Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
- William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”
Routine was king.
Slouched back on his cot, waiting for the world to begin, Reese knew the onset of hard, brisk footsteps heralded trouble. But then, in his line of work, the unexpected usually meant bloodshed. He’d become practiced in ensuring what blood spilled wasn’t his.
He listened to approaching men — at least a half dozen, possibly more — with cautious interest. It was one of the few benefits of incarceration; the men with guns, on the whole, weren’t allowed to shoot him.
Agent Donnelly was leading the pack, his face as hard as hewn stone. His usual dark suit jacket had been replaced by his FBI windbreaker; all the better to hide the bulletproof vest strapped across his chest. It seemed that Reese had a field trip in his future.
If Reese was himself, he’d probably say as much, with a playful twist of the mouth and the mocking tone that was so quick to make Carter roll her eyes. But John Warren couldn’t afford to antagonize the Feds, however much he might have wanted to.
Donnelly pivoted in front of Reese’s cell. For a fleeting instant, the man’s mask cracked; anger glowed brightly beneath the fissures. Reese watched as a handful of men — prison guards and agents, all armed to the teeth — assembled behind him. There was a slight young woman in a neat black suit on his flank. Her thick blonde hair was tied back into a ponytail and she wore thick-rimmed black glasses that pinched her face. The warden, an older man Reese had had the misfortune to meet on several occasions, hung in the back, seemingly disinterested in the proceedings.
Detective Carter was nowhere to be seen.
“Open the door.” Less an order than the bark of a man in a bad mood. The warden gave Donnelly a sour look, but did as instructed.
The guards swept inside, cuffs at the ready. Reese was waiting for them — compliant, obedient, well-behaved. He even flinched a little as the cuffs clicked shut, for effect. If they appreciated the courtesy, they showed no sign of it.
The warden’s eyes flickered over Reese’s face as he was led out of his cell. Reese was John Warren this morning, a familiar mix of confusion and fear he’d worn since the day of his incarceration. The fear had softened some, since then. The seventy-two hour holding period had come and gone. Hopelessness was setting in.
Reese slouched a little, the better to hide his size, as Donnelly whispered something to the woman in black. He was definitely agitated; the man was always tense, wound tight like a spring by too little sleep and too much caffeine, but this was different. His body language put Reese in mind of an animal held fast by a leash. In control, but choked by his own limitations.
It must have been a command, because she broke from the group with an impudent purse of the lips. She glanced back as she walked. If she smiled at Reese a little, the others didn’t seem to notice.
His own mouth quirked lightly in response — not a smile, but close enough.
“Are we done here, warden?” There was a dangerous edge to Donnelly’s voice and Carter’s absence weighed heavily on Reese’s mind.
Reese looked back to the warden. The man had disliked Donnelly from the instant they’d met and time had done little to mellow their relationship, but he found no safe harbor there. The man’s eyes were hard as granite.
“He’s all yours,” the warden said, gruffly. The guards stepped back and the agents stepped in to take their place.
“Let’s move.” Donnelly was pacing, his restlessness betraying his impatience. “Agent Simone will meet us at the convoy.”
Reese was shoved gently forward. The long walk began. “What happened?” he asked, casually.
Donnelly turned on him. “You will not speak to me. You will not speak to anyone. Is that clear?” Hate rose in his voice like a swell in a storm, his boring gray tie suddenly tight like a choke-chain around his neck. It passed just as quickly; even as he turned away, the anger had bled from his face and the stone mask had returned, sliding into place with absolute certainty.
For the first time since Reese’s capture, he felt fear.
The convoy, such as it was, was small and unassuming. Three unmarked vehicles had been parked outside the main staging area, their engines idling in the November morning chill.
To most, the cars would have seemed a concession to Donnelly’s overbearing need for secrecy — Reese never figured federal agents to be a talkative bunch, but, from the hushed, gossipy conversations playing out behind him, only Donnelly and the drivers knew where they were going — but Reese recognized the alterations immediately. Military-grade armor plating, probably. Bulletproof glass was a certainty.
The asphalt was slick with rain after an early morning shower, but the cars themselves were dry. They hadn’t been waiting long.
The click of practical heels against concrete. Reese turned to look; Agent Simone had emerged from a side door, a clutch of files in one hand and her bulletproof vest in the other. Her eyes flicked skyward, judging the risk of rain.
Donnelly gestured her over, accepting the files with a distracted nod of acknowledgment. It was as close to communication as he’d come since the cell block; whatever was driving him, he was keeping the truth close to his chest.
Reese eyed the files, careful to keep his interest discreet. Joss Carter’s personnel file was at the top of the stack; a darker shade of NYPD tan that contrasted against the buff manila folders bundled beneath it. What few names he could make out, he recognized. FBI.
“We’re leaving.” Donnelly crossed to the center car as the low rumble in his voice sent the other agents scrambling. Their numbers had swelled since the cell block; they now numbered eight, all told, and they moved to their stations with practiced efficiency. “Warren rides with me.”
Reese felt a pair of insistent hands compelling him forward. He stumbled, but found his footing and started walking. Behind him echoed the light click of sensible heels.
“Somebody’s in a bad mood.” Reese kept his tone light, conversational. It was a gambit, but locked in a car with Donnelly he’d learn nothing, no matter the circumstances. He was running out of cards to play. “What’s got him so riled up?”
Simone didn’t respond, not at first. Then he felt a faint pressure against the fingers of his closed fist, still shackled behind his back. He let his hand fall open; after a moment, he felt a small, thin object being pressed into his palm. Light as a feather, hard as a wire.
A paper clip.
His hand closed around the clip, threading it carefully between two pinched fingers. Invisible to the others, at least for now.
He allowed himself to be led to the car. Donnelly was hunched in the passenger’s seat, fiercely studying the files now scattered across his lap. For his purposes, John Warren had ceased to exist.
Reese should have felt relief. The burden of proof was high; Donnelly’s strong sense of professional ethics, paired with his own admiration for Detective Carter and her abilities, meant he wouldn’t act without concrete evidence of her guilt. And those files, if Reese was right, contained the professional biographies of the entire Man in the Suit task force.
If this was a mole hunt, she had a chance — and if a chance was all they had, he could work with that. He’d brought down governments with less.
But doubt clung to him like a bad smell. That last outburst, and the tense, awkward exchanges that preceded it, had been personal. Agent Donnelly was many things, but prone to fits of moodiness and temper was not one of them. For all his faults, the man would sooner see the sun rise in the west than allow emotion to affect the soundness of his judgment.
And he’d been so fond of her.
Simone held the door open, obligingly guiding his head with her hand as he climbed inside, before circling around to the driver’s seat. Reese’s lips quirked appreciatively as she settled into the car, catching his gaze in the rear-view mirror.
Donnelly, still lost in his files, didn’t notice.