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Jan. 16th, 2010

Past Mistakes

Chapter 16

“Eliot, we’re right behind you.” Nate paused just long enough to grab a firearm and then he and Sophie followed the others inside.

Climbing the stairs two at a time, Nate soon found the others holed up in one of the former offices. “Guys, any change?”

“They’re still in there. Apparently they’re waiting for something.”

“Something maybe. Or someone,” agreed Nate “Falconi evidently hasn’t arrived yet. Hardison, here’s what I want you and Eliot to do. Go back downstairs and clean up the mess that’s littering the sidewalk. Then wait for Falconi to arrive.”

“Parker,” Nate said, turning to the blond thief. “Get back on the roof and keep a lookout. Let us know the minute the mob guy arrives.”

“Got it.”

“Sophie, let’s head back out.”

Eliot and Hardison soon had the thugs securely locked away in one of the small rooms that was once used to house the coal fired furnace; trussed up tighter than a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Parker was waiting on the roof. Nate, along with Sophie, continued their vigil in the van parked close by. They didn’t have long to wait.

“Three cars approaching from the west side,” observed Parker. "Occupants of first two cars must be the bodyguards.”

“And the third?” Nate asked.

“Bingo,” she said. “Falconi just popped his fat head out of the car. What I wouldn’t give for a long range rifle with a scope mounted on top.”

“You know, Parker, Christmas is coming up. Maybe you should ask Santa for one.”

“Hardison,” said Nate’s annoyed voice over the comms. “Focus!”

Sophie shook her head in mock horror and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Honestly, guys, there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

“Don’t lump me in with those bunch of yoyos. It’s annoying.”

“Thank you Eliot for that breaking news flash,” huffed the hacker. “Just for that I’ll tell Santa to leave a lump of coal in your stocking.”

“Shhh.” The gang’s almost here.” Parker leaned over the edge slightly to more closely follow the entourage. “Should be knocking on the door right about now.”

“Hardison,” whispered Eliot, as he tossed a length of pipe at him. “Get to the left of me.”

A loud banging caught the hitter’s attention. He slid open the peephole and pretended to scrutinize the group gathered outside. After a moment’s hesitation he threw back the bar securing the door and cracked it open mere inches.

The familiar sound of firearms being chambered brought a smile to the hitter’s face. Paranoid much?

Eliot motioned to Hardison to stand by and then he got behind the open door. It didn’t take long for the first one to pop his head through. Hardison brought the pipe down on the man’s gun hand with a loud crack. The gun went skittering across the concrete floor and Hardison scooped it up.

The second one evidently wasn’t any brighter. He got a bead on Hardison and cocked the hammer.

“Wanna play chicken?” asked the hacker. “Or I know, spin the barrel?”

The man’s friend followed him in with a smug smile on his face. “You’re outnumbered wise guy. Drop the gun.” He had all his attention centered on Hardison and never thought to look behind the door.

Eliot slammed it shut with the back of his hand and threw the bolt home. “Now we’re even.” He spun a piece of lead in the air and then he slammed it hard behind the thug’s legs. Crunch. The force of the blow sent the man to his knees in agony. “I bet that hurt,” smirked Eliot. He then kicked the gun out of the man’s hands before he delivered the coup de grace on the man’s head. He slid boneless to the floor and lay unmoving.

Eliot turned to the man’s friend with an evil glint in his eye. “You’re up.”

The man laughed smugly “What you gonna do, huh? Think you can reach me before the gun goes off?”

“Ah, but are you fast enough to take both of us out?” replied Eliot in return. “See my friend over there?” he asked, as he pointed in Hardison’s direction. “He has a nervous trigger finger. Guns have been known to go off for no reason at all when he’s around.”

The man nervously eyed Hardison. Eliot could almost hear the dialogue running through his head. The man hesitated and that cost him severely. Eliot grabbed the gun before the thug had a chance to blink and ejected the clip. One punch to his jaw and the man was out like a light.

“We’re done here,” Eliot said, turning toward Hardison. “Parker, where’s the others?”

“Knock, knock, guys. Open the door.”

Eliot’s eyes lit up and he could barely resist the urge to laugh at the sight of Falconi and his band of wise guys chained together to the light pole. Parker had some unusual talents in her dirty little bag of tricks.

“Damn, girl,” remarked Hardison, as he took in the scene before him. “I’m glad you’re on our side.”

“I hate to rain on your parade,” said Nate, as he and Sophie joined the others. “But we still have work to do.”

“You two,” yelled Falconi, as he eyed Parker and Sophie. “This ain’t over yet. I want my diamond.”

“Diamond?” Nate eyed the blond and Sophie suspiciously. “What’s he talking about.”

“I have no idea,” Parker said innocently. “Sophie, do you?”

“Not the faintest.”

“Alright,” Nate pointed out to the women. “This isn’t over by a long shot.” He joined Eliot and Hardison by the door. “Let’s go.”

Nate and Hardison quickly positioned themselves on each side of the door. Inside the room they could hear the voices of Nora and Sal’s kidnappers as they waited impatiently for their boss to show up. Eliot kicked it open, where it splintered and hung precariously on one hinge. The sudden intrusion caught the kidnappers off guard momentarily. They looked up surprised and realized the futility of it all. They surrendered their weapons and raised their hands in the air.

“Wise decision,” observed Nate as he and Eliot liberated their weapons. Hardison freed the Bronson’s from their restraints and escorted them downstairs. Eliot then tied and gagged everyone, while Nate placed an anonymous call to the police, using a phone he’d taken from Falconi. Tying up loose ends was an annoying habit of his. And speaking of loose ends, as soon as this was over, two of his crew members had some explaining to do about a certain piece of jewelry.

It didn’t take long to get the whole sordid story straight from Parker’s lips after they arrived back at Nate’s loft. At the last minute, she and Sophie decided to improvise by letting Falconi think that an international jewel thief, (Parker) had her eye on his loose diamond.

But that’s where the story took off in two different directions. Sophie insisted she told Falconi about the attempted robbery as a ruse to cover up the real reason Parker broke into the safe; to steal the evidence that Falconi had framed Bryan for his son’s murder.

Parker told Nate she didn’t take the diamond. But it was a half-hearted attempt at best and she knew it. Nate naturally saw through the ruse right away. And after numerous tries he’d finally talked her into selling the diamond and then giving the proceeds to The Bronson family to use as start up money somewhere else. They could finally be free of Falconi’s influence once and for all.

As for Falconi and his illegal operations; He was indicted on numerous counts under the RICO Act. His home and his other assets were seized and sold at auction. His sizeable bank account in the Cayman Islands mysteriously disappeared however; all thanks to Hardison’s incredible prowess with the keyboard.

Hardison smiled as he finished typing in the last remaining pieces of the puzzle to their latest case. Afterwards he copied it onto another disc and then deleted the file from his hard drive. He was well aware of the repercussions if Nate ever found out. But it was a chance he was willing to take. Nothing was infallible and he didn’t get this far by taking unnecessary risks. It was a precautionary measure, and it in no way meant he didn’t trust the others. But you never know…

Past Mistakes

Chapter 15

Spoilers for: The Ice Job

The next morning everyone gathered at Nate’s to begin the process of taking Falconi and his organization down. Hopefully it wouldn’t be as long and drawn out as the first part of the job. But with the evidence from Falconi’s safe proclaiming Bryan’s innocence, tucked away in the hands of the authorities, along with Bryan, the team was assured that at least the young man’s nightmare would soon be over.

The next part might be a little tricky. As soon as Falconi found out that Bryan was missing, most likely he would go after his parents and older brother. They needed to get everybody to a safe place before the next phase of the plan could continue.

Nate still wasn’t sure what to do about Bryan’s father though. So far, the man had been uncooperative, almost to the point of being openly hostile. Eliot, it was decided, would handle that part of the con. With his vast array of persuasion techniques to fall back on, Nate had every confidence the hitter would emerge victorious.

“Okay,” said Nate, as he drew everyone’s attention back to the matter at hand. “This part of the operation will be even trickier than the last part.” He pointed to the screens before him as he paced back and forth. “Now, Falconi has obviously found out by now what did or should I say, didn’t happen at the local pokey.”

“Eliot, as we already discussed earlier, you’re going to gently persuade Bryan’s father, Sal, to join our side of the party. Hardison has already put out some feelers and he can fill you in on that later.”

“I love my job,” said the hitter with a smile.

“What about Bryan’s mother and older brother?” asked Sophie as she settled on the sofa between Parker and Eliot.

“His older brother, Jonathan, is willing to go along with whatever his mom asks of him. Those two will be safely secured along with Bryan. The authorities are in fact willing to relocate the whole family again, but here’s the catch. Dad has to testify or no immunity. And that,” he said pointedly, “is why we have to make sure he does.”

Nate’s phone rang, interrupting the briefing.

“Hello,” he said, walking off to one side to hear the phone conversation above the team’s boisterous voices. “Sorry,” he said, drawing everyone’s attention to him. “Could you repeat that again?” Nate placed the phone in Hardison’s very competent hands and the hacker brought it up on the speaker.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” said Mrs. Bronson, “but my husband has gone missing and I don’t know what to do.”

“I assume this wasn’t planned?” asked Nate.

“No,” said the woman, obviously upset. “Just the opposite, Mr. Ford. Our whole family was up all night discussing our options and we decided that there was no other way. He was going to testify against his former boss, even though he was afraid.”

“And the rest of the family?”

“Already secured somewhere else,” she admitted.

“What about you?”

What do you mean?” she asked hesitantly.

“Why aren’t you with them? Odds are if your husband’s old boss grabbed him, then they’re probably watching you too.”

“I’m not leaving without Sal,” she said strongly. “I’ve already told the feds that.”

“Even if it meant putting both of your sons’ life in jeopardy?”

“Damn it, Mr. Ford. I’m not a bad mother. My sons know the risk that I’m taking. They’re willing to stand behind me one-hundred percent.”

“Sorry, said Nate apologetically. “But I had to ask.”

Nate placed his finger to his lips as a plan started to form in his mind. “When did you see your husband last?”

“Right before he left to pick up some papers from his landscaping business. He should have been gone no more than two hours tops but…” Her voice trailed off into nothing.

“We’ll check it out and let you know. Is there a number where I can reach you?”

“I’ll call you instead,” said Mrs. Bronson. “I’m on a pay phone right now.”

Nate rubbed his forehead, deep in thought. “Okay, give us a few hours and we’ll see what we can come up with.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ford,” she said gratefully, and then she hung up.

“Seriously,” said Hardison amused. “They still have pay phones?”

“Apparently. And speaking of phones, did you get a trace on that particular one?”

“Why, yes I did.” Hardison pulled up the specs and rerouted them on screen. “Bryan’s mom must be extremely paranoid, and apparently it’s enough to take her away from her comfort zone. Look here,” he said, as a map of the local streets came into view. “Twenty-fourth and Highland.”

“Anything close by that she’d be familiar with?” asked Eliot.

“No, and that’s the strange part. There’s nothing in that area but warehouses and work-related industries.”

“Why would she be calling from that end of town?” wondered Parker aloud.

“Why indeed?” Nate’s brows furrowed in confusion. “Unless,” he said suddenly, waving his hand in the air.”

“Unless,” she wanted us to know where she was,” said Sophie suddenly excited. “She’s on her way to meet with Falconi, isn’t she?”

“Yes, said Nate agreeing. “Hardison, are any of the building currently occupied?”

“Checking.” A few seconds ticked by as the hacker eliminated most of them in a one block radius. “Got two possible,” he said. “Both abandoned when the economy went bust. One’s in the process of being razed, so I’ll cross that off the list.”

“And the other” asked Nate.

“Two story building used to be some sort of factory. It’s the perfect spot for Falconi’s base of operations.”

“Well then,” said evil Nate. “Let’s get moving. We have a husband and wife to reunite.”

Parker smiled and grabbed her ever present rappelling equipment. Looked like it would be a perfect night to do a little climbing.

Sophie parked the van in a deserted spot, around the corner from the building in question. Climbing into the back she joined the others already suited up and took a spot beside Nate.

“Now remember,” said Nate as he inserted the comm. into his ear, “no freelancing. We do everything as planned.” He gave a pointed stare at Parker for emphasis. She ducked out the back of the van and then disappeared around the corner of the building.

“Hardison, you’re up. Make it look convincing.”

“Got it,” he said as he jumped out of the van.

“Eliot.”

“Yeah I know, watch Hardison’s back.” Grabbing his duffel bag, the hitter soon followed the hacker.

“Parker, you in place?”

“I’m on the roof. Should be an easy in.”

“Remember to stay out of sight until Hardison and Eliot are able to cover it from the ground.”

“And meanwhile you and I will monitor from the van,” said Sophie obviously irritated.

“You can’t show your face around Falconi,” stated Nate evenly. “It would blow everyone’s cover.”

“I know, I know,” she admitted reluctantly. “I’m just not suited to surveillance, I suppose.”

“Nate, coming up on the door right now,” interrupted Hardison.

“Be very subtle, Hardison. Don’t overplay it.”

“When have I ever?”

“Oh, I don’t know “Ice Man,” said Eliot highly amused. “We had to bail your ass out of that one. And then there’s the…”

“Guys,” said Nate. “We’re here for a reason.”

“I’m ready on my end,” said Parker.

“Here goes nothing.” Hardison rapped loudly on the metal doors and stepped back to let the electronic eye catch his image. Eliot stood less than ten feet away, deep in a shadow pocket and waited.

The hinges on the door protested loudly as it was scraped across the ground. Hardison stepped back even further and held up his hands to forestall any sudden movement from the gun toting gorillas.

Eliot’s mind was busy processing all the weaponry and he relayed the information back to the others on the comms.

“What do you want?” asked one of the gun toting men.

“I’m sorry,” said Hardison. “I think I got the wrong address.”

One of the thugs with greasy hair grabbed Hardison’s arm in a threatening manner. “You got that right,” he said. “Now get inside.”

Hardison shrugged off the man’s firm grip and took a step back. “Whoa, what’s this all about? And what’s with all the hardware?”

“You ask too many questions,” said greasy hair. “Now get inside.” He moved behind the hacker and shoved him in the back with the business end of his gun.

“Sorry, brother, but I’m not going anywhere.”

“Says who?”

Hardison smiled and pointed to his left.

“Says me,” smirked Eliot as he clobbered the man in the head with his own gun. “Punk,” he muttered, as the greasy haired man hit the ground.

Hardison took on the man standing in the door with an upper cut to the jaw, and smiled brightly at the hitter when punk number two hit the ground alongside the other one. “Damn, that actually worked.”

“Told you it would.” Eliot disappeared inside the darkened building. “Alright Parker, you’re up.”

“I’ll see you in a few,” said Parker as she strapped on her gear.

“Hold up, Rambo. Wait for me.” Hardison hurried to catch up to Eliot. They both paused to get their bearings and then they took off toward the stairs to their left. Nate and Sophie followed their movement courtesy of Hardison’s camera he wore on his head.

Muted voices caught the young men’s attention as they reached the top. Eliot suddenly grabbed Hardison’s arm forcefully and pulled him back into the shadows. A few seconds later, the sound of booted feet echoed in the hall. The sound of a lighter striking its target soon followed. The burning glow of a cigarette eerily lit up the dark and threatened to expose their hiding spot.

Nerve racking seconds passed as Hardison silently willed the man to move away. Eliot remained still as a statue, comfortably enough in his skin to wait it out. By the time that the man finished off his cigarette and stubbed it out on the heel of his boots, Hardison was sweating bullets. He let out the breath he’d been holding and took his place beside Eliot.

They followed the path the smoking man had returned to and soon they came upon what used to be offices. All the ones stood open and empty except for the last one at the end of the hall.

“Nate,” whispered Eliot. “We’re onto something. Where’s Parker?”

“Right behind you,” she whispered in Hardison’s ear.

The hacker nearly jumped out of his skin. “Don’t do that!”

“Checking on the closed door.” Eliot stepped away from the two idiots and pressed his ear to the closed door. “There’s definitely someone in there,” he said. “At least three voices. One’s a woman’s voice.”

“Alright,” said Nate. “I think we found our missing couple.”

Past Mistakes

Chapter 14

The tiny room was starting to close in on him, but Eliot knew what was at stake. Across from him sat a frightened young man who was the object of a sadistic mobster’s obsession. Falconi wouldn’t hesitate to send in hired killers who could kill in the blink of an eye. He had seen that first hand already. He also knew that the longer they stayed in one place, the greater the chance of Falconi’s thugs sniffing them out.

They were shut off from the rest of the jail, giving them some breathing room. But it was only a matter of time before that could change. Eliot still didn’t know the reason for the lock down. He hadn’t been able to glean very much information from Bryan except for the fact that there might be hostages involved. He hoped that it was just a rumor because nine times out of ten the inevitable outcome usually ended in senseless bloodshed.

Bryan was taking it well considering everything he had been though the past two months. Eliot was impressed by the young man’s courage and fortitude. His will to survive kept him going when others in his place would have simply lain down and died. And that was the real reason, the only reason Eliot had chosen his current career path.

Just five short years ago, the hitter discovered something in his travels that set him on the course that he walked today. Nathan Ford was his name, and back then insurance fraud had been his game. Up until that time the two men had never met, but Eliot was well aware of the man’s brutal reputation. Once Nate Ford had you in his sights he would pursue you to the ends of the earth if he had to. Like a blood hound on the trail of a fox, his determination was relentless.

Eliot smiled as he fondly recalled being the object of Nate’s fox hunt a time or two. Being pursued by the best in the business had bolstered Eliot’s reputation as a retrieval specialist and he owed it all to the insurance man. Eliot was so thankful in fact for the boost to his ego that he sent Nate a thank you card to brag about it. He’d heard later through the local grapevine that Nate had pinned the card to the wall in his office and used it for dart practice.

Eliot glanced once more at Bryan and noticed the man’s head leaning back against the wall. He had fallen asleep. Good. At least one of them would be getting a little shuteye.

Eliot rose quietly so as not to disturb the young man and decided to make his rounds. He stood off to one side and gripped the handle with one hand, while his other hand reached for the lock. What was that tapping noise? His senses on alert he stepped back and roused Bryan. With a look that told the boy to remain quiet, Eliot waited and listened to the sound of someone picking the lock.

The door opened slowly and Eliot grabbed Parker’s arm instinctively and pulled her inside. When he realized who it was, he growled at her and then released his hold.

“Parker, what the hell?”

“Nice to see you too,” she said holding her sore arm.

“How did you get in here?”

“Well duh, Eliot, through the air ducts.” She pointed across the room and smiled innocently at the hitter.

Looking over Eliot’s shoulder she discovered Bryan looking at her strangely. “Hello,” she said sweetly. “I’m Parker.”

“I’m Bryan,” he said a little stunned.

“Well now that everyone’s been introduced,” said Eliot sarcastically. “Do you think we can get out of here before Bryan’s welcoming committee tries to take him out?”

“Sure thing. Here,” she said as she handed him a comm to place in his ear. ‘Hardison will fill you in while we’re running.”

“Thanks.”

“What are those things?” Bryan wanted to know.

“That’s how we stay in touch with each other,” explained Parker. “See that camera up there? Bryan nodded his head. “That’s Hardison in the control room. He’s the geek in charge, well except for Nate, that is.”

Bryan shook his head in confusion at Eliot. “Is she always like that?”

“Consider yourself lucky man,” said Eliot. “The rest of us gotta live with her.”

“I heard that.”

“So you two actually live together?”

“What, no way! Figure of speech.”

“I should hope so,” said the hacker, clearly not amused.

“Who are you talking to?”

“Try this, “said Parker, as she handed him a listening device.

Bryan stuck it in his ear and regretted it almost immediately. Everyone was talking at once it seemed and he couldn’t make heads or tails of the conversation.

“So, Bryan,” said the disembodied voice of Hardison on the other end. “Ready to blow this joint?”

“You mean break out of here?”

“That’s the plan,” said the hacker.

“But isn’t that against the law?’ he squeaked.

“You’re in jail on trumped up charges,” replied Nate, joining the conversation. “But, luckily I’ve found a judge on your side. Once you walk out of here, you’ll be placed in protective custody until everything can be sorted out. Technically, it’s like you’re out on bail until your hearing.”

“How’d you wrangle that?” Eliot asked.

“Ah well, I know some people who owe me a favor or two.”

“There’s still the small problem of getting from here to there.” Eliot placed his hands on the bars to test their strength. “Unless Hardison can access the control box in the control room, we’re stuck.”

“I have some C-4,” volunteered Parker.

“Nate,” grumbled Eliot. “Not an option.”

“I agree,” said the ex-insurance man. “Hardison’s way is more subtle, not to mention less messy.”

“Not fair, evil Nate.”

“The topic is not open for discussion, Parker. Now, is everyone ready?”

Silence intervened. “I’ll take that as a yes. Hardison, will you do the honors?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

“Wait,” said Eliot suddenly. “Parker can’t be in here.”

“Already taken care of,” said the thief, as she hoisted herself back up to the air ducts. “I’ll see you on the other side.”

“Ready, in three, two, one.” The bars slid across the doorway on queue. Eliot and Bryan skirted the hallway and crossed across the main floor access area where the prisoners were processed after arrest. Waiting in the wings was Nate and another man, probably the judge he had spoken about. The four of them went inside a private office to finalize Bryan’s subsequent release.

Nate and Eliot decided to wait until the next morning to debrief the others. Eliot was beat and it showed. All he wanted was a nice hot shower and his own bed to sleep in.

Past Mistakes

Chapter 13

The rain was never ending, a gloomy backdrop that accompanied Sophie’s black mood. On the drive over she had agonized in her mind what she would do if by chance Nate had abandoned her. She would never forgive him. The time and effort she’d invested in this relationship was worth more than just a by your leave.

Alright, focus you stubborn British chit. Quit going off on your impossible fairy tale. Nate isn’t emotionally available. Why are you even wasting your time on yesterday’s news?

Parker’s chatting away a mile a minute and I haven’t even heard one word she’s said. What does that tell you? Give it up. Nate has too many ghosts haunting him. He’s traded his alcohol addiction for one that’s more lethal. His controlling nature is yet another addiction he can’t get a handle on. He was dead on when he said he was a bigger bastard sober. When will you ever learn?

Sophie’s thoughts were jumbled. Crashing to and fro, making her sweat uncontrollably. She shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs that threatened to consume her. They were just a mile from their destination. It wouldn’t do for her to blow everyone’s cover. If only she could raise Nate on their comms. Why wasn’t anyone available?

Parker was focused; for once. She had her part planned down to the second. Sophie envied her. How like the blond thief to be oblivious to anything not connected to her. Parker was unencumbered by faulty relationships. Even Hardison’s clumsy attempts to charm and woo her just went over her head. Why, anyone with half a mind could see the longing in the hacker’s eyes when he looked at Parker. Maybe Eliot was right when he said there was something wrong with her.

“Sophie.”

Alright now, take a deep breath, center yourself, and focus on what’s important; Nate and the others. The simple mantra ran through her mind, calming her frayed nerves and allowed some semblance of normalcy to return. Gripping the wheel firmly in both hands she concentrated on nothing else but the job.

“Sophie.”

Well that worked for maybe half a second. Sophie was a bundle of nervous energy, eyes darting back and forth across the dark road aimlessly. She needed…

“Sophie.”

There was that voice again, pulling the grifter back to the present. Giving up her own pity party, Sophie glanced sideways at Parker, trying her best to look self assured. She fell hopelessly on her face.

“What is it, Parker?”

The blond thief self-consciously looked down at her hands before she spoke. “Ah, I just wanted to say that there’s nothing to worry about…”

“Nothing to worry about?” blurted out Sophie. “Nate and the others have gone missing!”

“Just let me finish, okay?” she said with more authority. “Now, I know that I don’t project the image of someone who’s all there,” said Parker as she pointed to her head.

“That’s simply not…”

“Not finished,” Parker pointed out again.

Sophie closed her perfect mouth.

“All my life,” continued the blond thief, “I’ve felt like there’s been a part of me that’s messed up somehow. “No social skills to speak of, I don’t play well with others, and I have a tendency to blurt out inappropriate things. But all of you, the team, sort of took me under your wings and helped me along. There are times when I feel smothered but I know deep down it’s because you care for me.”

“Of course we care for you,” supplied Sophie. “We all care for each other in our own dysfunctional way.”

“Then why can’t you see that Nate cares for you?”

“Parker I never thought anything of the contrary.”

“You don’t have to,” admitted the thief. “I can see it in your eyes, the way you look at him when you think no one else is around. The longing and the hurt go hand in hand.”

“I really don’t think this is the appropriate time to be having this little girl talk,” said Sophie.

“Now’s a good a time as any. Come on Soph, admit it, you’re afraid of Nate.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Her hands shaking, Sophie pulled to the curb and shut off the car.

“Is it?” questioned Parker. “I may seem a little dense sometimes but I get it. It’s the same way with me too.”

“Hardison?” asked Sophie.

“Yeah, he scares me.” Parker suddenly turned away and gazed out the side window. She could see Sophie’s reflection in the glass and she wondered idly what was going through the older woman’s mind.

“I had no idea. You hide it very well.” Sophie smiled and then placed her hand on Parker’s shoulder in a motherly fashion. “What do you plan on doing about it?”

“Nothing,” whispered Parker. “I’m a klutz when it comes to relationships. I let my feelings get in the way and someone usually gets hurt in the process.”

“Someone is already hurting, Parker. Hardison is suffering in silence.”

“Oh,” said the thief with sudden clarity. “I never looked at it that way.”

“Sometimes we can be blinded by our own inactions. We may believe we have the best intentions for them. But what we perceive is right may not necessarily be the best way. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

Parker nodded over her shoulder. “I should just let nature take its course.”

“That’s one way of looking at it,” replied Sophie. “Let Hardison know you have feelings for him. You just might be pleasantly surprised.” She lightly gripped Parker’s hands and shook them. “Trust me on this. I’m never wrong.”

Parker turned facing the windshield and smiled slightly. “Only when it comes to Nate.”

Sophie sighed out loud and let go of Parker’s hands. “Only when it comes to Nate. It’s a little creepy isn’t it?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said smacking her lips. “I think you and Nate win hands down when it comes to the creepy contest.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” admitted the grifter. “Welcome to Dysfunctional Family101 Parker. Sister’s forever.”

Parker’s smile lit up the interior of the car. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Well, now that we’ve cleared the air a bit, what do you say we go in and rescue our wayward team members, eh?”

“Sounds like a plan.” Parker grabbed her bag from the back seat and swung out of the car. Turning back to face Sophie, she said. “Don’t forget to turn on your comm. Give me five minutes to get inside. I’ll send video footage as soon as I’m set up.”

Sophie gave her the thumbs up as she watched Parker disappear into the darkness. Sitting back in her seat she switched on her comm. “Parker, be careful,” she whispered.

“Sophie, is that you? Why aren’t you in Vegas?”

“Hardison, you big brute,” chastised Sophie. “Where the hell are you? And where’s Nate?”

“First things first,” insisted the hacker.

“Hi, Hardison.”

“P-Parker, hey girl, what’s shaking?”

“You tell us. Where are Nate and Eliot?”

“Ah, they’re inside, same as me. See what happened is some of the inmates revolted because of the food or something, not really sure. Then everything went into lockdown. Eliot’s still with Bryan and Nate’s cover is a hostage negotiator. We actually think the revolt is a cover for some assassins who are out to kill Bryan and…”

“You’re rambling pretty boy,” said Parker with a smirk.

“A thousand pardons pretty lady. Now,” he said with a hint of longing in his voice. “When can you get in here?”

“Already there. I assume you’re in control of the cameras?”

“I’m in the control room, if that’s what you mean. And, hey there you are on camera three, looking real mean and nasty. Come on,” he teased, “smile real pretty and wave for the camera.”

“Hardison, focus,” snapped Sophie. “Give us a bird’s eye view of what you’re seeing. Is there any way to get to Eliot and the boy through the air ducts?”

Hardison snapped to and brought up the schematics for the duct work that ran through the jail. “There, I got something. Parker, the air shaft behind you leads to the dayroom where Eliot’s stashed the boy. Climb in and I’ll guide you.”

“Got it.” Parker removed the covering and hoisted herself inside. Crawling on all fours it was a tight fit, even for her small frame. “Hardison, see if you can find another way out. There’s no way Eliot and Bryan will fit in here.”

“Checking as we speak. No, looks like they’re all built the same size.” Inspiration suddenly struck him. “I can, however manipulate the locks and bars. You know why?”

“Because they’re run by computer?” asked Parker.

“Give that girl a prize,” he said laughing. “Better make it quick though because I’m not sure how long we have until the other guard that’s supposed to be in here shows up.”

“I’m almost there. Just a few more feet.”

“Hardison? Did I hear you say that Nate was inside?”

“Yes he is.”

“Then why isn’t he answering his comm or his cell phone?”

“He turned his phone off when he got here. As for his comm., I have no idea.”

“I’m here,” piped up Parker.

“Tell me what you see,” said the hacker.

“I’m directly across from some kind of storage closet. The day room is completely closed off from the rest of the jail, and oh, there’s someone on the other side of the bars trying to break in with a hack saw. Kind of stupid too. Those bars are impenetrable. What you really need is some C-4. “

“Whoa, hold up,” interrupted Hardison. Someone’s trying to break in? Not gonna happen while I’m on duty.” The hacker zoomed in for a closer look. “Well, good news is they’re not likely to get in any time soon.”

“And the bad news? Asked Parker.

“If we don’t find some way to get rid of them we’re screwed. That’s the only other way outta there.”

“Why would they even want in there?” wondered Sophie. “There aren’t any drugs or contraband lying around?”

“With some people, who knows?” Suddenly an idea hit him. Parker, remember the birthday present Eliot and I bought for you last month?”

Parker smiled evilly. “You mean the little dart set?”

“You know I do. Have them on you, by any chance?”

“Let’s see,” she stalled. “One pen light, assorted lock picking tools. Some dental floss…”

“Dental floss?” asked Sophie. “Seriously?”

“Healthy gums are the sign of a healthy mind,” stated Parker. “That’s a fact.”

“Never mind,” Sophie said, rubbing her aching head.

“Why looky here,” Parker cut in. One dart gun and several unused miniature darts that go with said gun.”

“You replaced the poison with something less lethal, right?”

“Was I supposed to?”

“Parker,” huffed Hardison. “Quit playing around.”

“Yes, I replaced the poison with some knock out drops. Really, what do you take me for?”

“I really, really wish Nate were here,” moaned Sophie.

“I am here. Sophie what’s going on and why are you here instead of in Vegas with the mark?”

“Now you’re available. Well, I did try to call you before we left. As for the other question, let’s just say we have the dirt needed to send him away permanently.”

“Yoo hoo, remember me, the one with the darts?”

Parker’s right,” said Nate. “We need to get back on track.”

“So what’s the plan, Nate?”

“I’m not sure. Parker, where are you?”

“In the air duct that leads to the dayroom.”

“And where are Eliot and our client?”

“They’re snug as a bug in the supply closet. They haven’t set one foot outside that door.”

“Right,” said Nate. “Now bring me up to speed on the dart gun and why we need to use it.”

“Done,” whispered Parker, obviously tired of waiting around. She popped open the vent and jumped down to the floor. Hardison tracked her on the camera’s feed while she made sure the darts had done what they were supposed to do.

Next she crossed over to the supply closet and pulled out her tools. Tapping lightly on the door, Parker waited for some kind of response. She didn’t have long to wait.

Past Mistakes

Chapter 12

Las Vegas

There wasn’t any sign of Parker when Sophie arrived back at the hotel early the next morning. Sighing in relief the grifter crossed over to an overstuffed chair and sank wearily into its comfort. She kicked her heels from her swollen feet and wiggled her toes to bring back some of the feeling to them.

She was too tired to do much of anything but sleep. She decided to forego a hot bath because frankly she was afraid she would tip off in the tub and drown. She had no intention of letting her friends find her in a compromising position. She was too dignified for that.

Sophie changed into her sleeping outfit and turned back the covers on her bed. Her head hit the pillow a minute later and she drifted off and began to dream.

The dream was always the same but with little variations thrown in to keep it fresh. Nate was madly in love with Sophie. He had professed it one night when the two had been alone in the van. Spouting poetry he’d heard in a Shakespearean play, he let it be known that there would be no other for him. He pleaded with her to put his mind at ease and return the favor.

But Sophie had other ideas. Having been on the receiving end of Nate’s unpredictable behavior too many times, she told him that she wasn’t interested in a relationship. Nate scoffed at her disclosure and chalked it all up to revenge. She wanted to get him back for all the times that he had scorned her love.

She began a game of cat and mouse, seeking to ensnare the only man she had ever loved. It was a game she played not out of cruelty but for her own peace of mind. She needed reassurance that Nate would stand by his declaration of love and not leave her. She needed the solid foundation of trust and would risk everything to make it happen. She needed him by her side, through good times and bad, through pain and sadness.

It was a little ironic that in her dream Sophie was the one with the cold feet. It put her in an awkward position to be sure, but it also gave her a better insight into the man. He was controlling, jaded and self-centered at times. But he was also thoughtful and kind. She had to find a way to combine the good and the bad or else she might lose her man forever.

She made her living reading other people’s body language and she considered herself a pretty good judge of character. But that all flew by the wayside when she tried to get into Nate’s head. He was constantly changing course in their relationship, trying to navigate blindly around her or through her. Why didn’t she see the warning signs where he was concerned? Was she too close to the man to be impartial? Heaven help her if she finally figured him out because it would be a sure sign of the Apocalypse.

Sophie stirred restlessly in her sleep. Too many crazy ideas were floating around in her head and it was giving her a headache. When she opened her eyes and glanced at the time, she was surprised that she had slept almost six hours. Holding back a yawn she rose and put on her robe and slippers. What another weird dream she’d had and she remembered everything perfectly in detail. Maybe her subconscious was trying to tell her something? She really needed to check into it for her own peace of mind.

Parker was making herself scarce and it made Sophie wonder if she was alright. Sophie decided it would probably be a good idea to see if she was still breathing, but she couldn’t bloody well do it on an empty stomach. She reached for the phone and ordered room service and told them she needed lots of coffee with eggs and bacon, extra crisp.

She really should call Nate and fill him in. A funny thought struck her a moment later as she realized that he hadn’t been hounding her constantly with phone calls. She knew all too well what a perfectionist he was and so it stood to reason that something had prevented his calling.

Had Eliot or Hardison been hurt? Or God forbid, Nate? That would explain his lack of invasion of Sophie’s privacy. She grabbed her phone on the night stand and hit the number for Nate. When his phone went to voice mail she started to worry even more.

Hardison was next. Same thing happened; straight to voice mail. Eliot’s, well she was beginning to get the picture.

Parker. She needed to find Parker right away. When she dialed her number the blond thief answered on the first ring. Sophie told her to pack her things; they were heading back to Boston on the first flight out. She had a bad feeling something was going down, and she wanted to be there to lend a hand.

When their flight touched down in Boston a few hours later, Parker and Sophie didn’t waste any time getting back to Nate’s place. When they let themselves in they discovered it deserted. No sign of the other team members. Sophie knew Eliot was probably at the county lock up, but that didn’t account for Nate and Hardison’s disappearing acts. Where could they be?

“Sophie, I got something.”

Parker turned the volume up as Sophie seated herself on the sofa. A news flash containing new information on the hostage situation at the county jail made her pause momentarily. Eliot was somewhere in that whole sordid mess and so was Nate and Hardison. Sophie knew where she and Parker needed to be. And with Parker’s prowess they had something that could be used to their advantage. Parker was ecstatic when Sophie let her in on the plan. She’d never broken into a jail before. It should be fun.

Past Mistakes

Chapter 11

Las Vegas: Late night dinner party and soiree at the Falconi residence.

Parker knew the instant that Falconi entered the room, wearing an Armani suit two times smaller than his stout figure. He looked like a fat stuffed sausage. She giggled and then shook her head at the image that suddenly popped up before her. What was with these jerks anyway? Didn’t they know or even care what other people were so obviously thinking about them?

“Parker, is there a problem?” Sophie asked.

Realizing her little outburst, Parker smoothly covered her tracks. “Just saw something a little peculiar, is all.”

Sophie really didn’t want to go there. Parker was really strange sometimes, well a lot of times actually. But that was another story.

“We’re coming up on the eleventh hour. Is everything in order?”

“Oh, yeah. When the party’s in full swing, I’ll sneak upstairs and crack open the safe. Parker noticed that the security seemed tighter than usual. “Any idea what this little shindig is for?”

Sophie smiled and then murmured a greeting at a couple of guests before she answered. “Rumor has it that Falconi is naming Hendricks as his second in command. It should be interesting to see the fallout from that.”

“You mean all the snipping and backstabbing?”

“Exactly.”

“I wish Hardison was here so we could download it and then watch it on replay.”

“You have some strange viewing habits, Parker.”

“Not any more than Hardison. You should ask him to let you watch the video he has on our last job.”

“The one we did in Omaha, with the slaughterhouses?”

“Yeah,” said Parker gleefully. “Nothing like a good horror movie. Be sure to bring some popcorn.”

Sophie was stunned. “Parker,” real people, innocent people, lost their lives. It wasn’t make-believe!”

“Duh, I know that. That’s why it’s so horrible. Do you really think I’d be that cold blooded?”

“Sometimes I wonder,” Sophie muttered under her breath.

“Did you say something?”

“What? No, I was just ordering a drink. And, Parker, try mingling a little. People are starting to get a little curious.”

“Fine,” said the blond thief. “I’ll just head over to the buffet table.”

“And if someone engages you in polite conversation…”

“I know, no stabbing,” she huffed. “Sophie you sure take all the fun out of everything.”

“Glad to be of service. But I feel like a bloody babysitter sometimes.”

Parker was on her second slice of cake when she noticed Sophie heading her way. Turning her back to the grifter, she pretended a sudden interest in the man standing next to her. Sophie asked for a glass of wine and accidentally bumped into Parker, dropping her purse on the floor beside Parker’s feet. She apologized profusely for her clumsiness as Parker bent to retrieve her purse, which now lay open. With sleight of hand, the thief grabbed the note Sophie had left for her and handed the clutch back to Sophie.

‘Time table has changed’, read the note.’ Need you upstairs now!’

Parker frowned at Sophie’s retreating back. Why the frak didn’t the grifter just tell her over the comms? Well, no matter. Parker was starting to get a little bored anyway. She’d just slip into the crowd unnoticed and make her way to the balcony where her equipment had been stashed earlier.

Parked checked for rotating guards while slipping into her blackout clothes, and then stuffed the bag back behind the giant flower pot. Grabbing hold of an overhang, she lifted herself up with the ease of a seasoned pro to the third floor study. Next, she disabled the alarm and raising the window she catapulted from the ledge and effortlessly snagged onto the chandelier. Swinging like Tarzan through the air, the blond thief felt her blood sing and she smiled to herself. She dropped down on all fours next to the wall safe and went about her business of prying open the safe.

Parker cracked the safe in less than two minutes. A feeling of smug superiority rippled through her for beating her old record by thirty-three seconds. Grabbing the files she needed she then stuffed them into the canvas bag by her feet.

A small square box caught her eye. Hello, what’s this? Reaching back into the safe to grab its smooth velvet surface, Parker felt her pulse quicken. Five to one odds it was a diamond. She opened the box slowly and grinned.

Bingo.

Sizing it up she figured it had to be at least 1.80-carat. The round gem was a vivid green of natural color, VS2 clarity. In an auction it would probably bring well over one million dollars.

Her mind raced a mile a minute. She wanted it so bad her teeth ached. She hesitated, drumming her fingers over the blue velvet box. Why not, she argued. No one would be the wiser. And she knew just the place to keep it; right next to her Hancock Red diamond. They would be side by side, just like sisters. She couldn’t resist the diamond’s pull. It was calling to her, saying ‘take me home, please’.

“Parker,” whispered Sophie in her ear. "Grab the files and get out now!”

That wasn’t an option. Parker could hear the muffled voices in the hallway. Thinking quickly, she grabbed the canvas bag and flung it behind an oversized chair by the window. She raced back over to the safe, closed it, spun the dials and then ducked under the desk. Barely a heart beat later the door swung open and in walked the sultan of swine himself.

From Parker’s vantage point she saw two other people that entered the room as well. One of them was a woman and judging by the expensive Jimmy Choo’s, she knew it had to be Sophie.

Falconi turned and spoke to Sophie in a threatening tone. “I thought you said she would be here!”

Sophie remained unfazed by his demeanor. “You don’t believe me, check your safe?”

Falconi checked the contents and cursed. “It’s gone!”

“Why are you surprised?” asked the grifter. “I told you she was a thief.”

“Sophie,” whispered Parker. “You’re evil.”

Sophie was unfazed by Parker’s outburst and kept a serene face.

“Hendricks,” bellowed Falconi.

“Yes sir.”

So the other pair of shoes belonged to Falconi’s new Lieutenant.

“Close this place up. I want it tighter than Fort Knox.”

Parker watched as Hendricks left to do the mob man’s bidding. Only two bad guys left. Well one, technically, because Sophie wasn’t a bad guy anymore.

Parker held back a yawn. She was fast becoming bored with the whole thing and if Sophie didn’t get the man out of this room and soon, she just might start yelling at the top of her lungs. Better yet, there was a letter opener on the desk. She bet she could find a better use for it than opening the mail.

“She’s probably on the first flight to Switzerland by now. I doubt if you’ll catch her. “But, if I were you,” suggested Sophie, in her best cultured voice. “I’d put out some feelers for that little gem of yours. If it’s less than two carats, it’ll be real easy to fence.”

“Not giving it up, Sophie,” retaliated Parker.

“Good idea, my dear,” said Falconi, oblivious to the other conversation taking place between the two women.

“It’s a shame I wasn’t able to view your latest acquisition. I’ve been thinking of investing some of my inheritance in diamonds myself. Yours would have been the perfect starter piece for my collection.”

Falconi took Sophie by the arm and led her to the door. “Who says I would have sold it?” His fake charm was nauseating, but Sophie was a trooper.

“Oh, come now, Mr. Falconi. Surely you wouldn’t have denied me my fondest desire?”

“Unless I find my diamond, we might never know.”

“I’m just sorry I wasn’t able to stop it. When I saw that blond thief lurking around downstairs, I knew she was only here for one reason.”

“You never did quite explain how you recognized her. Care to fill me in?”

They reached the top of the stairs and Falconi paused dramatically and tightened his grip on Sophie’s arm.

Sophie gave a small gasp at the pressure. Falconi released his grip on her arm and Sophie rubbed it slightly.

“Really, Mr. Falconi,” she replied in a steady voice. “I would have been more than happy to fill you in had you asked more politely. As it is, I’m sorely tempted to leave you in the lurch.”

“A thousand pardons,” said Falconi. But in my business it pays to be careful.”

Sophie pretended to mull over his apology. “Tell you what,” she pasted on a false smile. “For a glass of Chianti, I might be a bit more agreeable.”

Falconi nodded his head in agreement and they headed back downstairs. Sophie had no doubt that Parker was already on her way back to the hotel. Tight security or not, there was no way in hell anyone could be able to catch her.



Note: Blue and green diamonds are very rare, especially naturally colored stones. In 1988, Sotheby’s Auction House sold a round, 0.90-carat VS2 clarity, vivid green of natural color for $663,000 to an American collector. The per-carat price was over $736,000. I used this information I found online and then doubled the carat weight.

In 1987 Sotheby’s Auction House sold a Hancock Red diamond, 0.95-carat for $880,000.

Past Mistakes

Chapter 10

“Okay, Hardison. Are we all set?” Nate was sitting behind the wheel of his car, on a side street, half a block from the jail. His impatience was growing at a fast clip.

Hardison’s magic fingers flew over the keys nonstop as he grunted an affirmative. He closed one window and half a second later a second one popped up. The man was pure genius and Nate wondered how he managed to keep it all straight in his head.

But genius or no, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference if they couldn’t con their way inside those gray walls, and soon. Nate drummed his fingers on the steering wheel absentmindedly and watched the drizzle turn into an outright downpour. Talk about your omens. If he was a superstitious man he’d be really worried right about now.

On the drive over Nate had called Sophie and filled her in on the latest plan that had gone south. Sophie insisted on catching the first flight out of Vegas, as did Parker. Nate vetoed the idea in a heartbeat. Falconi might become suspicious if both women suddenly disappeared. No, he needed them right in the thick of things where they could keep an eye on the mob man.

Hardison flexed his fingers and stretched his back to work out some of the kinks. When he looked over at Nate, he smiled that incredibly bright smile that said ‘Got it Boss.’

“Ready, Hardison?” asked Nate grinning back.

“Yup, you’re already in the system. Just flash your badge and you’re good to go.”

“Let’s do this.” Nate opened the door on his side of the car and hurried through the downpour. Hardison was close on his heels. By the time they reached the front entrance of the building, both men were dripping wet from head to toe.

Nate flashed his ‘official’ police badge and was escorted, along with Hardison, to a small conference room on the second floor. They were met by several other officers, plain clothes and off duty, listening to the latest Intel that had been smuggled out of the county lockup.

Nate told Hardison to circulate and glean anything he could about the hostage situation and Eliot’s status. The hacker naturally took off in the direction of the control room. What better place to start than with a room full of surveillance tapes. He tapped on the window and flashed his badge to the guard stationed inside. The buzzer sounded and the door automatically opened with a click.

Hardison pushed his way into an uncomfortable looking chair and took a gander at all the monitors hanging from the wall. He held back a grimace at all the carnage that had taken place.

“Damn, would you look at that!” he muttered.

The officer seated beside him agreed. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been here almost eleven years. It’s enough to make you want to throttle someone.”

Hardison gave the man a sideways glance, but said nothing. He kept his eyes glued to the monitors, silently hoping for a glimpse of Eliot. He saw inmates looting the canteen, looking for contraband food. Still others were caught on film breaking into small storerooms where the supplies were kept. The infirmary had been rifled and scattered syringes lay broken on the floor. The room where over-the-counter and prescribed meds were kept was looted as well. All in all it nearly square inch that wasn’t locked down had been vandalized.

Still no Eliot. Where in the hell was he?

Hardison heard Nate asking for an update, but he couldn’t reply without seeming a little strange. Somehow he had to get this guy out of the control room.

An idea occurred to the hacker and he scooted closer to the keyboard on his right. While the officer was busy making his third cup of coffee Hardison typed in the command to have his fellow officer paged to another part of the building. ‘Too slick,’ he thought to himself as he watched the man being routed on a wild goose chase. Hardison then settled in closer to the monitors and brought Nate up to speed.

Nate found himself in the thick of things as he prepared to listen to the demands of the hostage takers. A slow achy feeling found its way to the center of his forehead and settled there. The coffee was stale and the air around him even staler. No one moved, not even a whisper prevailed. Time seemed to drag by and every tick of the clock plastered on the wall made Nate cringe in agony. What he wouldn’t give for a stiff drink right about now.

Hardison was running out of patience. He’d been all over the video, from every angle, and still there was no sign of the hitter. It could be that he was safely tucked away in his cell, but Hardison seriously doubted it.

Last time they were together was at the supply closet. Where was the monitor that ran the feed for that particular area? There is it. The room was unoccupied and the door to the closet was closed. A movement caught his eye and he zeroed in on the door. There it was again. Someone was hiding in that little supply room. He zoomed in some more. He caught a glimpse of a hand and of a blond head. Well damn, definitely not Eliot. He zoomed in even closer on the face and then it hit him. He was looking into the face of their client, Bryan. But the question remained. Where the hell was Eliot?

“Nate, I got something.”

Nate covered his head in his hand as he spoke. “What is it?”

“I found Bryan on one of the feeds. He’s hiding in a supply closet, down the hall from the dayroom.”

“Show me,” Nate commanded. He pulled out his phone the pretext of making a phone call. When he pulled up the video, he confirmed what Hardison had found.

“Anything on Eliot?” he asked.

“Nothing so far. It’s as if he fell off the face of the planet.”

“I’m thinking,” whispered Nate, “that Eliot stashed the boy there for safe keeping. Isn’t that where you were supposed to meet him this afternoon?”

“Why yes it is,” he said lightheartedly.”

“Keep an eye on that video feed and don’t let that boy out of your sight for a minute. Got that?”

“Yeah, boss. I’ll take care of it. Heard anything about any demands?”

“Yes, As a matter of fact, I have. As the chief hostage negotiator I get to dicker with those pin heads over what they want on their pizzas. “Oh, and they want chocolate milk for breakfast. Seriously?”

Hardison kept his chuckle to himself. As if there was any other choice but pepperoni. And no chocolate milk for him. Now, orange soda. That was another story.

“I’m up Hardison,” said Nate as he looked around the room. “I’ll let you know what I know as soon as I can.”

“I’ll be right here waiting.”

“Remember, stay focused on Bryan and keep an eye out for Eliot.”

“Well I’ll be damned. Speak of the devil and he appears.”

“Eliot? Where is he?”

“He’s headed straight for that supply closet.”

“Well now I guess you got two to keep your eye on now.”

“I just wish we had some way of getting through to him.”

“He’ll be fine Hardison. He’s been in worse situations than this and made it out in one piece.” ‘There is one thing you can do though.”

“What’s that?”

“Make sure that the area where he’s stashed Bryan is kept secure. Can you do that?”

“Yeah, yeah, I can do that.”

Past Mistakes

Chapter 9

Bryan crouched under a table in the mess hall and waited patiently until the coast was clear. From his vantage point he could see prisoners running to and fro in the hallway. Some clutched homemade weapons in their hands, while others just tried to stay out of their way.

Where were the guards?

Bryan wasn’t sure what was going on, but he knew instinctively that it wasn’t good. He’d been on his way back from the visitation room when it seemed like all hell had broken loose. The alarms started blaring, and the doors and cell cages rolled shut in an effort to isolate the prisoners, and diffuse the problem. He’d barely managed to make it this far before the jail had gone on lock down. But for the moment, he was safe and content.

Footsteps running in the hall made him look up expectantly. When they paused just outside the door to where he was hiding, Bryan went on alert. Something in their demeanor told him that these weren’t just ordinary inmates caught up in the moment.

There were two of them and they were on a mission. They whispered amongst themselves, obviously making some sort of plan. The taller of the two looked around cautiously before he crossed the threshold of the mess hall.

The smaller man remained in the doorway as a lookout.

Bryan pushed himself as far back as possible, until his back bumped up against the brick wall. The main lights had gone out with the lock down. Emergency lights had come on in their place, casting eerie shadows in every corner. It made for a creepy atmosphere, reminding Bryan of a late night horror show he’d seen as a kid. In the movie the creature had devoured its victims one by one, until the hero had arrived to save the day. But unfortunately, in real life that never happened.

He should have stayed in his cell; At least there he’d have some measure of safety to fall back on. No one would be able to sneak up on him without being seen, losing the element of surprise.

The taller man was now leaning down slightly, just to the left of Bryan’s hiding place, searching under the tables and benches for… For what, he wondered? Was he the object of the man’s search?

Swallowing his ever growing fear, Bryan realized that he was trapped. Caught between the taller man almost beside him, and the other man still lurking in the doorway, he knew he was living on borrowed time.

Time stood still and the tension was making Bryan sweat profusely. He decided to chance a quick look around. Crawling forward on all fours, he cautiously stuck his head out of his hiding place. He spotted the taller man slowly inching forward, automatically checking underneath each row of tables. His front was to Bryan, moving toward him in a systematic pattern.

The lookout was still rooted to the same spot and growing increasingly agitated. The man glanced behind him repeatedly in an obvious sign of unrest. A silent form moved steadily down the hall, hugging the walls and shadows. Quiet as night he took out the lookout without even breaking a sweat.

Bryan watched transfixed as the shadow loomed up behind the taller man and grabbed him in a chokehold. Fluid as rain, he lowered the unconscious man to the ground and then pocketed the homemade knife.

“Bryan,” Eliot called. “Where are you?”

“Over here,” Bryan said relieved. He crawled out from his place under the table and stood up.

Eliot dragged the unconscious man out of sight and did the same with the smaller man lying in the doorway.

“We need to find you a place to lay low for a while,” said the hitter. “Follow me.”

Bryan ran to catch up with Eliot and then the two of them took off in search of someplace safe to stash the younger man.

“You should be safe here,” said Eliot as he checked the utility closet for stowaways. It was the same closet he’d taken Abel to earlier. It was also the meeting place he’d set up with Hardison earlier in the day.

“Wait a minute. You’re just leaving me here? What if someone else comes looking for me again?”

Eliot paused just inside the door. The boy was quaking in his boots. He at least owed him some explanation for what was going on.

“Look Bry, I know it’s hard, but you gotta trust me. Eliot hesitated. “Remember those threatening notes you were getting?”

Bryan nodded his head. “And I kept my mouth shut, just like I was supposed to.”

“Looks like someone isn’t willing to take the chance that you’ll keep silent.”

“Silent about what? What am I supposed to know? Tell me?” he pleaded.

“I might have said too much already,” admitted the hitter.

“It’s too late for that. I’m already knee deep in it. And I still don’t know what “it” is.”

Bryan sank to the floor and covered his head with his hands. “Does this have something to do with my dad’s old life?”

“It’s looking that way. Falconi found out where your family had been relocated. He was blackmailing your father, forcing him back into the business.”

“But, what does that have to do with me? I never even met the man.”

“You were just a convenient scapegoat for his son’s murder. He wanted your father to pay for selling him out to the feds. Falconi also knew he could keep your father tied to him forever if something happened to you.”

“So he paid some people to take me out?” asked Bryan, astonished.

“It’s looking that way,” agreed Eliot.

Bryan blew out a tired breath. “Guess that explains a lot. Why I’m stuck in limbo. I’m just a sitting duck in this place.”

“Just hang in there, Bry. The cavalry’s on its way.”

“I thought you were the cavalry.”

“I’m just the point man.”

Eliot smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “Think you’ll be alright for a while?”

“I can hold up my end.”

“Just stay quiet and lock the door after I’m gone. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Bryan grabbed Eliot’s hand and shook it. “Thanks for everything.”

Past Mistakes

Chapter 8

Nate eased the door open to his condo to find Hardison hard at work on his laptop. “How’d it go today?” he asked.

The hacker looked up from his laptop and smiled. “We’re getting closer as I speak. Eliot and I managed to find someone willing to talk.”

“Just be sure that your witness is credible,” cautioned Nate. “We need to build a solid case against that slime ball Falconi.”

“Oh, he’s credible alright. Just take a look at what I coughed up.” Hardison transferred the data stored on his laptop to the six screens mounted on the wall.

“Abel Markesan,” he continued. “Age 52, is currently sitting in county lock up waiting for his trial to begin. He was arrested for embezzlement four months ago.”

Nate raised one eyebrow in question. And how is this going to help our case?”

“Up until that fateful day, the man’s criminal background had been squeaky clean. Abel didn’t even so much as have a parking ticket to his name.”

“So, what changed for him?”

Hardison clicked another image onscreen. “This is Abel’s wife, Jenny. They’ve been married to each other for over twenty-seven years. Never had any kids but they’re totally devoted to each other. Last year Jenny got sick with the big “C”. It’s a very aggressive type of cancer and it leaves most of its victims dead from it in less than six months.”

Luckily, Jenny’s was caught in the early stages and her doctors assured her and Abel that it was treatable. But that kind of treatment doesn’t come cheap. Abel took out a second mortgage on their home, but unfortunately it wasn’t nearly enough to forestall their money problems.”

“The bank threatened to foreclose on the home and Abel grew increasingly desperate. So desperate in fact that he allegedly embezzled almost one-hundred thousand dollars from his employer. He got caught two weeks later when an unannounced audit discovered the theft.”

“Okay, what have you got on his former employer?” asked Nate.

“Name of the company is Micro Management. They’ve been in business since the late seventies. It’s a small, but very lucrative accounting firm that caters to wealthy individuals with old money.”

“Abel handled some of the firm’s wealthiest client’s money for years. He was a trusted and valued employee, always above suspicion and beyond reproach. When he was arrested for the alleged theft Abel’s employer took it hard. But he had no choice in the matter. He fired him before the ink was barely dry on Abel’s arrest warrant.”

“He knew the repercussions” said Nate. “Abel’s employer probably managed close to hundreds of millions of dollars for his clients. He could have lost his license over this and still might if an independent audit finds any more irregularities in his client’s accounts. Not to mention all the lawsuits that could pop up.”

“This Abel character really got to me, Nate. So I did some hacking into the accounts that were red flagged by the feds. I’m pretty sure that I could finagle it to look like the money was misplaced or something.”

“Won’t work Hardison. If this Abel character is as good as you say he wouldn’t make a mistake so glaringly obvious.”

“I was afraid you’d say something like that.”

“Don’t worry,” said Nate. “We’ll make sure that Abel and his wife are taken care of somehow.”

An awkward silence soon followed.

Nate scrubbed his face as the weariness settled in around him. He rose from the sofa and headed to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee.

Hardison grabbed his laptop and followed the older man into the kitchen. He settled in one of the bar stools beside the counter.

Nate suddenly found himself thinking about Sam. He’d be nine years old this year and in third grade. He had been a sweet child from the moment he was born. Never giving his parents a moment’s worth of heartache or pain.

Sam had been an exceptionally gifted athlete from the time he learned to walk. Baseball, football, and basketball were all he talked about, from the time he woke until his head hit the pillow at night.

But hockey had been his number one passion in life. Nate could recall fondly the times he’d dropped his son off at hockey practice at the local ice rink. Watching Sam as he took to the sport like a fish to water. He had a gift, the coach said. A talent as natural as breathing and he wouldn’t be denied. It was a shame that those dreams would never come to fruition. Oh well, so much for dreams, thought Nate sadly.

He realized with a start that Eliot had the same fondness for sports. Was it a coincidence that he aligned himself with the hitter? Maybe it was an unconscious desire to get closer to his son’s memory by becoming more involved in Eliot’s life? What kind of sick bastard would do something like that, he thought wryly.

If Eliot had been aware of Nate’s motives, he never let on. The two of them seemed to gravitate toward Nate’s ungodly amount of sports channels at least two or three times a week, with a bowl of popcorn between them and a six pack of Eliot’s favorite beer.

“You okay, boss?”

Nate waved him off. “Oh yeah I’m fine. I was thinking how mad Eliot’s going to be when he can’t watch the football game tonight.

“Oh that,” said Hardison in an offhanded manner. “Trust me; he’ll probably be in the thick of things at the county jail. He won’t miss a second of the action onscreen.

Hardison’s cell took that very moment to ring. The hacker reached for it and cursed when he realized who was calling.

“What’s up?” Hardison asked. His breath hitched in his throat as he scrambled over the couch to turn on the local news channel.

“Yeah, I got it now. I’ll be there in two shakes.”

“Hardison?”

“Nate, better come look at this,” he said solemnly. “We may have a situation.”

“This breaking news just in,” said the local news anchor. “As of seven-thirty this evening, the county jail is on mandatory lock down. The details are sketchy, but unconfirmed sources point to an attempt by an unknown perpetrator to take over one of the cell block units. Some guards may have been grabbed to use as hostages.”

There have been numerous reports of injuries, but so far none are life-threatening. Hostage negotiators are en route and officials hope to resolve the situation without the use of deadly force.”

“Once again…”

Hardison shut it off and rubbed his aching head. “I’ve been called in to help out.”

“I’m going as well,” said Nate as he grabbed his coat and hat. “Grab your laptop and meet me in the car. I’ll drive; you find me a way in.”

“I’m right behind you.”

Past Mistakes

Chapter 7

Eliot tensed as he felt the familiar closeness of someone creeping up behind him. Ensconced in one of the chairs in the day room, the hitter pretended to be engrossed in the latest copy of Kung Fu Monthly.

He mentally tamped down the tension that roiled in his stomach, as the intruder grew even closer. A few more feet, that’s it; just a little bit closer. Stupid idiot must have a death wish to try and take him out.

A slight noise directly behind the hitter and a hint of a breeze had him out of his seat before a fist had the chance to connect with his jaw. The inmate was caught off guard and slightly off balance. With the element of surprise in his favor, Eliot pivoted on his feet and latched onto his prey, dragging the unwilling prisoner down the hall.

Yanking the door to the utility closet open with his other hand, Eliot shoved the sorry mass of humanity into the small space and followed him in. Hardison, in his guard uniform, turned and locked the door behind them.

Faced with an unknown future, the inmate scurried as far away as possible from the hulking figure. Eliot smiled and leaned nonchalantly against the door and eyed the older prisoner with contempt in his icy blue eyes.

The silence was suffocating in the small closet, closing in around the older man with every passing second. He looked around the small room, hoping to spy something to use as a weapon, but he realized the futility of that almost immediately. One look at Eliot and the older inmate knew he had met his match. Not that he’d have had much of a chance anyway.

“What do you want?” the older inmate finally blurted.

“What’s your name?” Eliot asked instead.

“Name’s Abel,” he said roughly. He eyed Eliot suspiciously. “Now, like I said before. What do you want with me?”

“You don’t get to ask the questions,” stated Eliot firmly, as he sized the older man up.
Pushing himself away from the closed door, the hitter came to stand in front of the older man.

“Now tell me Abel, why are you stalking me?”

The man was taken aback. “Me, stalking you. Come on,” he said laughing out loud. “No one in their right mind would believe a tall tale like that.”

“Wanna test your theory, old man? How about we start with the guard posted outside this door?”

The older man blanched. “It’s nothing personal. Just trying to earn a little spending money is all.”

“You got a death wish or something?” asked Eliot.

Abel swallowed the lump of fear in his throat. “Like I said nothing…”

“Yeah, yeah. I heard you before.” This line of questioning was getting him nowhere. It was time to change tactics.

“What are you in for?”

“White collar crime. Embezzling.”

“Seems like quite a leap from that to murder don’t’cha think?”

Abel visibly flinched. “Murder? Now wait a minute. No one said a word about murder!”

“What did they tell you then?” pressed Eliot.

“I’m just supposed to keep an eye on you and then report back. That’s all, I swear it! Someone else is taking care of the problem with the young punk.”

“Give me a name.”

Abel laughed in his face. “My life may not seem like much to you, but I prefer to keep on breathing.”

Eliot’s grabbed Abel’s throat forcibly and squeezed. The man’s eyes nearly popped out of his head as he struggled to breathe.”

“How’s it for you now?”

Abel raised his hands in defeat and Eliot relinquished his hold on the older man. Abel slid to the floor in a heap as he struggled to bring air into his starved lungs.

Crossing his trunk like arms over his broad chest, Eliot took on the look of a menacing thug, out for blood. He loomed over Abel in a manner that brooked no argument.

“Who are you working for?” asked Eliot.

“I don’t have a name for you.”

Eliot’s face was deceptively calm as he leaned in farther, until he was nose to nose with the older man.

“Alright, alright,” said Abel as he rubbed his ravaged throat. “All I know is that there was a message left in my cell the other day. In return for doing a little spying, I’d get a stipend placed in my account every week to spend in the canteen.”

“You’d risk your life for a stipend? Unbelievable!” roared Eliot.

“Believe me,” said Abel. “If I hadn’t agreed, somebody else would have. You have no idea what’s it’s like in here just trying to survive, day after day, week after week.”

“Go on.”

“Like I said, it was just a note.”

“You’re stalling. Give me a name.”

“I can’t,” said Abel. “Please I’m afraid.”

Eliot pulled back suddenly and rapped on the utility door. The lock turned and in stepped the guard with a questioning look in his eyes.

“Abel,” said Eliot as he pointed to Hardison. “I want you to meet a friend of mine. He’s here to help.”

“You’re crazy,” said the older man as he stood to leave. “And I’m outta here.”

“I’m afraid we can’t let you do that,” insisted Hardison. ”Too many innocent lives are at stake, like Jenny’s.”

Abel’s vision swam before his eyes as he struggled to stay upright. “How did you know about my wife?”

“That’s what I do,” explained Hardison. “Now we know the basic outline, we just need you to fill in the blanks.”

“If you know about my wife, then you know I couldn’t possibly put her in any more danger.”

“You look like a smart man,” said Hardison. “Do you honestly think that whoever’s pulling the strings will let you walk away in one piece?”

“You don’t understand,” said Abel in a feeble voice. “My Jenny has cancer. She’s all alone on the outside. It’s my fault.” Breaking down in sobs, the older man slid to the floor and cradled his head in his hands. “Falconi’s his name. That’s all I know, I swear it.”

Eliot turned to Hardison. “Whatta ya think, man.”

“I could do some more checking, but I’m not promising anything.”

Abel looked up, confused. ‘What are you two talking about?” he asked.

Eliot crossed over and kneeled down beside the older man. “Why’d you steal the money, man?”

Abel answered without hesitation. “For my Jenny. Everything I always did was for her.”

Hardison nodded slightly at the hitter. “I suppose if the money should suddenly turn up one day, then maybe Abel’s old employer might be persuaded to drop the charges.”

Abel looked cautiously hopeful. “One-hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money. Why me?” he asked, hopeful.

Eliot simply shrugged and shook his head. ‘Maybe I’m having an off day.”

Hardison looked doubtful. “No man, you’re just getting soft.”

“Who’s getting soft, huh? Just look at yourself man. You couldn’t fight your way out of a paper bag.”

“How could you see to do it, Eliot? With all that hair hanging in your face.”

“You’re just jealous Hardison. Admit it.”

“Jealous of what,” snorted Hardison.

“Maybe it’s the fact that women find me irresistible, little brother.”

“Now I know you’re delusional.”

“I’m delusional? Hardison I oughta kick your ass…”

“Uh guys, I hate to interrupt, but what the hell is going on here?” Abel asked as he looked from one face to another. “You know you not exactly putting my mind at ease with all your bickering.

Hardison waved the older man off. “It’s nothing, really. Just blowing off some steam.”

“Speak for yourself,” huffed Eliot. “I’m not the one with focus issues.”

“For the sake of the job, I’m going to ignore that. Now,” said Hardison, as he turned back to face the older man. “We need to get you out of here before someone comes looking for you.”

Hardison opened the door and poked his head though. “Okay, the coast is clear,” he stated. Opening the door wider he ushered Eliot through first. Abel followed behind the hitter and Hardison brought up the rear.

A sudden pinprick of pain brought Abel’s head around. The floor suddenly rose up to meet him and he realized that he’d been tricked. “Why?” It was all he managed to say before he lost consciousness.

“Damn it Hardison,” cursed Eliot as he eased the older man to the floor. “What did you trank him with?” Checking the man’s pulse, Eliot found it steady and strong.

“Nothing harmful, I assure you. He should be fine in a day or two?”

“Just make sure that whatever you used can’t be traced back to any of us. We can’t afford to throw any undue suspicion on Abel until we can get his wife somewhere safe.”

Hardison helped Eliot drag Abel over to a more secluded spot and propped him against the wall. “You better make yourself scarce’” he said. “I can handle it from here.”

“Alright,” agreed the hitter. “I need to check on Bryan anyway. See how visitation went.”

“Don’t forget our prearranged time.”

“Got it,” said Eliot as he sprinted away.

“And Eliot…”

“What?”

“Just be careful.”

“You too.”

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