15. Identification

Finch had hacked into both the microphone and camera manufacturers to find, in their databases, where those serial numbers had been shipped to; from there he hacked the distributors’ files to determine which stores; then he hacked each store to find the date and time they had been purchased; and finally, he obtained the video footage from when those purchases were made. The man in the grainy black-and-white feeds was wearing a baseball cap on both occasions, keeping his face well hidden from the cameras.

A professional, Finch realized, noting that the man had paid with cash both times. I should call Mr. Reese to warn him…

He had almost pressed the speed-dial button when his logical mind pulled him to a stop.

And tell him what, exactly? he demanded of himself. He already knows, from where and how the devices had been placed, that he’s not dealing with an amateur. If I call him now with what I have – which is, for all intents and purposes, nothing – he would tease me to no end! He would probably insinuate that I was calling just to hear his voice…

The circuits in his brain flared with a power surge, leaving him nearly breathless.

Oh, dear God… I am trying to call him just to hear his voice! I was ready to jump on any excuse, just to talk to him…

Swallowing hard, Finch reached for his headset and put it on.

It’s past noon already, so I’ll just check in for a little bit to see how he’s doing… It won’t take up that much battery power…

Feeling unusually guilty for listening in without Reese’s knowledge, Finch remotely activated his partner’s cell and caught his conversation with the Russwoods and the Havers at the restaurant.

“…should try it sometime. I can work out some of his knots, but it’s hard to get him to relax when he’s always so busy,” Reese was saying. “I barely managed to drag him away for half a day yesterday, and it was our anniversary!

Finch could hear a woman ask something in the background.

“Nine years. It hardly seems possible! But they’ve been nine wonderful years – I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Of course, next year is the big one, so I’m going to insist that he take a week or more off work so we can go somewhere really special. I’ve always been fond of Paris, but since it’s rather late in the season, we may go to Côte d’Azur instead.”

Russwood’s voice, somewhat fainter than Reese’s but still audible, mentioned that it was a nice time of year to visit Monaco.

“That sounds lovely! I’ve only been there once before – only for two days – but I made Harold promise to take me back again. It’s time he made good on his promise, don’t you think?”

The lilt in Reese’s voice, while not quite as pronounced as it had been on the previous evening, made Finch’s lips pull into a half-smile. Reese was into his gay persona, albeit slightly subdued since he was there on business. While listening to their chatter, Finch looked up some of the most exclusive hotels in Monaco and considered making a reservation for next year.

If we’re still alive by then… it truly would be a feat worth celebrating, he thought. After deliberating for a minute more, he pulled up his calendar and programmed it to remind him, two weeks before the day that Reese had arbitrarily set as their tenth anniversary, to make those reservations.

Actually, I suppose it will be our anniversary – our first, he realized.

Isabella had fallen asleep in her grandmother’s arms as they waited for Reese and Russwood to finish their meal. Reese assured them that their house was safe enough to return to, figuring that the baby would rest better in her own room.

“There are a few more areas that I need to check, but whoever planted those devices already knows that we’re on to them,” he said quietly. “It’s highly unlikely that they will attempt anything right now – either they will try to regroup and set up another plan of attack, or they might give it up altogether. But I may need your help in spotting things that are out of place – you would know better if something belongs there or not.”

Glad to be going home, the Russwoods thanked the Havers for their hospitality, and of course the Havers said not to mention it, although Earl asked his friend to keep him posted on the developments.

“It’s not often that you find yourself in the middle of a mystery,” he said to the Senator.

“It’s not as exciting as they make it out to be,” Russwood responded with a droll expression.

It was not exciting to review security camera footage, either, especially when it was in a small utility room of a hotel, cramped even more by the presence of the on-duty guard and the Customer Relations Manager; however, Carter had a hunch that the Man in the Suit might have passed by the front of the hotel – in view of their camera – so she had persuaded them to let her see it. When they got to the timeframe that the young thief had been injured, they were startled by the video feeds turning to snow. It lasted over thirty minutes, blocking out any view they might have had of the people passing by on the street.

“What the hell?” the guard gasped, backing up and replaying the video in vain.

“Looks like my guy hacked into your system and deleted the footage,” Carter said with an irritated frown. “But isn’t it interesting that this happens on the footage inside your hotel, too… as if he might have been inside… maybe even stayed here…”

“Are you saying that one of our guests could have beaten up the thief?” the manager asked incredulously.

“It’s possible… Can you fast forward the tape to this morning, when people start checking out?”

The guard complied, slowing down the footage when the guests began to leave.

“We’re looking for a tall guy… not heavy… wearing a suit,” Carter coached them. Even fast forwarding through the video, it was a tedious task, with Carter asking him to back it up at times to get a better look at someone. Each time they resumed, her sighs grew heavier.

“Wait! These two – this guy is pretty tall. Do you have this from another angle?”

“There’s this shot over here, but these are the only two cameras we have in the lobby…”

“Well, can you zoom in on the guy he’s talking to? Looks like he’s wearing a three-piece suit…”

When the guard complied, Carter’s jaw dropped.

“That’s Little Guy!” she burst out, then began to swear, furiously and vehemently, under her breath.

“Uh… You know him?” the manager asked.

“Yeah. I know him,” she replied, her brows knit together in a grim scowl. “He almost had me believing that he was a victim – an innocent bystander – but if this is my guy,” pointing to the backside of his taller companion, “he must’ve been in cahoots with him all along! Back this up and play it for me slowly, would you? I wanna see what they’re doing.”

The guard started replaying it from when the two men appeared in the lobby.

“Okay, so they’re waiting to check out… Little Guy gives Suit Guy something… Can you stop it and zoom in? Looks like a piece of his cell phone… must be the battery or the memory card… All right, keep going… Suit Guy puts it in his pocket…”

What happened next caught all three viewers completely by surprise. For, as they watched in stunned silence, “Suit Guy” leaned closer to “Little Guy” and kissed his cheek.

“Oh. My. God.” Carter breathed. “Did he just…?”

“It certainly looked that way…”

The guard backed it up again.

“And Little Guy just stands there…” Carter muttered. “Damn! Wouldn’t’a pegged Suit Guy to bat for that team… Guess the kid was right, after all… Wait, who’s that? The older guy they’re talking to…”

“Uh… that is one of our… very esteemed guests,” the manager said uncomfortably.

“You know him?”

“Yes… That is former Senator Frederick Russwood.”

Reese offered to carry the baby’s diaper bag when they left the restaurant so that Janet could more easily carry her sleeping child. He also took the opportunity to glance at one of the stuffed animals – an elephant wearing a pink tutu – and confirmed his suspicion that one of its glass eyes was hiding something more sinister in its depths. As the Russwoods got into their limousine, he also saw (reflected in the car window) that the man from the corner booth had emerged from the restaurant as well. Reese immediately reached for his sidearm when he saw the man pull something out of his breast pocket, but it was only a cell phone.

Slipping into the rear cabin after the Senator, Reese closed the door and took a few pictures though the tinted glass of the man as he walked away, talking on his phone.

“Senator, do you recognize that man?”

“What, him? No, I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”

In lieu of answering, Reese turned to the driver. “Can you go around the block and drop me off on the other side? I want to check something out.” He returned his gaze to the receding figure and told Russwood, “It won’t take long, I promise.”

When the limousine rolled to a stop, Reese jumped out and ran to the next corner, then stealthily looked around a tree to see that the man was still talking on his cell, getting ready to enter a car parked on the street. He was fumbling one-handed with his keys, his back turned to Reese, so it was not hard to sneak up on him.

“…but it’s obvious that he means trouble for both of us! Why can’t you just—”

Reese knocked the cell out of his hand and grabbed his other arm to pin it behind his back in an unnatural, uncomfortable position, pressing him against his car.

“Just what, Evan?” he whispered in a threatening undertone, quickly checking that the man was not carrying a gun. “Send one of his goons to kill me?”

“Y—You can’t d—do this, it’s not—OW! You’re hurting me! L—Let go!”

“The Senator and his family seem to be under the impression that you’re in a nice rehab center upstate, not wearing a cheap disguise and following them around.” Reese pulled off the sandy brown wig to reveal a blonde head of hair beneath. “Now, I’m no lawyer, Evan, but that sure sounds a lot like stalking to me…”

Evan?” Russwood cried out from the corner, having slipped out of the limousine to follow Reese. “What are you doing here?”

“Obviously being a naughty boy and skipping rehab classes,” Reese said blithely. “I think a more interesting question would be, who were you talking to just now, and why were you helping him plant cameras and microphones in the Senator’s house? Not to mention in your own daughter’s stuffed elephant.”

Evan made one last attempt to break free from Reese’s iron grasp, but quickly learned that any resistance on his part only led to an application of intense pain on Reese’s part, and sagged in defeat against the side of his car.

“I… I just wanted to get Jan back… and Bella… I need them back, damn it!” he spat out, bitterness infusing every word.

“Well, if that’s all you wanted, why didn’t you just ask them?” Reese put in reasonably.

“Because he wouldn’t let me get near Jan to explain… it was all a big mistake! I was clean when I got pulled over by the cops, and those drugs weren’t mine! They were planted – by him – so I’d be locked up and never get custody of my Bella!”

Reese had kept one eye on the former Senator as his son-in-law spewed forth his accusations, and judged the older man’s outrage to be genuine.

“I find that hard to believe, Evan,” Reese said in a soothing voice. “It would be very risky for a man in his position to even get his hands on illegal drugs. I would actually be more suspicious of your friend on the phone… Maybe he wanted you to think that the Senator had framed you, and in return for his help, he expected you to give him detailed descriptions – pictures, even – of the things in your father-in-law’s office. It would’ve been easy enough for you switch the cigar box and jade lion when you went to see your daughter.”

From the way that Evan’s body suddenly grew still, Reese knew he had made his point. Releasing him, he picked up the cell phone from where it had landed in the grass. The call was still on.

“Hello, Evan’s friend. My name is Your Worst Nightmare,” Reese spoke softly into the receiver. There was no answer except an electrified silence. “I don’t know why you wanted Evan to kidnap his own daughter and demand a ransom from the Senator, but if you ever approach any of the Russwoods or Evan again, I will find you. I will hunt you down, and make sure that you’ll never be able to hurt anyone, ever again.”

Reese ended the call and handed the cell back to Evan.

“I think it’s time we all had a little chat, don’t you?” he suggested mildly.


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