In From the Cold

Chapter 31

Alex POV

I couldn't let it bug me that I'd honestly liked Stahl.

I guess that just meant that she was good at her job.

Her real job anyway.

The one where she was in bed with gun runners and sold out fellow law enforcement officers to her terrorist friends.

Apparently, she'd been nice to me and Bobby so that she could keep an eye on us.

She wanted to gain our trust so that we would feel comfortable confiding in her.

But I shook off my feeling of betrayal and walked side by side with Bobby down the hall to Stahl's office.

I felt like an athlete suiting up for the big game.

Because Bobby was right.

This was what we did.

We got criminals to confess.

"You ready?" he asked me in a barely audible voice.

"Oh yeah," I murmured.

And then I pushed open her office door without knocking.

I wanted to put her on her heels right from the start.

"Eames," she said in surprise. I watched her as she shuffled papers across her desk, subtly burying what she'd been working on. "And Goren. What's going on? You know, I'm usually not big on formalities, but I do appreciate a knock if the door's closed."

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said insincerely. "Are we interrupting?"

"It's eleven o'clock on a Monday morning. What do you think?" she retorted smartly. Then she took a deep breath and waved us over to the chairs. "Come on. Sit."

"No thank you," Bobby said. "I think we'll stand."

"Okay," she said cautiously. "What is it?"

"You know why we're here," I said firmly.

She looked at me for a minute and then shifted her gaze to Bobby briefly before returning it to me.

"No, I don't."

"Cut the crap, Stahl. It's over," Bobby said. "We know."

Because, see, this is how we'd decided it had to be done.

We had to convince her that we knew more than we did until she admitted something incriminating.

It was risky.

I mean, we could be wrong.

And even if we weren't wrong, if she wouldn't confess to something then we could possibly be in some trouble.

She'd report us to Casteel and play the innocent card and…well, I don't know what would happen after that.

It might trigger a formal inquiry or it might end with me and Bobby out on our asses.

"Goren, I don't know what you're talking about."

And I didn't have to look at Bobby to know that he'd shifted positions.

He was now standing with his feet apart and his arms folded across his chest. I had no doubt that he was watching her intently, so I was going to give him something to look at.

I was going to try to force a reaction from her.

"We talked to Dick Buster," I said.

She barely flinched.

But when I say barely, I mean that she did flinch slightly.

I felt a fresh surge of confidence mixed with repugnance as I continued my verbal assault.

"We know that you hired him to follow you and Ross. Buster has the negatives. As smart as you are, you didn't think about making him give you those, too?"

"Eames…Alex…I'm not sure what you think you know, but…"

"And you put the post office box in Ross' name," I continued. "That's a little twisted, don't you think? A little cold."

"What I want to know," Bobby began. "Is what you get out of this deal, huh? How much is Hassan paying you?"

"Guys, you've got it all wrong. I didn't…I would never…"

"You would never set up a colleague to be killed?" I supplied. "But you did. You gave Hassan that photo and then washed your hands of the whole thing, didn't you? Ross never stood a chance because you needed to do something to prove your loyalty to Hassan."

"Goren," she said, looking to him for compassion since she wasn't getting it from me. "That's not what happened. I didn't do this."

She stopped talking and for a minute I thought that maybe she was going to start crying, but then she said, "It was Beemer. He did it."

Of course, we'd anticipated this.

It was straight out of the handbook of how a guilty suspect will act when confronted.

In fact, it was step two.

Step one was steadfast denial.

She'd blown past that one quickly and now she'd moved on to deflection of blame.

"That's what you want everyone to think now, isn't it?" I asked sharply.

"But he found out it was you," Bobby insisted. "And when he tried to make contact with us, you killed him."

"With…it was…" she began in confusion, and I knew that we almost had her.

She hadn't known that Beemer was going to meet with us that night.

Just that he was going to meet with someone.

And her surprise at finding out that it was us had almost made her spill it.

But we weren't done.

We switched gears on her, not giving her a chance to recover.

"You hired Buster because you knew that you'd never run into him professionally. He doesn't exactly run in the same circles, does he? But you know what? He was your mistake. And I don't mean by hiring him using your real name," I said to her.

I could literally see the color draining from her face.

"I don't know any Buster," she managed to say. "I have no idea who that is."

Ah, so now she'd regressed back to step one.

That was fine. We'd bump her up to three in no time.

"Do you want to tell her, Bobby?" I asked smugly.

Damn, this was fun.

This was really the best part of being a detective. If I did manage to make captain, I was going to have to be the type who stayed actively involved in cases. I wasn't ready to let this go yet.

But I had to focus.

We were moments away from a confession.

"Buster was curious about you," Bobby picked up. "He might be a stoner but he's not stupid. He staked out the UPS store. He saw you when you picked up the photos."

I watched Stahl as Bobby let his words hang in the air for a minute, offering up a dramatic pause designed to give her time for reality to sink in.

And then he added the kill shot.

"Buster took pictures," he said definitively. "Of you, emptying out the PO Box."

And yeah, that was a total lie, but she would have no way of knowing that.

"Oh my God," she said on a choked sob. "Oh my God, it's…I…he took pictures?"

Usually when a suspect crumbles, it tugs at Bobby's heart.

Especially in this case when the suspect was someone we'd worked with, someone we'd grown to like.

But not this time.

This time, as she collapsed in her chair and held her head in her hands, I could feel the anger roll from him.

"You sold out a police captain," he said loudly as he walked up to the front of her desk and slammed his hands down on the surface. "You talked him into an undercover job and then you got him killed. What kind of person does that?"

Of course, I was pretty pissed off, too.

"And you knew that Hassan was eliminating his business partners and yet you had the nerve to accuse Goren of murder. Was that just to throw the heat off of the real perpetrators? Was that to make you look like you were desperate to get to the bottom of it when in reality you were just desperate to make it all go away?"

"You don't understand," she said. "I didn't have a choice. I…Hassan approached me, and…I…"

See? Now she'd leap-frogged a repeat of step two and went straight to step three.

The indignant confession.

"You what? You didn't have the guts to stand up to him, and so you chose to let an innocent man get murdered? Two innocent men," I amended, referring to Beemer as well as Ross. "You're a goddamn FBI agent. Don't tell me that you didn't have choices."

"That shipment…it was worth millions of dollars, and the Bureau was just going to steal it from him," she argued.

"They were going to keep it from going into the hands of terrorists," Bobby corrected. "Do you really think that Hassan is the victim in all of this? How many people did he have killed? How many people did you help him kill?"

"You need to tell us everything you know about his operation," I told her firmly. "You can never make up for what you did, but that's your only hope of coming out of this thing alive. What you did…that's treason. You sold out your country. Surely you understand the magnitude of what you've done."

"I know," she said with a shrug. "It's punishable by death. But what you don't understand is that I'm dead either way. If I give you information on Hassan, he'll kill me. And if I don't, the justice system will. Besides, I'm not giving up Hassan. He has an agenda, a mission that's important to his people. He's not the monster that you think he is. So the way I see it, there's only one way out of this."

"You see a way out?" Bobby asked her. "Because from where I'm standing, you've painted yourself into a corner."

"What will it take to make this go away?" she asked carefully.

And now she'd moved on to step four.

Desperate bargaining.

"Are you offering us money to look the other way?" I asked her.

"It's a valid consideration," she said, and I watched as she gathered her self-confidence and got up from her chair. "Are you so sure that your allegations will stick? Because I've got to tell you, if you're wrong, and I walk away from this, who do you think will be next on Hassan's list? Hell, you may be anyway if I tell him what you're trying to do."

"Now you're going to threaten us? You'd put us on his list, just like you did to Ross?" Bobby asked, shaking his head in amazement at her audacity.

"All I'm saying is that if your attempt here fails, Casteel will put you out on your ass. You guys are NYPD rejects and now you'll be Bureau rejects…wouldn't it be nice to just take a cool mil and live out your lives in Tahiti?"

I glanced at Bobby and shrugged as though I might actually be considering it.

"Tahiti probably is pretty nice," I commented.

Bobby nodded his head at me for a minute, but then he smiled and shook it instead as he reached in his pocket.

"Nah, you know, I think I'd miss the New York winters," he said. And then he pulled out the recording device. He held it up so that she could see that we'd gotten everything on tape, and added, "And see? You taped us. We taped you. But I'm betting what you got on your tapes won't land us in federal prison."

"Youtube, maybe," I joked.

Although Stahl wasn't laughing. In fact, she'd once again fallen back into her chair and it looked as though the fight had drained out of her.

"You didn't just stumble into this, did you?" she asked tiredly. "That was your goal all along. To find out who gave up Ross."

"Yes. I'm just sorry that it was you," I said honestly.

Further discussion was halted when Stahl's office door opened.

It was Lacey.

"Hey, Wendy…" she began, and then she stopped suddenly, clearly sensing the tension in the room. "What's going on in here?"

Stahl didn't even look up, but instead kept her face in her hands.

"Eames?" Lacey questioned, turning to me for an explanation.

"It's…" I started, but then I wasn't sure how much to go into it.

It was going to be a tremendous shock to everyone and I didn't want to just start blurting it out.

But Bobby and I did need to go to Casteel.

We had to get Stahl taken into custody and we needed to keep her from making any phone calls at the moment. She had thrown me slightly with her statement that she could tell Hassan about me and Bobby and have us put on his list.

I wanted to make sure that didn't happen.

"It's complicated," Bobby finished for me. "But we need to go get the SAC. Can you sit in here with her?"

"Sit in here? Why?"

"I'm in custody," Stahl murmured without looking. "They want to make sure that I'm not going to try to escape."

I sighed and stared at the top of her head for a minute longer and then turned back to Lacey.

"Just make sure she stays in here," I said quietly. "And don't let her use the phone."

"We'll explain it all later," Bobby added.

And it was a testament to the amount of trust and respect that we'd earned since joining the Bureau that Lacey did as we asked.

She stared at both of us, but then gave a sharp nod and came fully into the room.

She sat down in a chair on the far side of the office and said, "Okay, go."

I took a last glance at Stahl and then headed for the door, with Bobby right on my heels.

I felt so many things.

Exhilarated that we'd been successful.

Sad that her life was now ruined.

Disappointed that someone like her had fallen so far.

Excited that now we'd be able to get back to the department.

As those things ran through my head, we cleared the doorway and turned down the hall.

But we'd only taken two steps away from the door when the shot rang out.

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