I was starting to feel like it was D-Day.
Something was going to happen today, one way or another.
Alex and I had spent the weekend on edge. Neither of us could quit thinking about our possible suspects and the duplicity involved with this thing and who amongst our peers might actually be responsible for getting Ross killed.
Of course, we couldn't talk about any of this out loud.
Not in the apartment, anyway.
So we'd gone for walks and out to eat and we'd spent time in the bathroom.
Actually, we'd taken a couple of long, hot baths while I quizzed Alex on what she needed to know for her exam.
I had no doubt that she'd ace it.
And as excited for her as I was, I did have to admit to a little bit of apprehension about my fate.
I'd have to break in a new partner.
And even though I would obviously never find one that compared to Alex, I would have to accept the fact that I would need to play nice.
I certainly wouldn't want to make too much trouble for the boss.
So I promised myself that whoever I ended up with, I would not give a repeat performance of my brief stint with Bishop.
That had been a disaster and while she had been much less than desirable as a partner, I also had to admit that some of our troubles had been my fault.
I'd simply been unable to cope with anyone but Alex.
But this time would be different.
This time, Alex would still be at Major Case.
And she'd also be in my bed.
So yeah, I'd learn to deal.
But so Monday morning, she and I went to the federal building together.
"You know, even if Isabelle fingers who was chummy with her around the time of the database access that doesn't necessarily mean that person is our mole," Alex said reasonably as we got onto the elevator.
We'd been down this road several times over the past three days, but talking it out was all we could do until we heard from Maas.
And of course, she was right. Accessing my file didn't scream mole. It was unethical, but still…although there was the matter of accessing Ross' file, too. That was a little more damning but it wasn't the nail in the coffin.
But the hope was that combining Isabelle's confession with what we already knew would allow us to narrow our focus.
"Let's wait to hear from Maas," I said quietly. "And then we'll go talk to…whomever."
We got off the elevator and went down the hall to Stahl's office. We hadn't spoken with her since before we'd gone to Port Jervis. That case had lasted nearly a month and then she'd been out sick and we'd been sent to Quantico.
"Goren and Eames," she said pleasantly after Alex knocked lightly on the doorframe. "Come on in."
"I hope you're feeling better," Alex said. "Casteel said that you had the flu."
"Yes, and I'm sorry about that."
"You're sorry that you were sick?"
"Casteel took advantage of the fact that I was absent to send you guys off to Quantico. You have me to blame for two weeks of hell. Although I heard that you both did very well."
"It wasn't so bad," I told her. "And two weeks was better than sixteen."
"Definitely," she agreed. "So, have a seat."
Alex and I sat down across from her and waited to hear about our next assignment.
Although as I looked at her, I had some trouble concentrating because the images from the negatives came to mind.
Would she have hired a private investigator on herself?
It was plausible.
But then why the fake name on the post office box?
If she was going to go that far, why not use a random fake name with Buster?
"First and second place, huh? Casteel couldn't stop talking about you two this morning. I met him for coffee and he was bursting with pride as though he'd trained you himself."
"I'm sure he appreciates boosting the image of his field office," I replied.
I wasn't used to being called in to a superior's office for the purpose of accolades.
Usually it was for reprimands.
Although, how would it be when Alex was my boss?
Would she call me in and yell at me behind closed doors?
Would she put a mark in my jacket?
Maybe I'd have to be on a little better behavior. I'd hate to put her in that position.
I'd also have to insist that if I did screw up then she'd have to treat me like every other detective.
I realized that Stahl was still talking, so I forced myself to focus on her conversation.
"I wanted to apologize for how I spoke with the two of you the last time you were in here. I know that some time has passed, but I also don't want it to be the elephant in the room."
"You were upset," Alex said reasonably. "You're allowed."
"Well, I'm not allowed to take it out on my agents," she insisted. "It was unprofessional of me, and it won't happen again."
"Apology accepted," I said.
"Good. Okay, I'm glad that we got that out of the way. Agent Lacey has requested the two of you any time that you become available, so if it's alright with you, I'd like to send you to work with her."
"She has a case?" I asked. I liked working with Lacey, but I really didn't want us to get sent out of town again. I wanted to wrap this damn thing up.
"Actually, she's cleaning up some paperwork that managed to accumulate while you guys were in Port Jervis."
"Okay, sure," Alex said.
"Of course, she's up next in the rotation, so if something comes in…"
"We understand," I replied as I got up from the chair. I followed Alex out of the room and we headed in the direction of Lacey's office.
"Was it just me, or were you trying to picture her as the mole?" I said quietly to Alex as we walked down the hall.
"It's not just you," she agreed. "But I don't see it. You know, with the way Hassan was cleaning house, she's lucky they didn't try to take her out, too."
"Well, she wasn't trying to infiltrate his organization," I reasoned. "I don't think he's too afraid of law enforcement."
"Are you two gonna stand in the hall all day or are you going to get to work?"
It was Lacey and she was headed in our direction with a smile on her face and a steaming cup of coffee in her hand.
"If all you've got is paperwork, we might stand in the hall," Alex joked.
"It's all I've got for now," she admitted. "But I've got my fingers crossed."
So we the three of us went into her office and got to work. We spent the next couple of hours dotting I's and crossing T's along with carrying on sporadic conversation.
"What's Banta up to today?" Alex asked as she put yet another completed form on the stack on Lacey's desk.
"Oh, so you can tell he's not in the building, huh?" Lacey laughed. "He's something, isn't he? He's got enough ego for three men and yet barely enough ass for one."
"That's a good description," Alex agreed. "So he's out on a case?"
"He had to testify in court today," she explained. "But you know, don't let his bluster fool you. He's a decent enough guy. I mean, if he weren't then he wouldn't do what he does."
"Which is…what exactly?" I asked.
"Oh, you know. The thing with Global Crossroad."
"What is that?" Alex asked.
Lacey finally looked up from her paperwork.
"You haven't heard about it? Well, see now that's the thing with Banta I guess. If he manages to talk some innocent young thing into his bed he wants to post it on Facebook, but when he uses his two weeks of vacation every year to volunteer in Madagascar, well…he's all hush-hush."
Banta volunteered in Africa?
I tried to keep the shock from my face as I caught Alex's eye. His unsupported trips had been the main reason we kept him so high on our suspect list. But he'd been going over there to…volunteer?
"How long has he been doing that?" Alex asked her, although she kept her eyes locked on mine.
"I'm not sure. A few years now, I think. His trip this year fell through, which was why he got stuck with some unused vacation time."
I was only halfway listening because I was trying to process this information.
McHale was our other main suspect.
Did this mean that she was our mole?
I was so ready for this investigation to be over because quite honestly, I liked these people.
I mean, maybe not Banta, but Lacey…McHale…Stahl. They were hard-working agents and yet one of them was pulling the wool over our eyes.
I felt like a sheepdog trying to sniff out which sheep was actually the wolf in a costume.
And the costumes were all pretty damn good.
I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket, so I pulled it out as I looked at the clock on the wall.
It was a little early for Maas, but I still held out hope.
Because Alex was sitting right beside me and there weren't too many other people who sent me text messages.
I flipped open my phone and read the one-word text.
And then I read it again.
And then I read it a third time, mostly because I didn't want to believe it.
"You okay, Goren?" Lacey asked, and I forced my eyes away from the screen of my phone so that I could look across the desk at her.
"Yeah, I'm…sorry," I managed to say. "I…can you excuse us for a minute?"
Smooth, Goren, I thought.
"Is everything alright?"
"Yes," I said as I got up from the chair. Alex got up, too, and the two of us headed for the door. "I just got some bad news from an old friend."
I ushered Alex out the door and then, with my hand on the small of her back, I guided her quickly down the hall and into the break room.
It was empty at the moment which was a godsend because I needed to get a grip on myself.
I mean, I'd tried to prepare myself for all possibilities, but still…
"It's Stahl," I said without waiting for her to ask.
"What?" she asked in alarm.
"Stahl," I repeated. "I got a text from Maas. Isabelle must have ID'd Stahl."
"Oh my God," she muttered. "Okay, wait. This doesn't mean…you know, we said that it doesn't mean…"
"I know. But we have to confront her with it. We can't change our plan just because we like her."
"So…what?" Alex asked, and she was clearly just as thrown by this news as I was. "She hired the detective to follow her when she met with Ross so that she could get the picture to give to Hassan? Is that what we're saying? She set it up to make it look like someone else was trailing her but she'd arranged it herself?"
"That's what we're saying," I agreed quietly. "And that explains why she wasn't targeted by Hassan after he got that photo. He didn't kill her because she was working for him."
"Maybe," Alex conceded. She was quiet for a minute and then looked up at me. "So you think that Beemer knew?"
"It would explain why he was killed," I said, even though I hated the idea. "As his partner, she may even have had a key to his apartment. She could've planted the surveillance tapes in his place for Banta to find later. Didn't Casteel say that the killer was about five-six?"
She held my gaze and gave me a slow nod. And as we continued to stare at each other, I thought about things more rationally.
If we were right, then Stahl had knowingly caused Ross' death.
It didn't matter if she'd snowed us with her amenable personality.
This was what we were here to uncover.
Now we could finish the job.
If she was guilty, we'd take her down and then get on with our lives.
Our real lives.
"Okay, so…how do you want to play this?" Alex asked me, and she seemed to have rediscovered her strength just as I had.
"I think that it'll be tough to prove anything," I said. "It's all supposition."
"We'll need to get her to confess," Alex replied firmly.
"Well then, it's a good thing that's our specialty."