Twenty Years Ago
"Mom, can we get ice cream next? Can we, can we?"
"Johnny..." Maureen Grant O'Doyle smiled indulgently at her youngest son. "You know better than to beg."
"I know, I know. Grants don't beg," he said with a seven-year-old's pride in a learned phrase. "But I reeeeally want some rainbow sherbet."
She tried to look stern, but it was nearly impossible. She slipped her hand from his to ruffle his black curls. "I suppose...but only because you're so adorable."
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" He jumped around the sidewalk, pumping his fist the way he'd seen his brothers do after the Celtics won.
She had to laugh out loud. He always made her happy, this child of her heart. Her older sons were carbon copies of their father, but Johnny's blue eyes were as delightful and carefree as any of the Grants she'd grown up with. Her dearest hope was that he would always be this good and this happy--and her greatest fear was that his father would get to him first.
The thought dimmed her pleasure somewhat, and Johnny noticed the change in her face.
"Mooom! Be happy! Ice cream!" He grabbed her hand and pulled her along.
"Absolutely. Ice cream." She wouldn't think about it today, not with her son at her side and all of Boston theirs to see. She'd leave the worries, and the fears, and the desperate plan that had just begun to occur to her, for another time when it wouldn't make Johnny as unhappy as she was.
A few streets over, in a room above a bar, another O'Doyle was being discussed.
"He'll put up the money."
"No he won't. If he gets caught funding us--"
"Please. The old man's too smart for that. He's going to set up a company for one of his kids, and funnel the money that way."
"I don't like it. It's dirty money."
"And over here, so is the Army. So is Sinn Fein. It's money, that's all that matters. And with this setup, he can give us the money for years to come."
"If you say so. For the good of the Republic."
VCTF Headquarters, Atlanta, Georgia
"Sam!" John Grant looked up with a pleased smile. "Nice to see you. How are things today?"
"Oh, the same, I imagine." She slid into the chair next to his and flashed him a brief smile. "Murder, mayhem..."
"Yep. The usual." He grinned. "Gotta love it."
She rolled her eyes at him.
"Morning, people." Bailey dropped into his chair at the head of the table and started passing out folders. Nathan and George broke off their own morning conversation and turned towards him. "We have a bombing in Boston."
"Don't do that," Nathan said. "I hate it when you do that."
"John? What's wrong?" Sam asked. "Nothing." He shrugged. "I don't like bombs, and I don't like Boston."
Nathan--who knew why he avoided Boston--looked at him sympathetically. Sam cast him an annoyed glance. "If this is about Coop--"
"So, Bailey, what's the story?" John studiously avoided looking at anyone else.
Bailey frowned at him for a moment, then flipped his folder open.
"Two days ago, a South Side Boston bar called The Emerald Pub received a bomb threat. They evacuated the customers, but one of the waitresses went back in to make sure everyone was out."
He gestured to George, who punched in a computer command. The back half of a building appeared on the screen--only the back half, because the front had been blown away.
"She was killed instantly," Bailey finished bleakly.
John mumbled something under his breath. It might have been a prayer; it might have been a curse.
Bailey continued. "Then yesterday, a prominent bank in the same part of town received a threat. They got the bomb squad there and the civilians out..."
Another picture. Another bombed-out building.
"This bomb went off a half-hour before the caller said it would. If not for the quick thinking of one of the technicians, it would have killed all four team members."
"But the physical damage was done," Sam said.
George whistled as he looked at the figures. "Close to seven million!--why do they make buildings that cost that much, anyway?--plus the actual loss of business." He looked up with a grin. "Would you want to bank there?"
Sam spoke up in the abstracted tone that meant she was building a theory. "Same kinds of bombs?'
"Same part of town...both preceded by a threat..." She looked up. "What else do they have in common?"
"Details on the threats are coming in now. Unfortunately, the person who took the call in the bar incident was the waitress who died, so we only have her call to 911." Bailey looked over at George. "I need information on both businesses--owners, customers, you know the drill."
"John, you and Nathan go to Boston--"
"Uh, Bailey?" John's voice was hesitant. "I don't really think--"
Nathan broke in. "That is, uh, maybe I should take Sam. She should get a look at these scenes. And John's been on the road a lot lately--he needs a break."
No one missed the grateful look John shot his partner.
"That'll do," Bailey said slowly. "For the moment. That's all, folks." He turned to Sam as the rest of them left the table.
When Bailey returned to his office a few minutes later, John was waiting for him there.
"I knew you'd want to see me," he said at Bailey's questioning look. "Thought we could just get this over with."
Bailey sat down and just looked at John for a moment.
"Have I told you how proud I am of you?" he said finally.
John was completely nonplussed. "Excuse me?"
Bailey grinned. "You're a good agent, John. And you were a good cop before that."
John grimaced. "But..."
"But." Bailey repeated. He leaned forward, catching and holding John's eyes. "But you're not going to get any better if you keep running from your past like this."
"I am not running," John retorted automatically. It was the same thing he'd said over a year ago, when Bailey had interviewed him for the VCTF position and reported the results of his background check. "Just because I don't want to go back--"
"Just because you can't go back," Bailey corrected gently. "I'm letting you get away with it once, but that's it. We need you on this team, John. I told you that when I was in the hospital." A shadow crossed Bailey's face as the memory of his own recent past dug in. "We need you," he repeated. "Do you understand?"
John looked away. "Yes," he said quietly.
Somewhere nearby--but not too near--John's past was also the subject. Jack's computer screen was displaying a birth certificate for John Grant O'Doyle and a marriage license for Maureen Grant and Patrick O'Doyle.
"So, you have family in Boston?" Jack murmured to himself. "Interesting."
He switched screens, and the VCTF current case file popped up.
"Connections...links. I love links." He laughed softly, harshly. "Especially weak ones."
Emerald Pub, Boston
Sam and Nathan's car--borrowed from the local Bureau--pulled up in front of the remains of the Emerald Pub the next morning. The smoke was long gone, of course, but the memory of its smell still lingered outside the building. Pictures in Sam's shoulder bag showed a handsome old pub, one that would have looked just as worn and warm in Dublin or a Midwestern city.
Sam walked up to the yellow tape marking it off and looked up into the building. "Is it structurally safe?"
"No. We'll have to go by crime scene pictures, mostly." Nathan handed her a file folder and a tape. "Here's the 911 call, too."
"Great." She dropped it into her pocket. Then she turned back to the building, tilting her head as she studied the rubble.
"What are you looking for?"
"The blast pattern of the bomb. I think that's what Coop called it." She pointed. "See there? It stops twenty yards from each of the next buildings. That's fairly precise for a bomb, don't you think?"
Nathan nodded. "And in this case, they were given enough warning..."
"Warning. Maybe that's what this was, a warning. Enough damage to get someone's attention."
Both agents turned as a truck pulled up and a large, burly man jumped out. "You the FBI people?" he shouted as he approached them.
"Yes. I'm Special Agent Sam--"
"What?" he yelled again, this time from right in front of them.
The gray beard and bushy brows seemed to almost amplify his words. A megaphone would have been wasted on him. Sam and Nathan exchanged a look. "I'm Samantha Waters," she repeated, more loudly, "and this is Nathan--"
"Yeah, whatever. You're Feds." He took another look at Sam. "Pretty Fed, though," he added.
"Thanks, I'm flattered," Nathan muttered. Sam fought a grin.
The man held out his hand. "Seamus Kelly Patrick O'Riley at your service." He held out a massive hand, and engulfed Sam's in it. "Owner--or former owner, I suppose--of the Emerald Pub. Doesn't seem like a very grand title now, does it?"
Sam shook her head helplessly. "I'm sure it was beautiful..." she began.
"Beautiful? A place of mine?" He gave a loud crack of laughter. "I should hope not. But it was mine, and I loved it. Didn't have bomb insurance on it now, though, did I?"
Sam took a deep breath and jumped in. "Do you have any idea who would do this, sir?"
"Well, now, normally when an Irishman is bombed, it's the Troubles causing it. But as we're in Boston and not in Ireland, what would be the point of bombing an American Irishman who's never even set foot in his homeland?"
"I--I'm sure I don't know..." Sam stuttered.
Nathan took pity on her. "Can you think of anyone else that might have wanted to do this? Any enemies? Any outstanding bills?"
"Well now, the cable TV people are threatenin' to come take their box back, but as I'm fond of sayin' lately, if you can find it, it's yours. Wouldn't that be right?"
Nate shot Sam a look that said clearly, I give up. "Ah...thank you, sir," he said finally. "Oh--is your hearing damage from the blast?"
"What hearin' damage? I'll not be havin' any less than perfect hearin', would I? It's just the rest of the world that mumbles on occasion."
Sam very politely waited until he was back in his truck and halfway down the block before giving into paroxysms of laughter.
Their visit with the bank manager, while not nearly as amusing, produced a few more definite answers. The bank showed a similar blast pattern, with nearby buildings left unscathed. The manager gave Sam copies of a number of letters from angry customers--fortunately, his office was behind the blast site--and the address of the employee who had taken the bomb threat. He also dug out a copy of the bank's prospectus for more background.
Sam thanked him politely, then joined Nathan back on the street. "Pretty boring," she reported with a grin.
"Darn," he replied. "Anything useful?"
"Not really...we'll check out these complaint letters, but if any of them had been too threatening, I think the bank would have contacted the police beforehand. Let's interview the receptionist and head back."
On the drive to the receptionist's house, Nathan outlined the case details so far while Sam listened, flipping idly through the prospectus.
"Not much to go on," he said finally.
"No, but something here has to fit. The incidents are too close, in location, in appearance, in time, to not be related. We'll just--hm." She stopped on one page for a moment.
"What is it?"
"Another coincidence. I think. Maybe." She chewed on her bottom lip. "I don't know..."
"Oh, sorry." She turned the page so that Nathan could see the pictures of the board of directors. "There's a little blurb in here about the board of directors being entirely Irish-American."
"Yes. It's not uncommon in Boston, but still..." She trailed off at the sound of approaching sirens. "What's that?"
"Fire trucks, coming our way." Nathan pulled over until the procession of fire truck, ambulance, and police cars had passed. "Looks fairly big."
Sam grimaced. "It also look like they're stopping on the next block. Isn't that where we're headed?"
Nathan checked his notes. "Yes. Damn."
"Let's check it out."
When they reached the end of the block, a uniformed officer was already waving traffic on. "I'm sorry, sir," he said when Nathan pulled up. "You'll have to go around. There's been an accident."
"What kind?" The officer hesitated. Nate flashed his FBI badge. "Come on..."
"All right." The officer pointed at a nearby house. "There was an explosion in the kitchen. The next-door neighbor phoned it in. They're bringing out the lady who lived there now, but..."
But the body on the stretcher was already covered in a sheet.
Sam's eyes were wide. "Nathan, is this--"
"This is." He turned to the cop. "I need to see whoever's in charge of this investigation now. This may not be an accident."
"What else would it be?" The cop didn't budge.
"Murder. Serial murder," Sam said flatly.
"The cops just assumed it was an accident, because it originated in the kitchen," Nathan finished. "But once they checked, they found fragments of a smaller bomb, same design, inside the stove."
"And the receptionist was dead?" John asked sharply. Nathan nodded.
"Shirley Bartron, age 33," George broke in. "I have pictures...do you really want to see them?"
"Not really," Sam said. "We know how she died." She was avoiding pictures a little more lately, especially of women. No one who had seen what Jack did to her questioned it.
"I'm pulling up information on the owners of the other businesses, too. And the waitress who died. I should have it for you by morning."
"Well, then, I'm going to go home and dream about this, I think." She sighed. "Back to the trenches tomorrow."
She got up amid a chorus of good-nights from the rest of the team. As she passed by John's chair, she tugged at his sleeve. "C'mon."
"Come on." She urged him over to his desk. "Get your stuff. I'm giving you a ride home."
Everyone else was furtively watching them; John noticed and held his tongue until they were in the parking garage. "Okay, what's the deal?"
"The deal is, you may not want to tell me about it, but I know you're upset. And I'd say from the look in your eyes that you didn't sleep last night. Am I right?"
John thought of the hours he'd spent staring at the ceiling, and the nightmares that had followed. "I slept a little."
Sam gave a very un-Sam-like snort. "Yeah, right." She stopped and faced him. "I know what it's like to have secrets in your past, John," she said softly. "I won't push. But I will do my best to support you. It's a mommy thing," she added with a smile. John managed a faint smile in return.
She waited until he was in the truck before saying, "Oh, and did I mention I'm feeding you, too?"
Witness 1: Pam Crawford. Waitress. 26. No criminal record; high school education; single, no children...
"Not much there. Moving on..."
Witness 2: Shirley Bartron. Receptionist. 33. No criminal record; Associates degree in Office Management; married, no children...
"Not her either."
Owner 1: Seamus Kelly Patrick O'Riley...
"Now here's an interesting idea..."
The team gathered the next morning, looking over George's reports on each bombing.
"What have we got, George?"
"Let's start at the beginning of the file. Witness 1: Charlene Crawford. Waitress, 26..."
It took them only a few minutes to eliminate both witnesses as anything but victims of opportunity.
"The bomb at the third crime scene was hasty, not quite as precise as the others, even though it was well hidden," Sam said. "It's possible that Charlene was killed merely to prevent her from identifying the caller. There's no other reason I can see."
"If Pam hadn't been killed at the scene in the first blast, she probably would have died later," Nathan said. "Which shoots to hell our theory of a bomber who doesn't want to kill."
"It's a contradiction," Sam said. She shook her head. "I don't know what he wants yet."
"He?" John said. "Are you sure?"
"Well, I've just been thinking about what you said. About the owners of both businesses being Irishmen..."
"Being one yourself," Nathan added with a smile.
"But of course," John added in a broad accent. "Anyway...there have been rumors for years about IRA activity in Boston. Front men working through Sinn Fein, and other Catholic groups."
"But why would they bomb one of their own?" Sam asked. "We're talking about Catholic owners, here, aren't we?"
George flipped through a couple of screens on his file. "Um...yes, both Catholics." He looked expectantly at John. "So...?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. It's just something...never mind."
"Let's keep it in mind," Sam said, "but I want to concentrate on the idea of a serial bomber myself. George, can you get me any reports on similar crimes in other regions?"
"I sure can."
"Good." She started gathering her things together. "You might want to also look at smaller incidences in the area. Maybe he's just been working up to this.
Bailey added, "John, why don't you check on any IRA connections in the neighborhood? It's still a viable--"
"No. If Sam doesn't think--"
"I just said it wasn't my first--"
"Forget it, Sam. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Let's just let it drop, okay?"
Sam raised an eyebrow at his tone. "Fine." She stalked off.
John groaned, then grabbed his own things and took off in the other direction.
"I'll do it," Nathan said when John had left. "He's a boneheaded idiot, but he just might be right about this."
The next morning, John was at his desk far earlier than any other VCTF member. Before him on the desk was a legal pad with a list of notes:
check bank board/pub connections
common IRA hangouts
And then, underlined twice:
"Damn!" he said finally, flipping the pad over and slamming his hand down on top of it. "I can't do this. I can't. Even for Sam..."
The computer beeped, startling him out of his thoughts. He looked up and automatically hit the "new mail" icon on the screen.
To: Agent Grant <email@example.com>
From: Agent Trades <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Patrick O'Doyle
Nice to have you on the team again. We missed you for a while there.
I have some information you may want on a possible link in the Boston
case: it connects a prominent Boston businessman, Patrick O'Doyle, and
his youngest son to the crimes. I was going to give the info to Agent
Waters, but I thought you'd be able to do more with it. I'll give you
a call later this week and we'll discuss it.
His mind went completely blank. John could do nothing but stare at the screen. Then he fumbled for the phone next to him.
"What? What is it?" came a sleepy voice.
"George, you need to get into the office now."
"John? For Pete's sake, it's 6:30 in the blessed morning. Wait till I come in at a reasonable--"
"No." The desperation in John's voice was apparent even to him. "You have to come. You have to help me."
There was a brief silence. "I'm on my way."
John hung up. He paused, briefly, picked up the phone again, and set it down. A moment later it crashed against the opposite wall.
When George walked in the door, trying unsuccessfully to tuck his shirt in, John was still in front of his desk with the email on his screen. His hands were clenched into fists in his lap.
John just motioned to the screen. George read it carefully, then one more time.
"I don't get it. I mean, it's obviously from Jack, but who--"
"I'll explain the entire thing when the rest of the team gets here. But I need you to trace this. I need to know where it came from."
George started to protest that even tracing Jack didn't need to be done this early, but something in John's face stopped him. "All right. All right. I'll get started. You wait."
The rest of the team filed in, barely awake, sloppily dressed, and predisposed to yell at John. But no one did after seeing the look on his face.
When they were all gathered around the table, John nodded at George, who displayed the email message for them.
"It's definitely from Jack, and as far as I can tell, he just put our domain name over his. But I'm not having any luck figuring out what domain it actually is."
"I don't understand," Sam said. "Why would he send it to John? And who is Patrick O'Doyle?"
Nathan and Bailey looked at each other, then at John. "Do you want me--" Nathan began.
"No," John said. "I can do it."
He stood up and took a few steps toward the main screen. "There's no easy way to say this...Patrick O'Doyle is one of the biggest mob figures in Boston. He is also my father."
Sam's eyes went wide.
"I was born Jonathan Grant O'Doyle. But I haven't used that name since my eighth birthday."
Good morning, Johnny! Shh. We have to be quiet. Your birthday present is outside, in the car. But we have to be very quiet. Quiet, okay, sweetie?
John wandered around the table, avoiding everyone's eyes.
"O'Doyle is powerful. He is rumored to own politicians at every--and I mean every--level of government. He also owns a few other people. But not me. And not my mother." He stopped by Sam's chair. His voice, which had been getting quieter and quieter, became almost inaudible. "That's why he killed her."
Sam reached up to him. "John..." She took one of his hands in hers. He held on tightly for a moment. Then he took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and looked back at the other team members.
"He is also supposed to have connections to the Irish Republican Army--or at least that's the rumor that started around the time I...left Boston. So it's possible that he is involved. If Jack's not just trying to discredit me."
"Probably a little of both," Sam said. The brisk tone of her voice belied the shine of tears in her eyes. "We should trace both possibilities."
"You're right, Bailey said. "Nathan, how you doing on those IRA connections?"
John nearly smiled. "Did it without me, huh, partner?"
"Damn right. Like I need you around." Nathan smiled at him, rather foolishly.
"Let's keep following these leads," Bailey said, "and add Patrick O'Doyle's name to it."
"And my brother's names," John said suddenly. "Conan and Dev."
"Brothers, huh?" George said. "Must be tough." John just shrugged.