The End Game

The End Game

The End Game 25

  His beard scraped her face and Mike could feel every bruise on her body, and who cared? She wanted more, she wanted everything. The taste of him, of Nicholas, the hardness, the power of him, and she tried to press closer, wanting all of him, and she moaned into his mouth.

  There was a groan from the bed, six feet away from them.

  His mouth, hot and fierce the instant before, stilled. Then he jerked back as if he’d been shot. He looked at her mouth like he wanted to weep, and very slowly, Nicholas eased her back down, his hands on her waist, holding her steady. The feel of her—no, he stepped back, and his eyes were nearly black.

  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that, it was a mistake. I know we have to talk, but—” He shot a look over at Vanessa, quiet now, and he was out the door like a man running from a firing squad.



  He was a clod, he’d practically attacked her. It didn’t matter that she was all over him, too, he was embarrassed and he didn’t know what to do.

  “Nicholas Drummond!”

  He whirled around at her ear-shattering yell to see Mike standing, outside Vanessa’s door, her blouse pulled out from the waist of her pants, her ponytail straggling over one ear, and how had that happened? If he wasn’t mistaken, her eyes were still glazed, and that was nice, but—

  Her hands were on her hips, then she actually shook a teacher’s finger at him. She was now standing not two feet from the crowded nurses’ counter, surrounded by techs, doctors, nurses, and there was an orderly standing in the doorway of a room, holding a bedpan. No one was moving, every eye on them. Craig Swanson stood behind her, and the bastard was smirking.

  Time stopped.

  She took one step toward him, drew up, shook her finger at him again. “How dare you say you’re sorry, that it shouldn’t have happened, that it was a mistake, and then you bolt?” She shook her finger again at him and yelled, “Bad dog!”

  The silence was deafening.

  No, she hadn’t said that, she couldn’t have. He cleared his throat. “Bad dog? I’m a bad dog?”

  “You’re worse than a bad dog, but that’s not the point. Now you’re all sorry you smashed me against the wall? Sorry you had your hands all over me? You regret turning into a wild man? You want to talk? Talk? Well, forget that, Special Agent Drummond, because that will not happen. I will never talk about this, do you hear me? I will pull my own tonsils out through my ears if I’m ever even tempted to talk about this. Do you understand me?”

  “You’re yelling, of course I understand you.”

  “Good. So that must mean your brain is functioning again.” She looked neither to the right nor to the left, marched right up to him, saw him open his mouth, and shoved him back. “No, you keep your mouth shut. We need to get downstairs. I believe Dillon will be there, although I don’t exactly remember what we’re going to do with him, but it will come to me.”

  She smacked her hand again against his chest. He started to grab her wrist, but didn’t. Nicholas stared at her furious face, saw the pounding pulse in her throat, the snap and fire in her eyes, and couldn’t help himself. He laughed, then cleared his throat and called out to all the staring hospital staff, at all their now-blooming smiles, the stirrings of laughter, “As you were! No charge for the show,” and he punched the elevator button and they waited, silent, side by side. Nicholas heard Craig Swanson hoot with laughter, and others joining him, talking, laughing, a couple of them even shouting suggestions to the Bad Dog. He even heard a bark and a woof.

  When the doors opened, a nurse stepped out, humming the theme from Frozen, “Let It Go.” She took one look at them and said, “Whoa,” and hurried off.

  “What!” Mike yelled after her. “We have our clothes on! What’s wrong with you?”

  As the doors closed, they heard more rolling shouts of laughter. A couple more barks.

  He opened his mouth.

  “Be quiet unless you can verify that Dillon is meeting us in the lobby.”

  “I believe so. It’s about the video feeds from that diner in Baltimore. I think. Then we’re going home with him to have lasagna for dinner. But I suppose that could have changed, what with no power. I’m not really one for cold lasagna, are you?”


  “Would you like me to call Savich? Verify?”

  She shook her head, kept staring at the slow-moving numbers. The elevator stopped on the second floor, the doors opened, and there stood two white-coated doctors talking about nausea. One look, and by mutual unspoken agreement they turned and walked quickly away.

  When the bell dinged and the doors opened onto the lobby, he watched Mike march out of the elevator, head high, never looking at him, not looking at any of the dozens of people in the lobby. She spotted Dillon, waved, and continued her march toward him.

  She had to stop when three teenagers, one of them with his arm in a brand-new cast that was already covered with lewd drawings and scrawls, blocked her way. She couldn’t knock the kid out of the way, he was hurt and drug-addled.

  “Wait,” Nicholas said, and she ignored him, then reluctantly slowed.

  Mike could smell him, that fine Nicholas scent that was his and his alone, but more than that, she felt him, felt him drawing closer to her. She knew he was leaning in, felt his warm breath on her cheek.

  “No, not a word, do you hear me? No pathetic excuses, no going on about what a mistake that was.”

  “Okay. Shall I?”

  “Shall you what?”

  “Tell you to fix your ponytail? It’s rather lopsided.”

  Mike grabbed her hair and pulled it back into place and slipped the band back on.

  “I guess your shirt needs to be tucked in again, too.”

  She shoved her shirt back into her trousers, called out, “Dillon, we’re coming,” and she stalked away from him, going around the teenagers, leaving him to listen to the boy with the broken arm laugh like a hyena since he was happily floating on pain meds.



  The White House

  Callan had spent half the evening on the phone—talking either to the president or to Ari, or the head of the Iranian security services, who swore up and down his government had nothing to do with the reactors turning on. She wanted to tell him he was a lying moron, but of course she didn’t. It drove her mad, but denial was woven into their brains, par for the course. Then who did know about the reactors? But he didn’t have an answer to that.

  A big muckety-muck had ordered someone to push the button and keep pushing. The Israelis had taken one look at the Iranian landscape lit up like a series of way stations across the desert and started planning a preemptive offensive, launching drones and preparing their battlements, which made the Iranians move more troops into place, shuffling their missile batteries around for the best offensive. How long would the Iron Dome last under a true barrage of nuclear warheads? Not long, and the collapse would be immediate around the entire region.

  It was all happening lightning-quick, too, a match set to a fuse, flaring to life and settling in to burn fast and hot. If they didn’t nip it in the bud right here, right now, too many people to count would be dead.

  The talks had fallen apart, no great surprise there, considering one of the parties was lying big-time. What had started as Bradley’s hopeful road to lasting peace was fast turning into a fistfight to see who would kill the other first. Again.

  The president had ended up stalking out. He was now flying back to the United States on Air Force One, expected to land by ten in the morning. She hoped his blood pressure hadn’t spiked too high. She assumed she’d get a royal ass-chewing simply because she was handy, and given her opinions on the Middle East talks were diametrically opposed to his, that would make him even more pissed off to have her proven right. And then he’d have a nice long ride to l
ay into her on their way to the Yorktown event. Given he was the president of the United States, she couldn’t slug him.

  She stayed in the Situation Room, her cup of strong black tea at her elbow, watching the movements across the region. The domino effect of the nuclear facilities coming online was a wonder to behold. Every country who’d been at the table in Geneva—from Saudi Arabia to Russia to Israel—was scrambling for position. The reports had been filtering in for the past few hours—major movement in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen. The ISIS media machine had been on Twitter promising attacks. Hezbollah and the Palestinians were openly calling for the Israelis’ immediate surrender, threatening attacks on the Gaza Strip, threatening to bomb Tel Aviv. Israel wouldn’t hold back for very long.

  And, of course, this was what Iran was waiting for. Provocation. Why had they pushed it now? She knew they didn’t yet have a nuclear weapon, so why?

  She had to fix this. She had to stop it. And she had no idea how she was going to pull it off.

  Callan picked up the phone and called Trafford.

  “Temp, tell me you have news for me. The media is all over us, trying to find out what’s going on, and believe me when I say ‘the president is unhappy’ is a gross understatement. He is adamant he doesn’t want to cancel the event at Yorktown, won’t be seen as knuckling under to a terrorist threat, et cetera. All I’m concerned with is making sure he gets to Yorktown, that we aren’t going to have to do something stupid, like stop a war instead.”

  “We’re working on it, Callan. FBI’s been officially briefed, we’re all on the same page and moving forward. Again, I strongly recommend the president cancel Yorktown. This man, Matthew Spenser, is completely unpredictable. We don’t know what he plans to do now and we haven’t found him yet. But our agent is certain he plans an attack, probably at Yorktown.”

  “I’ll keep working on Bradley.”

  “Good. A few minutes ago, Agent Savich, FBI, sent us over an enhanced photo of Zahir Damari. I’m hoping that since we now know what he looks like, we can keep him from getting anywhere near you.

  “Even better, we have a video feed of two males; one of them is very likely Damari, although he doesn’t look like the enhanced photo the FBI sent us back. He’s probably wearing cheek implants, makeup, maybe a wig, really an excellent disguise. He’s lasted so long in his business because he appears to be very careful, no matter the situation.”

  “Who was he meeting with?”

  “As yet unidentified. The video shows them meeting in a diner in Baltimore. The unidentified male passed Zahir something in a tube. Plans of some kind, the waitress said. They were arguing, but talking low, and she tried to stay out of the way. As soon as we have more, I’ll let you know.”

  “You’re sure it’s Zahir? Tell me, Temp, where are you getting all your information?”

  He was quiet for a moment. “Callan, you know sometimes it’s better not to know all the details.”

  “Would you say that to the president?”

  “In this case? Actually, yes, I would.”

  That gave her pause. She wasn’t used to being kept out of the loop on top-secret covert actions. “Temp, we’ve known each other a long time. If you’re trying to save me from a possible political hit down the road, I appreciate it, but to be honest, I think it would be best for me to know the whole story, as soon as possible. I have a bad feeling about all of this. A very bad feeling. Now, tell me, where are you getting your information?”

  He sighed. “You asked for it. We’ve had a deep undercover agent in with COE for the past four months.”

  She was shocked into silence, then came to life with a roar. “What were you thinking? You should have briefed me immediately, the president, too, at the very least—”

  “Callan, when we sent in an undercover asset, it was because we heard this man, Matthew Spenser, was developing a new undetectable bomb with a huge payload. When he suddenly brought his band back to the U.S., what could we do? The asset had to wait until he perfected the bomb before she could steal the final plans and get them back to us. We couldn’t very well pull her out.”

  “She? It was a female agent?”

  Temp chuckled. “What is this? You’re surprised? You, the first female vice president?”

  “It’s not that, Temp, and you know it. Where is the agent now? I want a briefing, I want her in front of me right away.”

  “You can’t have her. She’s in the hospital. Unfortunately, Matthew Spenser discovered she was working for us and shot her, left her for dead in a burning building.”

  “Will she live?”

  “Yes. She was very brave, Callan. It’s amazing she survived. Spenser still believes she’s dead.”

  “Who is this agent? What’s her name?”

  “I’m not at liberty to say.”

  Callan slapped her hand onto the desk, the sound sharp as a gunshot. “Templeton Trafford, do not play games with me. I want her name, now.”

  “Vanessa Grace.”

  Callan said, “Is she related to Carlton Grace, by chance?”

  “Yes, she’s his niece. You remember her father, also an undercover expert. He was killed when she was a girl.”

  “Yes, I remember Paul and I remember mourning him.”

  “Well, her uncle Carl raised her. She’s been with the agency six years. She’s very good, might even prove to be better than her old man one of these days, maybe even better than her uncle, and he was incredible in the bad old days.”

  As Callan listened, she walked to the window and looked out at her city. Since the power went down, it had quickly emptied. It looked surreal, a painting of a city without movement, without people. A dead city. She’d nearly forgotten there was a blackout, being inside the White House, where everything still ran smoothly.

  “Temp, does anyone other than the FBI know about this?”

  “No, only the FBI. Carl Grace told me Savich, Drummond, and Caine were speaking this afternoon with Vanessa. Small world, turns out Vanessa knows Agent Caine from school. Carl said it went well. They won’t speak to the press, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

  “And Spenser believes she’s dead?”

  “Yes, no way for him to know she’s not. We’ve kept it all very quiet.”

  Callan said, “Do you think he would be upset were he to find out she’s still alive?”

  “I’d say so, after shooting her in the chest and leaving her in the fire, along with his own BFF, Ian McGuire, a minor IRA bad guy he’s been working with for a very long time. McGuire tried to protect her. It was a major betrayal, Callan. You know how some people feel very strongly about betrayal.”

  “Who else from the group have we identified?”

  “Other than Zahir Damari, the only other major player is a computer guy named Andrew Tate. As for the rest of the group, Vanessa thinks they’re very likely gone from the country by now. So we have Matthew Spenser, Andy Tate, and Zahir Damari on the loose. Yorktown, Callan, that’s got to be the target, and you, of course. Will Zahir Damari try to take you there? It sounds plausible.”

  Callan looked at her watch. It was a few minutes past nine o’clock. “Call up someone you trust in the media. If we hurry, we can make the eleven p.m. news. We’ve got to draw Matthew Spenser out as soon as possible. Don’t worry, Vanessa Grace won’t be in that hospital room. Assign another of your people to play her. Get it on the news, Temp, get it on the news right away. Vanessa Grace is now officially bait.”

  A pause, then: “Callan, it’s good to know you haven’t lost your chops.”



  Sherlock passed the lasagna to Mike. “A good thing the power came back on as you guys pulled into the driveway. It’s Dillon’s special sauce, which I have to say, being the recipient for lo these many years, is well nigh the best ever made.”

  Savich said, “It?
??s my grandmother’s recipe, actually, with only a few additions.”

  Nicholas said, “Savich, could I give Cook Crumbe your recipe?”

  “Cook Crumbe runs the kitchen at Old Farrow Hall,” Mike said to Savich, who’d cocked his head. “This ancient shack where Nicholas was born.”

  “That’s good, Mike. How many bedrooms, Nicholas?”

  He thought about that, then said, “I really don’t know. Now, about the sauce, I think my mother would love it. As for my grandfather? You’ve met him, Mike, you never know. But it’s worth a try.”

  “Papa didn’t make the garlic bread,” Sean said, “Mama did. She’s good at garlic bread, and she likes me to tell everyone.”

  Laughter, and it felt good.

  When dinner was finished, Nicholas played four rounds of Super Spaceman Spiff with Sean, and lost every round.

  Sean studied his face. “You aren’t losing on purpose, are you, Uncle Nicholas? I mean, I beat you fair and square, right?”

  “Yes,” Nicholas said, “I did lose on purpose. I’m trying to be nice.”

  Sean said, “You will not lose on purpose this time. Do you promise?”

  “Yes, I promise.”

  Sean beat him. Then he pulled an excited, tail-wagging Astro onto his lap, leaned back against the sofa cushions, and frowned at Nicholas. “You weren’t telling the truth. I really beat you all those rounds, didn’t I?”

  “All right, you caught me. I was trying to spare my ego.” He said to Savich, “He’s too smart, he saw right through me.”

  Sherlock nodded. “I’m the only one he can’t beat, right, Sean?”