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“So just how do you plan to break this Moynihan person out of prison?” Derek asked Alex as they were having breakfast with Gwyn, Gareth, Nielluin and Mithrellas later that morning. The six were alone, Cennanion, who had offered to make them breakfast, having left them in peace once he’d served them. Everyone else was scattered to their own pursuits. The ap Hywel brothers were planning to leave directly afterward to return to Fairbanks and Alex would be leaving as well. Derek was also leaving to return to Bettles and his own job.
Alex gave them all a winning smile. “Who said anything about breaking him out? Mind you, the idea has its merits and for me it would not be hard, but there really is no point. All I need to do is make a phone call or two and it will be done.”
“Just like that,” Gareth said, giving him a jaundiced look.
“Yes,” Alex said shortly, concentrating on his pancakes.
“Okay, Mr. Big-Shot Superspy, are you going to tell us what you’re planning to do or will I have to have Gwyn and Gareth hold you down while the rest of us tickle you into divulging your secrets?” Derek demanded, only half-serious.
There was a glint in Alex’s eyes as he looked up from his plate. “Well, I’d like to see you all try,” he said in a soft, dangerous voice.
“Gareth, you go right and I’ll go left,” Gwyn said as he started to stand up, his brother following his lead.
Alex put up his hands in submission. “Okay, okay, sit down, both of you.” The brothers complied with the request and Alex sat there with five pairs of eyes on him. He sighed and shook his head as he pulled out his phone, looked up a number and punched it in. After a moment he started speaking. “Good morning, Greg, this is Meriwether… Fine, fine. Listen, I need a favor… Rufus Moynihan, he’s in the Larch Corrections Center just outside Vancouver, Washington, serving time for smuggling… Trust me, you don’t want to know.” He chuckled before continuing.
“Anyhoo, I need Moynihan released and brought to Fairbanks. I have a job for him… Rufus? He’s one of ours, sort of. Owes me big time. I’ve decided to collect… Yeah, by all means, clear it with Maddy… When she starts objecting just tell her ‘Barcelona’… Trust me, you don’t want to know about that either… Okay, call me when you have it set up… Oh, and when you see Moynihan, tell him Meriwether always collects, so if he tries to run, I will hunt him down and take him out… Oh, he’ll believe you. Rufus is many things, but he’s not an idiot, except when it comes to trusting pretty faces… Yeah, this is an Elf thing, so don’t leave a paper trail for the Agency or anyone else to follow… Okay okay. I’m just saying… Yeah, thanks. Talk with you later.”
He closed down his phone and shoved it into his pocket and then picked up his glass of juice to drink. Five pairs of eyes continued to stare at him. “What?”
“That’s it?” Derek asked. “One phone call to Greg Sanderson and the guy is out?”
Alex gave them a wintry smile. “What were you expecting, Mission Impossible? We plan a con to get Rufus out of prison without anyone being the wiser? C’mon, children, that only works in the movies. This way is not only simpler but legal. Sanderson will check on Moynihan, determine his status within the prison system. He’s due to be released in about a year or so anyway, so as long as he’s been behaving himself, there will be little or no trouble in getting him out. All it will take is a phone call from Maddy to the governor of Washington and then Rufus will be a free man, or almost free. Once he’s done this job for us and if he doesn’t screw up.”
“Is he likely to?” Gwyn asked.
“Rufus Moynihan lives to screw up,” Alex answered. “He has a penchant for doing so. He used to be Agency, but the last time he screwed up five agents were dead and I barely escaped alive. I got Rufus out as well and then managed to convince the Powers That Be in the Agency that it was someone else who screwed up, one of the dead agents, so there was no way for anyone to verify the truth of the matter; they had to take our word for it.”
“And that’s the hold you have over him,” Gareth said.
“Yes,” Alex said. “I saved his bacon and he knows it. He left the Agency after that on my suggestion and then became a smuggler, not drugs, but commodities, the sort that his clients did not want to pay the duty tax on. But he screwed that up too and that’s why he’s sitting in prison.”
“And you trust him?” Gwyn asked.
“Trust him? No way,” Alex exclaimed, “but I always collect on my debts and Rufus will consider himself damn lucky that I’m not asking anything more from him than to fly you to Syracuse and back. That’s all he has to do. He won’t be involved in anything else.”
“Still, if he’s an ex-con, how will he be able to pilot a plane?” Gwyn insisted. “Surely his license has been revoked, since I’m assuming he was using his plane to smuggle whatever he was smuggling and I’m sure the plane was seized and later sold in auction.”
“Yes it was,” Alex said with a smirk, “and it’s now sitting pretty in a private hangar outside Tacoma.”
“Wait! You bought it?” Derek asked.
Alex just shrugged, refusing to answer but the others gave him considering looks and Nielluin even smiled at him, which made him blush for some reason. “We’d better finish up and get on the road if we’re going,” he said to Gwyn and Gareth.
“Yeah, sure,” Gwyn said and shortly thereafter they were clearing up the breakfast dishes and collecting bags and getting them stowed away. About the same time, Glorfindel, Daeron and Finrod showed up along with several other Elves to wish them a safe journey.
“I’ve called Greg Sanderson,” Alex informed Glorfindel before he got in his car. “He’ll make the arrangements to have Moynihan released into his custody and mine. As soon as I know, I’ll call you and you can come down to Fairbanks.”
“Good enough,” Glorfindel said, shaking the Mortal’s hand. “Safe trip.”
Alex nodded, got in his car and that was the signal for Gwyn to head out with Derek behind him. Alex gave the Elves a wave and followed. They stopped at Bettles long enough to see Derek settled back in the Northern Lights Resort, introducing Gwyn and Gareth to the owner, Marty Cunningham, then they were back on the road. The ap Hywel brothers switched off, taking turns driving and riding with Alex to keep him company.
“I see Gwyn every day,” Gareth told Alex when they were riding together. “We don’t even need to talk to one another anymore. We’ve been together for so long we know each other’s deepest thoughts. It’s pleasant having someone else to talk to.”
“You sound like a married couple or something,” Alex said with a grin.
“It feels a bit weird to have Nell coming between us when it’s just been Gwyn and me for well over eight hundred years.”
“Yeah, but so is Misty from what I’m seeing. Do you think they’ll hitch or just stay very good friends?”
“I’m leaning towards them getting hitched,” Gareth said. “Maybe we can make it a double wedding. Unlike with Nell, I don’t think they will even bother with a betrothal contract or anything like that. They’ll just do it. Wish I could.”
“Hey, I hear you,” Alex said, “but this way, you get to know Nell a little better before you take the plunge. Atar may have given you the whammy and all, but having to wait a year or so gives you both time to get used to it.”
Gareth nodded but did not comment any further and for a while the two fell into silence as the miles went by. When they stopped to stretch their legs, Gwyn gave Gareth his keys and rode with Alex, the two discussing military tactics and training.
“You should sit in on fight practice with Gwaith-en-Angbor whenever you can,” Gwyn suggested, “get an idea of how we do it. Then, when you return to Wiseman, you can tell Jud and the others so they know what to aim for.”
“All of them are such newbies,” Alex said. “Too bad you guys don’t have training videos or something that they can watch.” He flashed Gwyn a smile which the ellon echoed.
“I’m afraid they’ll just have to do it the old-fashioned way,” Gwyn retorted, “you know, trial and a lot of error. Even with our extensive fighting background Gareth and I still made a lot of mistakes as we were getting Gwaith-en-Angbor together and that didn’t happen overnight either. We had to work our way up through the barony ranks and you would think it would’ve been easy for us, but it wasn’t. For one thing, we had to not show off our fighting skills, and for another, fighting with rattan is way different from fighting with live steel. It took us time to get used to it. That’s why Gareth and I would have our own fighting drills later where the Mortals wouldn’t see, using actual swords just so we wouldn’t forget how to fight for real.”
“Someday you two should plan to spar with the Wiseman Elves,” Alex said. “They’ll give you a real workout.”
“Like Amroth,” Gwyn said with a shake of his head in wonder. “It was two against one with him already weakened by having to support Della and the triplets through his fëa, and he still beat us.”
“And I don’t think Amroth is that much of a warrior these days, being more like Val, you know, spymaster stuff,” Alex said. “He’s certainly not on the same skill level as say Loren or the Twins or Finrod.”
“Oh, I doubt any of us can say that,” Gwyn retorted with much feeling. “Those ellyn are totally in a class all their own.”
“Well, let me know what your schedule is and if I can, I’ll stop by,” Alex said. “Probably not during the week, because I’ll have too much reading to do for my class, but maybe on the odd Sunday.”
“You should plan to stop by tomorrow then before you get caught up with classwork,” Gwyn suggested. “We meet at one.”
“Maybe I will,” Alex said, not willing to commit himself further. Gwyn nodded and they fell into silence for a while.
Once in Fairbanks, Alex followed Gareth to the house and the brothers invited him to stay for dinner, which he accepted and it was some hours later before he finally returned to his own apartment where he found Chad and Chris watching TV.
“Hey! You’re finally back,” Chad said as Alex stepped inside. “How was Wiseman?”
“And how are you?” Chris added before Alex could answer. “You’re looking a lot better than when we saw you last week.”
“Wiseman is still standing, unfortunately,” Alex said and the other two snorted in amusement, “and I’m doing much better, thank you. So what have you two been up to while I was gone?”
“Oh, the usual,” Chad answered. “Chris came up with a great idea for a dungeon for our next D&D game. We’re anxious to try it out on the gang.”
“I can’t believe you two still play that game,” Alex said good-naturedly. “I mean, really. It’s so lame.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Chris said. “It’s a fun way to relax with friends and we get to work out our frustrations in a safe and appropriate manner.” He gave them a smirk.
“Pretending that you’re beating the crap out of some monster?” Alex asked in disbelief.
“Yeah, but while my character is slicing and dicing some monster, I’m mentally doing the same to my professors who are jerks,” Chris retorted.
Both Alex and Chad laughed. “You got some mail while you were away,” Chad said when they had calmed down. “I slipped it under your door.”
“Thanks,” Alex said. “I’m going to unpack and take a shower and then I think I’m going to hit the sack. It was a long drive and I’m beat.”
“We’ll see you in the morning then,” Chad said.
Alex nodded, wished them a good night and headed for his room. Unlocking the door, he opened it and stooped down to pick up the mail. He was surprised to be getting any, but he saw that one was a postcard from Felicity showing the London skyline. He read the brief note on the back and smiled. The other piece of mail was a thick envelope with no return address. He took a moment to examine it carefully before he pulled out his penknife and slit it open, pulling out two sheets of paper and a cashier’s check made out to him for an amount that made him whistle in surprise. The sheets, strangely enough, were blank and Alex was about to throw them away, but an errant memory stopped him and he stared at the check.
There was no indication as to who had sent it or why. Payment? Pay-off? The amount, while large, was within a range that he was used to receiving for his particular services within the Agency. Yet, he had cut his ties with it some months ago and his last assignment before coming to Wiseman had been well over a year ago and he’d been duly paid for that. He stared at the blank pages and then sniffed them.
“No, it couldn’t be,” he said out loud. Then he went back out to the living room. “Hey, do either of you have a candle I can borrow for a moment?”
Chad and Chris looked up in surprise. “Candle?” Chad said. “Yeah, sure. Do you need any particular kind? Scented? Unscented?”
“Just one of your thick ones,” Alex replied.
Chad got up from the couch where he’d been sitting with Chris and went to his room, coming out with a thick red candle. “Will this do?”
“Great. Thanks.” Alex took the candle and set it on the dining table. Chris and Chad followed him, curious. “Match?” Without a word, Chris went to a kitchen drawer and pulled out a grill lighter and handed it to Alex who lit the candle and then carefully passed one of the blank sheets over it.
“What the hell?” Chad exclaimed as they watched words appearing on the page.
Alex said nothing, putting the first page down and picking up the second and a minute or so later, that page, too, was covered with words.
“Invisible ink?” Chris said in disbelief. “C’mon, that’s… that’s kid stuff.”
Alex gave them a wintry smile as he blew out the candle and picked up the pages to read.
“What is that?” Chad asked, looking over Alex’s shoulder. “It looks like English but it’s all gobblygook.”
“It’s in code,” Alex answered. He grimaced slightly.
“What?” Chad asked, noticing his expression. “Can’t read it?”
“Oh, I can read it all right,” Alex replied, “and that’s what troubles me because there is only one other person who knows this code and he’s been dead for years.”
The two younger men stared at him for a moment before Chris ventured to say, “Well, either this person is sending you mail from the Great Beyond, or someone else got a hold of your Captain Midnight decoder ring and now knows the code.”
“Call me stupid, but I think I’d take door number two, Alex,” Chad said. “Door number one sounds too freaky.” Alex just snorted at that as he scanned the pages, mentally decoding the message, not liking what it said.
“So, what does it say?” Chris asked. “Unless, of course, you’d have to kill us if you told us.” He chuckled at that and Chad grinned.
“Actually, I would,” Alex said without any levity.
“Seriously?” Chad demanded. “C’mon, Alex. So you get a love letter or something written in invisible ink and in some stupid code like you were a kid passing notes in class. So what?”
Alex sighed, not sure how to explain or even if he should bother. Until now, Chad and Chris only knew that he was a foreign language teacher at a community college getting his Masters in Linguistics. They knew nothing of his sordid past or what he was truly capable of and he preferred to keep it that way. What he was reading was disturbing on many levels.
“You’re right,” he finally said, folding the pages. “I guess I was just taking the whole James Bond thing a bit further than I should have. It’s freaking me out a bit because if what Chris said is true, then my… my friend taught someone else this code even though we swore to one another that it would remain just between us.”
“Yeah, but you were kids when you came up with it, weren’t you?” Chris said. “Kids make lots of promises that they never keep when they grow up.”
“Except Paul and I were in our twenties and this code was our little secret from our controllers,” Alex said, then mentally cursed himself for the slip.
“Controllers!” Chad exclaimed and Chris looked equally nonplused. “What does that even mean?”
“Forget I said that,” Alex snarled, causing the other two men to step back in wary surprise. Alex sighed, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath to get himself under control. “Sorry. This is bringing back some bad memories. Paul died years ago in… in rather gruesome circumstances.” He slammed shut the door on that particular memory, not wanting to see the look of terror on Jackson’s face as he plummeted to his death at thirty thousand feet. He imagined he’d be dreaming about that later anyway. He always did sooner or later. He hadn’t had that particular dream in some time, so he guessed he was overdue.
“Hey, it’s cool,” Chad said in a conciliatory tone, “and I’m sorry. We have no right to pry or make jokes at your expense.”
“Yeah,” Chris said. “And I’m sorry about your friend. I guess you were pretty close to him, huh?”
“We were like brothers… until he betrayed me,” Alex said distractedly, then shook his head. “I’m going to take that shower now. Thanks for the use of the candle.” He headed back to his room.
“Yeah, sure,” Chad said. “Any time.”
Alex closed his bedroom door and sat on his bed, unfolding the sheets and staring at the last page where the signature was, for the letter was signed, not with a name but with a sigil, a particular one that Paul Jackson used and only used when sending letters written in invisible ink using this particular code. Alex had his own sigil. Their purpose was more than to identify them to the recipient, but as a means of verification. Only if the sigil appeared in the letter was it a sign that the letter was legitimate. Unlike the code, the sigils had never been written down anywhere, at least as far as Alex knew. Even the code, once the two had memorized it, had been destroyed.
But what if it hadn’t been? What if Paul had committed the ultimate betrayal and had revealed the code to another and had taught the person how to draw his personal sigil?
Yet, if he had, then it really begged the question: Who could he have told? He scanned the pages again, his blood turning cold at the implications of what he was reading. It was a termination order, similar to others he’d received from his controllers over the years. This one, however, was different, for the order was for the elimination with extreme prejudice of one Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower and it was to be done by the First of August.
And embedded within the order was a threat, one he could not possibly ignore: We have your mother.
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