the bullet wound. He could feel it, though—it lay a few inches from his shoulder and hurt like a son of a bitch. “Fine.”

“Not dizzy from blood loss?”

Luke’s duffle bag was near the couch, maybe four feet behind him. If he could move his legs, he could tip back—there was a chance he’d fall close enough to reach it. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to pick up anything because he’d still be tied up. And landing on his hands and arms would hurt, never mind his head. “No.”

“Because, contrary to what has happened, I don’t want you to die.”

“Good.”

“Of course, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be here at all.”

“Whatever.”

Luke smiled for the first time. He had very even, very white teeth. “You really are a man of few words, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

Luke crossed his legs and sat the gun on his knee, making sure to point the barrel straight at Cho. “Is that your family?” He nodded to the wall.

“Yes.”

“You don’t have any pictures of Mr. Jane.”

“No.”

“That’s odd.”

Cho just stared. Like he’d ever explain his complex relationship with Jane to this asshole.

“What does he think of that, I wonder?”

“Ask him.”

“I’d like to, but I’m afraid he’s going to want to talk to me even less than you do. Besides, I’m not really here to talk.”

“What a surprise.”

“I imagine it is. Just as I imagine that you’re blaming yourself for your current predicament.”

When he didn’t answer, Luke added, “That’s pointless, of course. If you need to blame anyone, blame that man over there.” He jerked his thumb at Jenkins. Or rather, Jenkins’ body. “If it hadn’t been for him, you would never have been shot.”

“And you’d never have gotten the jump on me.”

Luke thought about it, then shrugged. “I think we’re fairly matched—it could’ve gone either way. Who is he?”

A fool who should’ve left well enough alone, who shouldn’t have been so worried about a relatively minor charge that he came looking for the man he thought responsible for his brother-in-law’s incarceration.

He’d attacked Cho the minute he’d gotten home, standing still in his own doorway, bemused as to why all the furniture in the front of the loft had been pushed to the walls, still holding the gift he’d gotten for Jane. Their fight had knocked over the couch, the chair, the table by the door. He was lucky, though—when Jenkins pulled the gun, he’d mostly missed. “No one that needed killing.”

“His own fault for getting in the way, then.”

“No, it’s your fault.”

“Hmm, you’re right about that, I suppose,” Luke mused. “Do you want know why I’m here?”

He wanted to roll his eyes, but all he said was a bland, “I’m all ears.”

“I know. It’s a cliché, yes? The hardened criminal, babbling on, giving the good guys time to rescue the damsel in distress. Only, you’re hardly a damsel, now are you, Agent Cho?”

“It depends. Which way did you have in mind?”

But Luke didn’t respond to his parry. He just cocked his head again and said, “And Mr. Jane is no knight in shining armor.”

Cho waited.

“Would it surprise you to find that my initial order was to kill you?”

Cho didn’t blink. “I thought you were here to sell Girl Scout cookies.”

Luke ignored that. “It was part of John’s big plan. The perfect revenge on the man who foiled one of his plots. And yes, his name is ‘John’—don’t think you’re scoring any points in that regard. By now, he’s at your office and—

Cho forgot he was bound and jerked forward. “He’s at the CBI?”

“Calm down. It’s not what you think. He’s there to give himself up to Agent Lis—”

“If he hurts any of them, I’ll—”

“And if you interrupt me one more time, I’ll not say another word. Your choice.” When Cho nodded his head in angry agreement, he said, “Good. So, by now your Mr. Jane is on his way. I’m supposed to kill him, of course, just to make everything neat and tidy.”

“What’s his beef with us?”

“Not ‘us,’ specifically. You. And it’s not really a ‘beef,’ as you call it.”

Maybe he was dizzy from blood loss. “Huh?”

“He saw you, you see. Last year in California.”

“And what, he took an instant dislike and decided I needed to die?”

“Oh, no. Quite the opposite.”

It took him a minute to realize what Luke was saying. “You’ve got to be kidding.” All this because some guy wanted to get into his pants? How idiotic and humiliating—Jane was going to laugh his head off.

Luke shrugged. “I know. John’s impulse control has never been highly developed and he’s not good at sharing, which is what all this is about. Still—”

He stopped and raised his head. Then looked at his watch. “I seem to be off by about five minutes.” He rose and strode to the windows to look down. “Damn.”

“What is it?”

“Several police cars just pulled up. John must’ve jumped the proverbial gun. He told me he’d wait. Oh, well…” He turned around. “I knew this was a long shot—it seems a change of plans are in order.”

Luke hurried across the loft, out of Cho’s line of sight. Cho heard the sounds of something heavy being dragged across the wood floor, then Luke was back. Without a word, he gripped Cho’s skull and pulled his head against his belly. “Now, listen carefully. I’m not going to kill you, but if you shout out or warn them in any way, I’ll shoot whoever comes through that door. Including your Mr. Jane. Do you understand?”

Wanting to growl, ‘stop calling him, my Mr. Jane,’ Cho nodded reluctantly.

Too reluctantly because Luke sighed and murmured, “No, I can see you’re not going to behave. Hold on…” He let go. There was a soft rustling and then he was back. Cho got a glimpse of black fabric and he jerked his head and clenched his jaw. It was no use—Luke was too fast. He forced the fabric between his teeth, pulling the gag in place.

He tied it, then leaned over to speak in Cho’s ear. “I know you hate this, but it will all be over soon. They’ll come in, I’ll say my piece and you and I will take a ride. If all goes well, you’ll be back here by midnight and you and your Mr. Jane can return to your normal lives.”

He had the nerve to pat Cho’s cheek and Cho jerked his head again, hoping to get in a good head butt. Luke had anticipated that as well—he jumped back, then breathed a soft laugh. “I’d do the same, in your shoes, now shush.”

Cho ignored that. He was scanning the area, trying to find some way to make noise. Luke had cleared the space well—there was nothing in arm’s reach and no way to gain any traction so he could shove himself back, sideways, or forward.

He was trying to remember what Jane had once told him about escaping from handcuffs when there was a noise, a soft whine that he knew too well. It was the door to the stairs. It couldn’t be Jane—he always took the elevator, but it could be Lisa. She liked to run up the stairs. She said it was a better workout than a five-mile run and he growled behind the gag. If Luke hurt her, he’d never—

There was another sound. A growing rumble that was also very familiar. In the past, when he’d first moved into the loft, it had meant that Lisa and her husband were home. But lately the sound had taken on a new meaning.

He made some involuntary protest. Luke grabbed his forehead and pressed his head back against his stomach again, holding the gun to his cheek.

They waited.

For a moment that went on and on. Long enough for Cho to realize he was sweating and growling behind the gag, praying silently, ‘don’t be Jane, don’t be Jane, don’t be…’

And of course, because Jane was Jane, it was.

With a bang, the door flew open and Jane jumped across the threshold like he was jumping through a ring of fire. Cho caught a quick glance of a surprised Rigsby before he ducked out of view. Which meant that Lisbon and Van Pelt were out there as well.

“Luke, I presume,” Jane announced as he slid to a stop about eight feet from the door. He smiled and raised his hands above his head. As if Luke was pointing the gun at him. But it wasn’t that absurdity that made Cho frown—it was the weird blankness in Jane’s eyes, as if he were sleep walking.

“You presume right, Mr. Jane,” Luke answered matter-of-factly. “Should I presume that Agent Lisbon, et al, are out in the hallway?”

“I’m on my own.”

Luke sighed. “I saw Agent Rigsby when you opened the door, Mr. Jane. Please bring them in. They might as well hear this. I hate to repeat myself.”

Jane let his arms fall gradually. He hadn’t yet looked at Cho. “Lisbon!” he shouted, “C’mon in. The cat’s out of the bag.”

Luke snorted softly and leaned over, whispering, “Now that my little surprise is over, I’ll take the gag off, but not the cuffs. I’m sure you understand why.” He tapped Cho’s cheek with the gun and suddenly the gag was off and on the floor.

Cho shook his head, working his dry mouth, his sore jaw. He hated being gagged and he was still glaring when Lisbon sidled in, gun raised. She was followed by Rigsby and Van Pelt. They were all wearing vests and equal looks of anger and suspicion. She glanced down at Cho, asking silently, ‘You all right?’ He nodded.

“Agent Lisbon,” Luke said. “This is a very simple situation. If you threaten me in any way, if you try to take my weapons away, I’ll start shooting, using Agent Cho for cover.”

“Lisbon,” Jane said.

Lisbon said nothing.

“Lucky for me, I’ve had ample time to inspect the area—there’s one way in and no possible access from the windows. So,” he rested the gun on Cho’s shoulder. “Please be smart about this and place your weapons on the ground and slide them over to me. If I’d wanted Agent Cho dead, he’d be dead, but that doesn’t mean I won’t kill all of you if you try to stop me.”

Jane shifted from side to side, and said evenly, “Lisbon?”

Lisbon hesitated too long and Luke jabbed the gun’s barrel into Cho’s cheek.

“Lisbon,” Jane said for the third time. “Please.”

Lisbon exchanged a startled glance with Cho—he could count on one hand the times he’d heard Jane say, ‘please.’ No matter what happened, he needed to stay alive, if only for Jane’s sake.

Lisbon finally nodded, then held her gun up, palms exposed. “Fine. You want to talk, we’ll talk. Rigsby? Van Pelt?

They did as she ordered. As she was bending down, she saw the body and stiffened. She lay the gun down and jerked her head at Cho. “Jenkins?”

“He showed up at the wrong time.”

Jane barely glanced at the body. “So what?” he asked Luke. “You tell us a sad story like your boss did and we feel sorry enough to let you go?”

“No. No sad stories. I’m going to leave here with Agent Cho and—”

“We don’t negotiate with hostage takers,” Lisbon said tightly.

“Agent Lisbon, if you’ll let me finish?”

She glanced down at Cho again, then said, “Go on.”

“As I was saying, I’ll leave with Agent Cho and as soon as I reach my destination, I’ll release him. Unharmed. At that time I’ll give him the key to a locker. In that locker is enough information to put John Denham away for life.”

‘Denham,’ Cho thought. At least now they had a name.

“Why?” Jane asked.

“No. I said no stories and I meant it.”

“You’re the hit man for the group, aren’t you? You’re the one that killed all those people. Fifteen here in California, but what about—”

Luke sighed. “Mr. Jane?”

“Yes?”

“I don’t want to do this, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so…”

He bent sideways and Cho didn’t need to see Lisbon’s and Rigsby’s twin looks of alarm or hear Van Pelt’s horrified gasp to know that something bad was going to happen. He stiffened up just as Jane lurched forward like a puppet, hands up, saying, “Wait. Wait!” but it was too late.

All he saw was a flash in his peripheral vision, then he felt a bright sting on his right bicep that blossomed into pain. Warm blood ran down his arm as the pain got bigger. Jane stopped in his tracks, his face almost white.

“I’m doing this to show you that I’m serious,” Luke said. “I can’t be bought or coerced or tricked. My only purpose was to give you the key and convince you to not follow me. I didn’t plan on this showdown but I’m on a deadline and I’ve wasted enough time as it is. Thanks to your friends downstairs, I need to take one of you with me. I’d prefer it to be Agent Cho as he’s ready to go. Which is to be, Agent Lisbon?”

Cho answered for her, “I’ll go with you.” He exchanged a long steady look with her. Luke would be a fool to take an unwounded hostage, and they both could tell he was no fool—he’d handicap the new hostage in some way just to lessen the chance they’d cause a fuss.

Luke tightened his grip on Cho’s shoulder. “And the men downstairs?”

Lisbon held up her hand, pointing to her pocket, then got out her cell and dialed. “Sir?” she said after a moment. “We have a situation.”

***

It had been a while since Cho had been on the wrong end in a hostage situation, but even he was surprised by the speed with which Luke got them all tied up. Neatly, efficiently, first by giving them the cuffs and having them bind their own feet and wrists, then tying them up in different parts of the apartment. He left Jane for last and Cho thought it had to be his imagination that he handled Jane more carefully, tying him to the kitchen table so he was facing Cho.

After he was done, he got his bag and packed his gear away. Then he cut the cuffs binding Cho’s legs to the chair. If Cho had any idea of running or tackling him, that was answered in the way he almost fell when he tried to stand.

“The cuffs were tight,” Luke said conversationally as he steadied Cho’s arm. “Give it a moment, then we’ll be on our way.”

“Where?” Jane called out from the kitchen. He’d recovered from his shock but he still wouldn’t meet Cho’s glance. As if Cho wasn’t even there, and it was starting to piss him off.

Luke ignored the question. He shouldered his bag then guided Cho towards the door. “Agent Lisbon?”

“Yes?”

“I hope for your colleague’s sake, your boss has done his job.”

“He has.”

Luke nodded and without another word, he pushed Cho to and through the door, too quickly for him to do anything but limp into the hallway, unable to give Jane a last look goodbye.

***

They took his car. As they were heading down on the elevator, he came up with plan after plan, dismissing each as pointless, unworkable, or just plain stupid. And it didn’t matter—when they got to the garage, Luke nixed any escape idea by simply grabbing his tied hands, pulling his keys from his pocket. Then, using his own arms as painful leverage, stuffing him in his own trunk.

As the engine came to life and began to move, Cho tried to visualize it, where Luke was taking him. He got to the first stop sign by the river before he became hopelessly confused. It felt as if they were moving away from the highway, keeping to the river district, but that couldn’t be right—he must be disoriented.

He waited for sirens, for a voice over a bullhorn saying to, ‘Pull over and show us your hands,’ but whatever, whyever, nothing happened. Just the motion of the car moving steadily, sometimes slowing down, sometimes stopping. Until they sped up, turned corners so tight that he slammed against the sides of the car. Finally, they came to a screeching halt. He tensed up, preparing for the worst, for bullets, for shouts or screams. But the car just rocked a few times and then nothing until he heard a soft click.

He waited, trying to breath softly so he could hear better. Still nothing and he touched the trunk lid with his boot. It rose smoothly. He waited again, long enough to call himself a coward, then got to his knees.

He was in a garage. A cavernous garage that looked like something from a movie set. There was junk everywhere and the windows were all broken. It wasn’t a movie set, though—he knew where he was. He and Rigsby had checked the place out in ’07—they’d been on the trail of a double murderer, and crap, it wasn’t even five miles from his own place.

He crawled out of the trunk, stumbling because his legs were still numb, and then looked around. It didn’t surprise him to find that he was alone, but it did surprise him to see a stool five feet away. On it was his cell phone, a knife, and a key.

***

He had to dial with his nose, grumbling the whole time because he’d opened up the bullet wound scrambling out of the car, but thank God for cell phones and speed dial. He hit speed dial 1. If it rang, he didn’t hear it.

“Are you okay?”

Jane’s voice was gratifyingly raspy and Cho closed his eyes in relief. The odds of Luke going back and killing him were long, but still… “Put me on speakerphone.”

“Sure, just—”

Jane fumbled for the buttons, hitting a wrong one first, then, “Okay, you’ve got us—”

“Where are you?” Lisbon interrupted.

“I’m fine,” he said, answering Jane’s question first. “Rigsby, I’m in that garage we investigated years ago. Johnny Merrin, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember. Hold on, we’ll be there in a few minutes.”

There was the sound of running feet and he leaned on the stool. He was so damn tired. “Hey boss?” He so didn’t want to do this, but she’d kill him if he didn’t.

“Yeah?”

“You should probably call an ambulance.”

“Why?” Jane asked sharply.

“Because that asshole Jenkins shot me. It’s not too bad,” he said quickly before they both overreacted. “It’s just a graze but I think I lost some blood.” Or rather, more blood, but he wasn’t about to say that. He waited and when he got no response, he mumbled, “You guys there?”

There was a muffled noise, then Jane came back on. “It’s just me. She’s calling Rigsby to get the address. I didn’t see the blood. What happened?”

“Can I tell you later? I need to sit down.” The garage was starting to tip and his head wanted to tip with it.

“Yeah, okay, just, just—”

Jane stopped abruptly and Cho nodded which didn’t help with the dizziness. “Yeah, I will.” Whatever they had to say to each other, it was going to have to wait. “I’ll see you soon.”

He didn’t try to hang up as he fell more than knelt when vertigo hit him, hard.

He wasn’t out for long—he came to when a SUV hurled through the big doors and screeched to a halt. Rigsby and Van Pelt jumped out. He tried to stand.

“Jesus, Cho,” Rigsby swore as he helped him up.

Van Pelt had something in her hand and as she turned him around, she said softly, “Watch out.” She snipped through the cuffs and his arms swung free.

“Aw, shit,” he moaned, almost falling again at the pain that streaked down his shoulders. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“Don’t be a baby,” Rigsby said, but his face was still screwed up with worry and he was careful when he helped him walk to the car. “Sit here.”

“Where were you shot?” Van Pelt asked.

“Left arm,” Cho gritted out. The pain wasn’t receding—it was, in fact, getting worse and he hoped he didn’t do anything stupid like throw up or pass out.

“I can’t see anything,” Rigsby mumbled. “I thought you big, bad military types laughed at gunshot wounds.”

“We do.” His hands were warm and he looked down. Fresh blood was seeping from his jacket sleeves and he remembered the dreams. His stomach roiled.

“Yeah, well, tell me if you’re gonna puke. These are new shoes.”

“Rigsby?” Cho muttered. He could hear a siren’s wail, getting closer and closer. He hated hospitals.

“Yeah?”

“Bite me.”

“Guys,” Van Pelt said primly, and then turned to run for the door when the ambulance pulled up outside. She waved them in.

Cho tried to stand when the EMTs hurried up with the gurney. Which was a foolish, Jane sort of thing to do because as soon as he got to his feet, the world tipped again and this time he tipped with it.

***

“Will you sit down?”

“I’m fine here. I can see everything.”

“You look like you’re going to faint.”

“I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”

“You’re being an ass.”

Cho opened his eyes, feeling as if his eyelids weighed a ton. The light was too bright and he quickly closed them again to a squint.

“Jane?”

“Yeah?”

“What did you mean, about John following Cho?”

“It wasn’t me they were tailing.”

“Why Cho?”

Cho tried again. He didn’t want to lay here while they discussed him and his crazy stalker guy.

He was in bed, in a hospital room surrounded by a privacy curtain that wasn’t very private—it kept fluttering open and he could see other beds and the nurse’s station. His wrists and arms were bandaged and he had a splitting headache. But other than that…

He sighed.

“Well, look who’s back,” Lisbon murmured, turning towards him. She was sitting by the bed. Her vest was hanging off the back of the chair as if she’d just come in from the field. She looked tired.

“Sorry, boss,” he whispered.

“For what?”

“Screwing up.”

She took his hand and even through his confusion, he was surprised. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. I’m just glad you’re okay. And,” she shook her head. “I don’t want to hear anything about Luke escaping. You did what you had to do and if anyone’s to blame, it’s me. Besides, from what John has told us, we’ve got enough on him to make catching him fairly simple.”

Cho opened his mouth again, but Jane interrupted. “Maybe he should drink something before you start giving him the third degree, Lisbon. There’s water on that table over there.”

Lisbon rolled her eyes.

Cho glanced to his left, feeling like his head might fall off if he moved too quickly but he had to see.

Jane, for some reason, was standing in the corner of the room by the big window, arms crossed tight about his chest. There was something still wrong with him because he was looking at the space over Cho’s shoulder.

“Are you okay?”

Lisbon snorted. Jane just muttered, “I’m fine.”

“When can I get out of here?”

Lisbon rose to get the water. “In a while,” she said gently. “You’re here for observation.” The pitcher was the kind with a handle and plastic straw. She couldn’t get the lid off.

“For a minor gunshot wound?”

“No, for a minor concussion. When you tried to stand in the garage, you passed out and hit the fender before Rigsby could catch you.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah. He’s feeling pretty bad about it, so go easy on him, okay? Damnit…” She got her fingernails under the lid, but it still wouldn’t come off.

“Oh, for…” Jane finally moved. He strode over and grabbed the pitcher out of Lisbon’s hands. “I’ll do it.”

He muttered something else, too soft for Cho to hear.

“Boss?”

“Yeah?”

He jerked his head to the curtain.

She nodded and picked up her vest. “I need to get back to the office,” she said calmly. “Jane, call me if anything happens and let me know what the doctor says.”

Jane didn’t look up from the water he was pouring. “Why, Lisbon? He’s not dying. He’s fine.”

She sighed and turned back to Cho. She gave him a small smile that said, ‘he’s all yours.’ “I’ll call later on to see how you’re doing. Your leave has been extended until next week so get some rest.”

She left, leaving a foot-wide gap in the curtains. Rigsby and Van Pelt were waiting near the nurse’s station. Rigsby started forward, but Lisbon shook her head and waved him back.

And that’s all he saw because Jane closed the curtain with a snap then turned to the bed. “Here.” He held the straw to Cho’s lips.

Cho drank. It felt like heaven and when he lay back, he actually felt better. “Thanks.”

Jane nodded, standing there as if lost, looking down at the cup.

“Will you sit down? It’s hard to look up at you.” A lie, but it worked. Jane sat with a thump that looked like it hurt. “Are you really okay?”

Jane smiled weakly and shrugged. He leaned over, elbows on knees, and turned the cup a few times. “I think that’s my line.”

“Are you?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m…” He smiled again, still looking down.

“Then will you look at me?”

Like he was preparing himself for the worst, Jane finally glanced up.

Lisbon had been right—Jane looked like he was going to pass out. His skin dry, papery, and his eyes were rimmed with red. Cho ignored the pain in his arm and reached out to touch the back of his hand. “What’s wrong?

“Nothing.”

“Don’t do that.”

Jane shrugged and began to scrape off the label that announced ‘St. Mary’s is here for you!’ “I just finally get it. That’s all.”

“Get what?”

“Remember last year? At the Carina Luna?”

“What about it?”

“You said something to me. Something I brushed off at the time, but now I get it.”

“What did I say?”

Jane tore off the label—he didn’t manage all of it and he started in again. “That you were tired of seeing people hold guns to my head. I finally get it.”

Cho held his breath. He’d said similar things over the years. Different words with the same meaning: ‘watch out for yourself,’ and, ‘don’t do anything stupid.’ All really saying, ‘I care about you and when you get hurt, so do I.’

It was something he’d given up on, trying to get Jane to understand. “It doesn’t feel good, does it?”

Jane shook his head violently. “No. It doesn’t. When I saw that bastard hold his gun to your head, so casually, like it would mean nothing if he shot you… And then when he cut you—” He squeezed the cup too hard and the lid popped off.

Cho couldn’t help it—he burst out laughing. Not long or hard because it made his head and arms hurt and he was in a hospital, after all. But a genuine laugh that released the thing that had been living inside his chest for so long. He took a deep, clear breath, then another.

“That’s me, keep ’em laughing,” Jane said as he simultaneously tried to put the cup on the table and clean up the floor.

“No, leave it,” he said. “Leave it; come here.” He tugged on Jane’s hand, making him drop the cup and rise out of the chair.

The bed was too narrow. Jane had to sit on the edge at an awkward angle, half on, half off. He thought he should let go of Jane’s hand because the room wasn’t that private, but he was tired, too happy to be alive and screw whatever anyone thought.

And maybe it was being so out of it, but it took him a moment to realize that the wedding ring was gone. He hesitated, then rubbed Jane’s finger.

“It’s in my pocket,” Jane said, almost ruefully, answering his unasked question. “I’ll put it back on, but I just thought I’d give it a spin, going without it for a while.”

“How does it feel?”

“Weird. Like I’m not me.” And then, when he saw whatever Cho’s face was showing, he leaned over, an arm on either side of Cho’s chest. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that it’s been a part of me for so long.”

“It still is.”

“No, not like it was,” Jane whispered sadly. “Not anymore. I realized that when I watched that maniac drag you away.”

Jane tried to say something else, his expression still too lost, and Cho pulled. He resisted at first and then didn’t, laying over Cho carefully. And it couldn’t be comfortable, twisted up like that, and Cho said, “Here,” and, “Come here.”

Jane sighed and swung his legs on the bed, a too heavy weight, and buried his face in Cho’s neck.

 

_____________

Thursday, April 22

 

John shifted about on the cot, trying to easy the ache in his back. He’d gotten no sleep the night before even though they’d moved his prison companions to another facility. It had been almost comical—what they thought he’d do was beyond him. Hypnotize them into organizing a jailbreak? Convince one of them to kill him?

He smirked. And then sighed because he wasn’t going to be able to sleep, not now. He’d tried to get information out of the guard that had brought his dinner, but the man had ignored his questions as if he were deaf.

But it didn’t matter. He’d overheard one of the guards mention that they’d be done with their prisoner by noon tomorrow. Which meant that early afternoon, he’d be dead, thanks to his safety net. Not something he’d been hoping for, because it was only now, after the plan had unfolded, that he’d realized he really did want to live.

But that was the heart for you—filled with vagaries and contrariness. It was just as well that he’d finished with all matters of the heart, years ago.

He settled back with a smile and laced his fingers over his stomach, wondering what his father would say when he heard the news, wondering which rifle Luke would use.

 

________________

Friday

 

Jane peered into the refrigerator. He was sure he had mayonnaise, but all he could find was Dijon mustard and ketchup. When he went to the store, he was going to have to buy more than just a few staples. The cupboards were as empty as the refrigerator.

“Are you listening to me?”

“Of course, I am, Lisbon. I just don’t see…” Ah, there it was, behind a half-gallon of milk and a big jar of peaches he’d bought at a roadside stand. He’d completely forgotten about those. “How it can possibly help. He’s gone and you’re not going to find him.”

“He’s a murderer, Jane. You, of all people, should be lining up to bring him to justice.”

“I know.”

“And what about Cho? He was going to kill Cho.”

“No, he wasn’t.”

“How do you know that?”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that Luke came with the intention of killing Cho—John said as much and he wasn’t lying. But something happened.”

“He discovered religion?”

Her voice was heavy with sarcasm and he answered mildly, “Hardly. I just think he didn’t see any point in it. People change, Lisbon. All the time.”

“Jane—”

“If Interpol or Scotland Yard or whoever finds him, great. But I’m not going to hold my breath. It’s clear he had everything planned out.” When she didn’t say anything, he asked, “Is Denham gone?” and tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder. He opened the loaf of bread—it was fresh, bought forty-five minutes ago and he closed his eyes in pleasure at the warm, homey smell.

“The flight took off about an hour ago. And barring an act of God, he’ll be in London by morning.”

“Did he say anything else?” He brushed the bread with mayonnaise, thin, because Cho had said that he was eating too much and needed to cut down on calories.

“Not after his initial ranting, no.”

Next came the bacon, lettuce, and tomato. His stomach growled—he was hungry, but that’s what he got for spending most of the day in bed. “He’s angry.”

“He’s insane.”

“No. Just a privileged egomaniac who wanted complete control over everything, including his own death.”

“You have to admit, though, it was pretty insane, ordering Luke to kill him.”

Jane shrugged. “Insane? Maybe, but I understand him. He wanted to end it all in a blaze of glory. Now all he has left are his endless plots.”

“He can plot, but it won’t do much good. Those dates and locations that Luke left us are pretty damning. He murdered a young girl and dumped her body into the Mediterranean just to get at her father’s research. Revenge is going to be useless.”

“It’s not the question as to the value of revenge, Lisbon. Revenge is what he’s built his life upon. And,” he said before she could say what he knew she was going to say, “my situation isn’t the same thing. Not at all.”

“Hmm.”

He paused in the middle of cutting the sandwich in half. “Did you talk to Cho?”

“About?”

Her voice was too innocent and he wanted to say, ‘about Cho’s nightmares and his worries about me.’ He didn’t. There was nothing he could do about it—Lisbon and Cho had their own relationship, established long before he came on the scene and it didn’t include him. Besides, it was too pretty a day to be angry.

“Never mind. I don’t want to know.” He finished cutting the sandwiches, then put them on a plate. “What else is eating you?”

She hesitated and a ‘Lisbon, you can’t fool me,’ was on his lips, but then she sighed and said, “I was hoping Luke would give us more than a few dates and locations.”

“Like a manifesto as to why they did what they did?”

“Yeah.”

“Never going to happen.”

“Jane—”

“Lisbon.” Jane straightened up, sandwich forgotten, and leaned one hip on the counter.

Cho had been reading on the couch earlier and he’d left the blanket in a wad on the cushions. Jane liked it—it made his home seem less like a mausoleum. “Lisbon,” he said again, “this isn’t a movie. There’s not going to be a neat wrap-up as to why John’s issues with his father drove him to steal and murder. You can probably get Blount to interview the father but what good would that do? Unless he’s the leader of the pack—and he’s not—he’ll be as bewildered as all parents when they find out a child has turned into a proverbial black sheep.”

“Maybe Roberts told Blount something we can use.”

“Isn’t he still in the hospital?”

“He’s out of ICU. Blount flew in yesterday and visited him.”

Jane raised an eyebrow—that was news. “And?”

“He didn’t get much. Just that Mark had told him that John had supposedly killed his own mother, when he was eight years old.”

Huh. “Was that literal or figurative?”

“Probably figurative. From what Blount said, the mother was killed in a car accident while John was away at school.”

“Hmm.”

“What do you think it means?”

“Nothing that could matter now.”

She said nothing for a moment, then gave him a grudging, “Maybe you’re right.”

“Sadly, I probably am.”

“There’s one thing I can’t figure out.”

“And what’s that.”

“Mathias.”

“What about him?”

“Well,” she said. “The other men used their real names, right? John, Luke, and Mark. So I get that John wanted a Mathew.”

“Hm-mm.”

“But why did Joseph Littlefield call himself, ‘Mathias?’ I mean, why didn’t he call himself ‘Mathew?’”

“Arrogance.”

“Which was their MO, right?”

“No, it wasn’t just that, although it was part of it. Didn’t you pick up on it when we interviewed John?”

“No,” she said hesitantly. “What do you mean?”

“He said, ‘Mathew had become a hindrance.’ It was clear their relationship, whatever it was, was on the outs and it was probably Joseph’s subtle way of saying, ‘screw you,’ to John.”

“Huh.”

Jane nodded, even though Lisbon couldn’t see it. “I imagine Joseph was afraid of John and unwilling to make a clean break, so he had his rebellions in little ways. It’s just a guess, though.”

She was silent for a long moment, then said. “Inspector Patel is going to be moved out of ICU tomorrow.”

Jane smiled. He knew she was off the critical list, but still… “That’s good to know.”

“And Director Luckner’s funeral is the day after tomorrow.”

“Oh?”

“Will you tell Cho? I’m going to go—he might want to, too.”

“Will Blount be there?”

“Jane—”

“Lisbon, if he’d listened to Cho in the beginning, maybe none of this would have happened.”

“So it doesn’t matter that a killer is on the loose, but it matters that someone made a mistake and you want to rub his nose in it?”

He picked up the knife and balanced it in his hand, testing the weight.

“Jane,” she said quietly after he didn’t answer. “I know better than to ask you to stay behind, but if you do go, try not to piss him off.”

“He’s such a fool.”

“Yeah, and you have such a hard head. England and the U.S. have been friends for a long time. Don’t do anything to mess that up.”

He dropped the knife and rolled his eyes, annoyance forgotten. He began to put away bags and jars. “Did Dr. Wallach get home?”

“He did. After a stern lecture from Blount about personal safety.”

“He’s a scientist. They live in a different world than you and I.”

“I guess.” She hesitated and he could practically hear the thing she couldn’t ask. “How’s he doing?”

He didn’t have to ask who ‘he’ was. “Fine. His arms and wrists are still stiff.”

“Any more headaches?”

“None that he’s telling me about.” He got out a tray and put the plate on it, plus two apples and two bottles of water.

“Jane?”

Here it came, but she was going to have to say it. “Yeah?”

“What was that all about? The thing with John, I mean.”

Jane shrugged and said evenly, “Apparently John had a jones for our Cho.”

She didn’t speak for the longest time, then she said weakly, “Oh.”

“‘Oh’, indeed.” He knew she had more questions, but her good sense, and her own belief that privacy mattered intervened.

“Okay. Well, tell him we all miss him, especially Rigsby.”

“Tell him to come by.”

“To your house?”

“Of course my house, why not?”

“Please. You’ve never invited anyone over. Ever.”

“I know,” he said softly, then brightened, “Hey, I have an idea.”

“What?”

“Why don’t you and the kids come by tomorrow night. We’ll do a little barbecue, have a couple drinks.”

“I don’t know.”

“C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

“Do you think all this change is good for you?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“Lisbon, I’m wounded.” And he was. He’d kept a lot of his life fenced off, yes, but for the most part he was more adaptive than anyone he knew. He’d had to be, growing up the way he had.

“Okay,” she said. “Yeah, if there’s nothing else going on, we’ll be there.”

“I won’t except no for an answer, so I’ll see you at sevenish.”

“What can we bring?”

“Just yourselves.”

“Then we’ll see you at seven.”

She hung up and he sat the phone on the counter. He wasn’t sure having a dinner party was a good idea. The logistics would be tricky—a few rooms would have to be off limits—he hadn’t even shown them to Cho. Not yet.

But it would be nice having music and laughter in this house again.

He picked up the tray and headed for the stairs. At the last minute, he snagged the envelope that Lisbon had couriered over the day before and tucked it under his arm.

The stairs were cold on his bare feet and he reminded himself that in a few weeks he’d be longing for cold. It was almost the end of April, after all.

Cho was out on the deck, asleep on the lounge chair. He was wearing a blue t-shirt and a pair of Jane’s shorts that he’d stolen while Jane was in the shower. White bandages peeked out from under both sleeves. Lower down, the bandages on his wrists were already grey. They could come off any day now—according to Cho’s sister, they were healing nicely.

He put the tray on the table and sat down. The sun had moved across the patio in the short time he’d been downstairs and it fell across Cho, dividing him in two. Contrary to his complaints about gaining weight, he looked thin, as if he’d managed to lose ten pounds in the space of two days.

And that wasn’t the only change.

When he’d picked Cho up from the hospital, he’d insisted on packing a few things and staying at his place. He’d thought to tease him about not trying to avoid clean up duty, but didn’t. Even though he’d already made sure Jenkins’ body was gone, even though he’d set the loft to rights, no one would want to return to the scene of the crime so quickly.

So he’d just said, sure, and done the packing himself.

When they got to the house, he waited for Cho to wander around, to do some investigating because he was a detective, after all. But no, the minute they got inside, Cho grabbed his hand and insisted on making love.

‘Insisted,’ he thought with a small smile. Hardly the right word because Cho would have stopped if he’d asked. He didn’t ask. He just followed when Cho pulled him across the room to the sofa, fell when Cho pushed him down. And when Cho tried to undress him, his hands clumsy, he did it for him.

They made love on the cold couch, Cho above him, moving too carefully until Jane reminded him that he wasn’t the one that had been injured.

And afterwards, after he got them showered and dressed again, Cho had followed him around the house as he opened windows and doors, touching him every now then, on his shoulder, his back, his arm.

It was a little weird until he realized that it was the normal reaction of anyone recovering from a stressful situation. So he got Cho into bed, not telling him that they were using the guest bedroom, and watched him as he slept.

Just like now and he reached out to wake him up for a late lunch, but before he could touch, Cho jerked, a small movement as if he were trying to raise his hand. Jane leaned over and murmured, “Hey,” then louder, “Hey, wake up.”

Cho jerked again, then slowly opened his eyes. He stared at Jane for a moment, then said sluggishly, “I fell asleep.”

“You did.”

“I had a dream.”

He shifted closer and rested his arm across Cho’s stomach, covering him without seeming to cover him. He’d said the same thing last year when he was the one having nightmares, and how odd—they’d stopped some time ago and he’d never noticed. “About?”

“I was trying to teach you how to surf, but you kept falling off the board. You were wearing a suit.”

“Which one?”

“The grey silk one. Shiny.”

Jane didn’t point out that he hadn’t worn that suit in a long time, well before his days with the CBI. Cho must’ve seen him on TV. “Anything else?”

“My sister was there.”

“Which one?” Cho’s right arm was hot, the left one was cold.

“Luce.”

“What was she doing?”

“I don’t know. I think she was making dinner or something.”

Jane smiled. Cho was still avoiding the subject of his family. His sister had visited him in the hospital, conveniently while Jane had run home to get a change of clothes. But he was confident he’d prevail in the end—Cho may be wily, but no one beat Jane out of something he really wanted. “No nightmare?”

“Not unless you consider trying to teach you how to surf a nightmare.”

“I would.”

Cho smiled. And slipped his hand up under Jane’s shirt and stroked his waist. “I like this shirt on you.”

The shirt that had once been white but was now a kind of tan and he wanted to say, ‘This old thing?’ but Cho’s touch did all sorts of interesting things to his heart and his body so he just leaned closer and kissed him once, twice. “You’re lips are hot.”

“So’s the rest of me.”

Jane snorted at the silly joke, at the way Cho’s voice had dropped, sexy quiet.

He kissed him again, but chastely. They’d made love earlier, still carefully, but Cho had twisted too hard at a crucial moment and had re-opened the knife wound. It hadn’t bled much, but the sight had worried Jane and he put a moratorium on sex, at least for a while. Cho had argued that he was being ridiculous and spent the next two hours trying to change his mind. And was still trying, apparently.

“Lisbon sent some stuff over.”

It was a distraction and it worked. Cho lost his sleepy, sexy look. He sat up. “What is it?”

“Something from the locker.” He grabbed the envelope without rising, then said, “Move up a little. “ Cho scooted forward and he slipped in behind him, legs on either side of his hips. They both sighed and he murmured, “That’s better. Here…” He held the envelope up and Cho took it.

On the outside, Lisbon had written in her small, neat script, ‘Patrick Jane or Kimball Cho; FYEO’. Which could either be good or bad and his curiosity increased. “Open it.”

Cho unsealed the flap, muttering, “It’s probably some insane statement as to why they murdered all those people.”

“Maybe.”

Cho reached in and took out a smaller envelope and a note from Lisbon.

Jane snatched the note before Cho could and read, “‘I took the information Luke left on John Denham. No one else has seen these and I only saw the top one. L.’”

“Crap,” Cho said.

The smaller envelope had a separate inscription, not in Lisbon’s hand. In strong, black lettering, it said, ‘This is all there is.’ “Well that’s suitably cryptic,” Jane murmured.

Cho opened the envelope and looked inside. Then took out a stack of photos.

All in all, they were relatively harmless. Taken from a distance, each with varying degrees of clarity. Six were from the Carina Luna case, the first was of the two of them, doing nothing more than walking through the gardens, not even very close together. The next four weren’t so innocent.

“Those people could be anyone,” he murmured as he reached around Cho to straighten the photos. They were grainy, obviously shot with some infrared device. “All you can see is the veranda and the chair near to the bed. They’d make poor blackmail material.”

Cho said nothing.

The next, oddly enough, was a picture of Cho and Van Pelt, sitting in a restaurant. They were smiling at each other—Cho was leaning close to hear what she was saying. “Where was this?” Jane asked, telling himself he wasn’t jealous. Not at all.

“We wanted to get away from the hotel so we went out to dinner. Michaels and Johnson joined us later.”

“Hmm.”

Cho twisted to look over his shoulder.

“I’m not jealous.”

Cho hesitated, then nodded. “Okay.”

“Seriously.” And he wasn’t—his brief shock had faded. “But who took it? Whoever it was, they were inside the restaurant. See? They would’ve—”

Cho sat up straight, pulling out of Jane’s embrace. “Shit!”

“What is it?”

“I knew he seemed familiar. Damnit!”

“Who? Luke?”

“Yeah.” He fell back into Jane’s arms with another soft, “Damnit.”

“I take it he was there?”

Cho nodded. “I noticed him, but I wasn’t really worried about it. He was at the bar, watching Van Pelt.”

“Well that stands to reason. She’s a beautiful woman.”

“Yeah, but he was watching me, too. And if you say that I’m a beautiful man, I’ll elbow you where it hurts.”

“Okay,” Jane said with a little shrug—it was true, but, whatever. “So, even back then they were keeping tabs on us and by us, I mean you.”

“It would’ve been longer than that, though,” Cho said absently. “If they knew enough about you to plan so far in advance?”

“Maybe,” Jane countered. “They seemed to be pretty good at working on the fly. What are the others.”

“I’m not sure I want to look,” Cho muttered. But he fanned them out anyway.

These were newer and Jane tapped the top. “Well, there’s your proof that I saw Mark at the Catamaran Club.”

“I believed you.”

“Sure you did.” The photos, five in all, were of Cho. Walking towards the clubhouse, on the phone, pocketing the cell with such a look of disgust that Jane had to laugh. “I didn’t know you were so mad.”

“Seriously? You wreck a Lamborghini and you don’t think I’d be mad?”

“Mashburn paid for everything.”

“Jane—”

He ignored Cho’s chiding tone and said, “What’s the next one?”

It was the last one, taken recently. So recently that it wasn’t hard to remember the way it had felt, the water so cold and Cho so warm when he’d pulled Jane onto him. They hadn’t kissed or anything like that, but still, based on the photo, no one seeing it would doubt they were lovers. Because Cho was smiling that smile he only let loose once in a while—impish and gleeful, his teeth startling white. And Jane, he was just a partial blur, but it was clear all his focus was on Cho.

He rested his chin on Cho’s shoulder and murmured, “I like it.”

When Cho didn’t answer, he hugged him, trying to press out the embarrassment, the outrage. “What are you thinking?”

“That it’s bad enough that Lisbon saw the first photo. That I’m glad Rigsby didn’t see any of them.”

Jane didn’t give a hoot who saw the photos, but all he said was, “Hmm.”

“Luke said that John knew all about us. I’d thought he just meant that they knew we were with the CBI.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Of course it does. I don’t want to be blackmailed.”

“Would it have worked?”

“What do you think?”

“I think you would have told John to go screw himself.”

“I would have.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Just because I’d never negotiate with a blackmailer doesn’t mean I don’t care about being blackmailed.”

Cho’s voice was tight with anger and Jane nodded. “Yeah, okay, I get it.”

They said nothing for the longest time. Cho would probably want to burn the pictures, but Jane would hold on to the last one—he wouldn’t frame it, but he’d like to look at it, every now and then. It was charming.

One thought led to another and he laid his cheek on the back of Cho’s neck, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer to his question. “You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”

“What?”

“Does it bother you, all the pictures of my wife and daughter in the house?”

Cho twisted around, pushing Jane back. His anger was gone; in its place was a sad surprise. “No, of course not. This is your house and they lived here. I never want to take that away from you.”

Jane swallowed away the fleeting grief, the lasting joy, and kissed the point of Cho’s shoulder.

“Now, if it had been Kristina Frye—” Cho added, his sadness transforming to sly humor.

Jane rolled his eyes. “Will you give it a rest? It was one phone call.” Something about wanting to meet him for dinner so they could discuss one of her clients. Cho had deleted the message before Jane could get the number.

“I mean, if you’d consulted her, maybe she would’ve told you about Luke and I wouldn’t have gotten—”

Jane nipped his shoulder, hard enough to stop him mid-speech. “More like, you would’ve gotten killed,” said absently because he noticed that something else had fallen out of the envelope. “What is that?” He reached between Cho’s thighs where the bit of plastic had fallen.

Cho pushed up against his arm. “I thought we weren’t going to have sex again today.”

Jane muttered a soft “Hush,” because he wanted nothing more than to make love to Cho out in the sun. Maybe tomorrow, but definitely not today. He found whatever it was and held it up. It was a portable drive. “Ten bucks says this is Luke’s guarantee that there isn’t more digital proof.”

“Ten bucks says you’re right.”

“Do you want to see what’s on it?” He tossed it in the air.

“No.”

“It could be something good.”

“Jane.”

“All right,” Jane said with a laugh. Then again, “All right,” as he pulled Cho gently around so he could cradle his head, so he could meet him, kiss for kiss.

All right.

 

______________

Saturday

 

Luke pulled into the harbor at just past noon, making it seem as smooth as possible. It had been years since he’d crewed, and even then, he hadn’t had much to do, thanks to John and his control issues. But he remembered enough and she slid next to the dock like he’d been sailing all his life.

He made quick work of tying her up, then grabbed his knapsack and went to find the port captain.

Who turned out to be a bone-thin man in his late sixties who barely looked up when he asked, “Passaporte, por favor.”

Luke gave him the documents, mentally going over the list of completed chores—wipe the boat down, zap the GPS’s hardware to erase the data, make sure no personal items were left on board…

“American? Are you here for a visit, Mr. Martinez?”

“To see my cousin, yeah.” And, when the captain looked up, he said with a feigned embarrassed shrug, “My cousin owns the bait shop.”

“Pete?” The captain cocked his head and repeated, “Pete? He is your cousin?” He gave Luck a slow smile.

Luke smiled back. “One of them.”

“I have heard about your family, especially that crazy Bill.”

Luke nodded modestly. “Yeah, Uncle Bill has done some crazy things, that’s for sure.”

The captain gave his documents back and held out his hand. “I’m Ernesto. If you need anything, I can help you out. If you speak as bad as Pete, you’ll need it.”

“My Spanish is worse than Pete’s, so thanks, I might take you up on that.” He turned to go, down the gangway to the town.

As he was walking away, Ernesto called out, “Tell him I said I’ll be by later on. Welcome to Mexico!”

Luke looked over his shoulder and waved cheerfully. By the time Ernesto closed up shop it would be after six. By the time he discovered that Pete had no cousin Luke, it would be after seven. Long enough to be on the road, miles away. Long enough to disappear.

As to John, well, he’d made his bed fifteen years ago and all Luke could hope for was a lifetime of jail because if he ever got out…

He re-adjusted the knapsack and picked up the pace.

________________

 

He’s dreaming. He knows it, already long familiar with the creep out of deeper sleep to one of fugitive image and sound, and—

Red, everywhere. Red, red, red and he thinks, even in his dream, no.

No, this shouldn’t be happening here. Not now.

He makes some move, willing his eyes not to see, telling himself that—

‘Hey,’ a voice says, somewhere behind him.

He turns.

Jane is standing in the doorway to the balcony. He’s wearing his suit, his beautiful new blue suit, and for some reason, he’s barefoot. He smiles and jerks his head, saying without saying, ‘C’mon, I’ve got something to show you.’ He backs up, into the light that is suddenly too bright, too hot.

Cho follows. One step, two, then three.

Across the room, across the threshold, not surprised when cold tile changes to warm sand.

 

 

 fin.