We left Buster's place armed with the negatives and the address to where he'd mailed the pictures.
"I think if we'd have stayed in there for ten more minutes, I would've been completely stoned," Alex remarked as we hurried down the stairs. "I hope it was just marijuana that he had burning and not something worse."
"Do you feel okay?" I asked her.
Because I was feeling a little fuzzy and she was half my size.
"Yeah," she responded. "Just…I don't know…slow. I mean, those pictures, Bobby. I can't seem to grasp what it means."
"We just need some fresh air," I decided.
We quickened our pace and finally emerged in the lobby. There were now two guys standing just inside the door, and when they saw us, they quickly dropped their hands and turned their backs to us.
"That whole damn building is toxic," Alex said after we got outside. "Did you smell what those guys were smoking?"
"I held my breath," I admitted.
"I wish I had," she muttered.
We stopped on the sidewalk next to the car and each of us took in several deep, cleansing breaths.
"Okay," she said at last. "Okay, this is better."
"Are you sure?"
"Uh huh. I just hope the department doesn't make us do a drug screen before we go back to work."
"So…we need to track this PO Box. We can go over there with pictures of all of our suspects and see which one the clerk picks out."
Because even though the name given to Buster was Wendy Stahl, we had our doubts as to whether or not it was actually her. Especially now.
"Assuming he picks out any of them. It's been a long time," I reminded her. "The clerk who rented out the box might not even still work there."
"True," she agreed. "But it's a start. Because whoever hired Buster is our mole."
And to think we'd only learned of him through a casual conversation with McHale.
Because of her off-hand remark, we now held in our hands the negatives of pictures of Stahl and Ross on the ferry.
One of these negatives was for the photo left at the scene of Ross' murder.
We debated calling Maas, but considering it was after midnight we decided against it.
It was tough having this kind of case-breaking information and yet not being able to do anything about it. The adrenaline was flowing and questions were storming my brain and yet I was just supposed to sit on my hands and wait.
But that was exactly what we had to do.
The next day, we went to the UPS Store where the post office box was located, but the employee turnover rate there was astronomical.
Apparently seven clerks had come and gone since February, and the box had changed hands more than a dozen times.
However, they were able to pull up the record as to who had rented the box.
"Isn't the applicant required to write down a permanent address?" I asked him.
"They did. It says One Police Plaza," the guy replied triumphantly.
And even though the turnover rate for this place was high, it appeared as though the IQ requirements for obtaining this job was at the opposite end of the spectrum.
"What kind of identification is required to rent a box?" Alex asked the clerk. "I mean, let's say I want one."
"Sure, okay," the guy replied. And he actually pulled out a card in preparation to rent her a box. He handed her the form along with a pen. "Fill this out and I'll need the first month's payment and then you're good to go."
She looked at me and rolled her eyes before turning back to the clerk.
"I don't actually want one," she clarified. "I'm asking you what you would do if I were to say…oh, I don't know…that I'm Taylor Swift and I want a box."
"And I'm telling you, Taylor," he said pointedly. "Fill out the card and pay the rent and you've got one."
"Just like that. You don't need to see my ID?"
"Why? You just told me your name."
The store phone rang so the clerk stepped away from us to answer it and Alex let out an annoyed sigh.
"We're no farther along than we were before we got here. It obviously didn't take any kind of identification expert to come in here and rent a box using Ross' name."
"I'm surprised the person didn't ask for the negatives," I remarked. "I mean, our trail would be cold if we didn't have those. The person who hired Buster was Stahl, and the pictures were mailed to a box rented to Ross. Both leads are dead ends."
"Maybe our guy didn't consider that there were negatives. Actual film photography is a lost art. Most people use digital now."
"True," I agreed thoughtfully.
"And he probably thought he was being cute by using Ross' name for the box."
"He," I commented. "So are we back to thinking it's a man? Banta?"
"Not necessarily," she said. She held my gaze for a minute longer and then shook her head. "I just don't know."
"Let's go," I said. "It's almost time to meet Maas, and this guy sure isn't going to tell us anything we don't already know."
We headed for the exit as the clerk got off the phone.
"Taylor! You don't want a box?" he called out to us.
"Not today," Alex called back over her shoulder, and then she muttered, "What an idiot."
An hour later, we were seated in a diner in Queens.
I was starting to feel like a diner connoisseur after eight months of these clandestine meetings.
"You've got the negative for the photo found on Ross' body?" Maas asked in surprise after we filled him in.
"That's right. Someone hired a private detective to follow Agent Stahl," I told him.
"And the box was in Ross' name," he mumbled. "Somebody's got some balls."
"Not really. The place was really lax about showing proof of identity."
"So what do you think? Who's at the top of your suspect list?"
I glanced at Alex and gave her a nod.
"Banta. Maybe. Or McHale," she began uncertainly.
"Isn't McHale the one who told you about Buster?" Maas questioned.
"Yeah," I agreed. "But if she hired him while pretending to be Stahl, then she might have told us so that we'd start looking closer at Stahl."
"Right," Alex said. "And Banta's the one who supposedly told McHale about Buster. So if it's not her, then maybe he let the cat out of the bag since it would ultimately be misinformation."
"Not thinking about the negatives."
"We can only guess that the assumption was that it was digital as opposed to film."
"That's a pretty big assumption considering how damaging the negatives are," Maas replied.
"Is it?" Alex countered. "I mean, we have the negatives but we're still no closer to finding the mole."
"So what's your next step?"
"I think we need to go to Isabelle," I said. "We confront her with the fact that her computer accessed my file and we just point blank ask her who she was friendly with last winter."
"The downside is that if she's somehow in on it then she may lie. Or at least, she'll blow the whistle about your investigation," Maas pointed out. "You could have wasted the past eight months."
He had a point.
Although, I would never call these eight months a waste.
As job-oriented as I am, and as much as I want to nail the guy who outted Ross, I was still grateful for this time in the sense that it had brought me and Alex together.
But, like I said, he had a point about it potentially blowing the investigation.
"What are our other options?" Alex asked. "We can hit up Banta and ask him about his trips to Africa. We can corner McHale and ask her if she knows Isabelle. But I'd bet that the two of them are much more adept at lying than Isabelle, and we still run the risk of exposing our cover. If Banta's not our guy, then he'll be outraged by our suspicion and he'll tell anyone who'll listen."
"And if it's not McHale, she'll tell Lacey," I added. "Maybe even Stahl."
Maas nodded and leaned back in his seat.
"So?" he asked.
"What?" Alex replied.
"What are you two going to do? This is your show, not mine. I'm just here to offer support."
I looked at Alex again as I mentally rolled through our options.
We'd been waiting for a break, and this was it. Now we had to go with our gut and make a move.
But what did my gut say?
Denise seemed to think that she was an innocent victim in this thing, and if that was true, then she'd keep quiet.
And even if Denise was wrong about Isabelle then maybe we'd still be able to keep her quiet with the threat of prosecution.
So we had our best shot with her, because as far as going to the other two, I was equally unsure about each of them.
I was more inclined to think it was a woman, but yet Banta seemed like the more likely suspect.
And of course, I couldn't forget about Lacey and Stahl.
So the field was too broad.
I realized that Maas was watching us a split second after it occurred to me that we'd been staring at each other through the entirety of the thought process.
Although, in our defense, we'd done that long before we'd become an item. For some reason, looking at Alex helped me think.
I raised my eyebrow at Alex and waited to hear her conclusion.
"Isabelle," she said firmly.
"Me, too," I agreed.
"Okay," Maas said. "She's out of town for the weekend. She told Denise that she was going to visit family in Connecticut."
"So, Monday," I stated.
"Yes and no," Maas replied. "Monday, I'll talk to her."
"No buts. If she is in on it, then she'll think it's just me who's doing the investigating. It'll save your cover."
"But if she's in on it, then it'll put you in danger. Yours could be the next picture handed over to Hassan," Alex said with concern.
"Maybe. But if that's the case, then I'll just have to be more careful. And you two will have to start meeting with Moran," he replied with a wry grin. And then he reached in his pocket and pulled out an envelope. "Which reminds me, he told me to give this to you."
"Moran?" Alex questioned as she accepted the envelope.
"Uh huh," he answered as he got up from the table. "Keep a low profile over the weekend, and I'll be in touch by noon on Monday."
He left us alone and I watched as Alex opened the envelope.
"What is it?"
"It's…um…a study guide for the captain's exam," she said. "And a letter."
I waited patiently as she skimmed over Moran's letter.
"He signed me up for the next testing date," she said. "It's in three weeks."
"That's great," I said as relief flooded through me. Moran really did want us back.
And he really wanted to make Alex a captain.
"Yeah," she continued. "Apparently, he hadn't signed me up yet because he was afraid of putting my name on the list in case it was accessed by someone, but Denise changed the security on the file and put a flag on it so now if anyone looks, she'll know about it."
I put my arm around her and hugged her close to me.
"You're going to be Captain Eames," I whispered.
"Well, I have to pass first."
"Like I said," I assured her. "Captain Eames. I like the sound of that."
And I really did.
I was so thrilled that being partnered with me hadn't derailed her career.
And of course, she'd told me all along that she didn't care about things like that, but how could she not?
She'd worked hard to get where she was, and she deserved it.
I couldn't wait to wrap up this case and get back to the NYPD. I'd get to stand back and watch her shine.
"You know," I added, still holding her close. "I've never made love to a captain before."
"Well, if all goes well, we might be able to remedy that pretty soon."
"I'm not sure that I can wait. How about if today I make love to a lieutenant?" I suggested. "After all, Maas did suggest that we lay low for the weekend."
"I'm not sure that's what he had in mind," she said on a laugh.
"I'm pretty sure it's not," I agreed. "But what he doesn't know…"
"And Lieutenant? Detective," she corrected. She hadn't stuck around long enough to get used to her title and she liked to be obstinate about it. "I'm a detective."
"You're an agent. Special Agent Detective Lieutenant soon-to-be Captain Alex Eames. I'm not sure if there will be room in the bed for all of us," I teased.
"Then I'll just be Alex," she countered, running her hand over my chest and leaning in close, her lips mere inches from mine. "How about that?"
"That's all I'll ever need," I promised as I closed the last bit of space between us. "Just Alex."