"Have you seen James?" Joan asked into Auggie's office.
"No," Auggie said, pulling his headphones down. "Not today. I thought he was on an assignment for you."
"He was," Joan said.
Auggie waited and Joan said no more. He took the headphones off and stood, his hand sliding across his desk to pick up the laser cane.
"Be right back," he said to Barber and Holman as he followed Joan back to her office. She closed the door as he stepped through, and hearing her cue as she walked around her desk and sat down, he located the chair in front of her desk and sat himself on the edge of it.
"Have you talked to him?" Joan asked.
"What, today? No."
"No, I mean in general, about Belenko's arms deals."
"Oh, that kind of general. Yeah, I have, actually. I warned him not to go off on his own. I think I even played the blind card, Joan, I wasn't above it to keep him close to me."
"Do you trust him? I mean, really, now?"
"Yes. I do, with my life."
"But will he do as we want him to and not go rogue on this one?"
"Question is, where is Belenko? We haven't tracked him yet. Just the weapons, which we've proved go back through Cuba and down from the U.S. He's got bike gangs running them through here. And yet, none of it goes back to him. There are rumours of him here and there, and yet, no-one we've talked to has seen him. We've searched the network, he hasn't been seen in Russia for months, and since there has been some control and peace along the Ukraine border, he's been laying low. There's something fishy happening. Why isn't he moving now, while the area isn't being focused on so closely?"
"That's what I've been wondering. Everything started through his connections and now not one of them has seen him in at least five weeks. If we act now, we get the team players, but not Belenko and whomever he has in his pocket."
Auggie sighed, thinking.
"Auggie, he still has it out for you, Decker, probably Annie"—"
"I know." The little worry seed that had sat quietly in the back recesses of his mind started a root.
"I just need to know Decker won't do anything foolish."
Auggie was quiet. Could he vouch for Decker in this, for certain? He scrubbed at his forehead and eyes in frustration, then tipped his head back, as if waiting for an answer to drop from above.
"I'll talk to him," he said.
"If you can find him."
"I'll find him."
"Auggie?" Joan said as Auggie stood to go. He paused, turning slightly. "Please, be careful."
"Always am," Auggie said, moving to the door, sliding his hand to find the doorknob. He pulled it closed behind him, and headed back to his office to try to track Decker's whereabouts down. He also called Annie.
She had been home for the past three days with her sister, doing the things that women liked to do when they acquired new living spaces. He was glad that they had been able to spend the time together, and he was also grateful that he didn't have to do things like choose drapes and paint swatches. As they worked, they both kept Auggie in mind, both in the design and in the organisation of the rooms. Each night when he had come home, they'd had questions, and had wanted his opinion on many things as they worked through the house.
Auggie had had his own acquainting with the house every night. As rooms were finally settled into perfect configurations, and things were placed where they would stay, Auggie had taken his time to map everything into his head. He moved through each room as he had before, only this time, with the furniture in place. He felt each piece, and anything that was resting on top. He felt the lamps, the walls, the tabletops. He'd had a hand in where he wanted his sculptures to be, and they'd conferred with him about anything he'd be using daily, if it was okay, if he'd wanted anything changed. They had made no major decisions or moves without him, and he felt completely like he was a part of the process, without having to worry about the stuff that he wasn't so good at.
Every night, he worked on putting his home to his memory. And the more he explored with his hands and feet, the more the house came into his mind as a picture. It was like paint strokes appearing on a blank canvas, every sweep of his hands over a surface or a wall or a detail, the house became real, whole, and no longer disjointed.
"Stop watching me," he'd told Annie and Danielle one night as he was going through the kitchen for the second time." He wasn't angry about it; he was merely letting them know in his way that he knew that they were, in fact, watching him.
"How does he know?" Danielle had asked.
"He has a fifth sense about it," Annie replied, and Auggie had laughed, remembering he had told her that ages ago.
Danielle was quiet, puzzled maybe.
"You can laugh," Auggie said. "It's clever."
"You guys are weird," was what Annie's big sister said.
"You're the weird one," Annie retorted.
"Nice comeback," said Auggie.
The phone rang twice, and then Annie picked up. "Hey, Babe? What's up?"
Auggie grinned at the casualness of her greeting. "Hi. I'm just checking in, actually."
"Checking in, or checking up?"
"All good here. Danielle and I... oh, no, you'll see when you come home," she teased.
"No, I won't!" he sang back to her.
"So, what are you calling about, Auggie?"
"Just keep your eyes open, Annie."
"Don't worry about anything. I just want you to keep a lookout."
"Aleksandre?" Annie asked.
"Yeah. Just... We haven't found him, and everything else is coming up empty. And now I can't find James."
"Oh," Annie said.
"Listen, don't worry, and for God's sake don't let on to Danielle."
"No, no prob, Auggie. He'll be around before you leave today."
"Yeah, I hope so. You want me to bring anything home?"
"Nope, we and by we I mean Danielle is making something up right now as we speak."
"My stomach's already growling," Auggie said, and hung up shortly after goodbyes.
He tried Decker's phone again. For two and a half more hours, there was no answer, and then finally, to Auggie's increasing anxiety, Decker answered. Auggie huffed out his relief, and then asked Decker's whereabouts.
"I'm just coming in."
"Come find me," Auggie said, hanging up, and closing his eyes in frustration.
"Auggie?" A tap on Auggie's door and Auggie turned.
"Is that you, Decker?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"Hey, come in. Where've you been?" Auggie pushed away from his desk and folded his hands.
"I was chasing a lead."
"You haven't checked in, Man."
"I lost track of time."
"Look, Decker, I like the initiative you take to follow up on things, but I need to know. You need to check in, Buddy. As your friend and as your handler."
He heard Decker grab a chair and slide it over, sitting.
"Auggie, if I think you're in danger, you can't brush it off, okay?"
"What are you talking about?"
"He's involved in more than just this weapons trade. He set up a false company out of Grozny. It's supposedly to bring in herbal remedies. Health foods from all over. It was just blown up."
Auggie leaned forward, his brows knitting together. "Blown up? How did you find this out?"
"I've been using an old contact in the city. He's been out of touch for years, but he recently started sending me encrypted messages through a Zodiac site about this place. He said they were bringing in through the back door. Not just guns, not even just bigger things, but bio-warfare."
"Who blew it up? When? Why didn't you bring this to me, to Joan, as soon as you got the intel?"
"I was about to. And then I received intel that Belenko was killed in the blast. I don't believe it."
"What about the bio-weapons? Were they in the building then? Was anything released into the population?"
"No-one knows. According to all the records, there were no bio-weapons. Just wheatgrass and tinctures and goji berry pills. They don't know if the stuff was smuggled out before it went up, or if it stayed there. Not one account of seeing anyone come or go. Belenko has been underground, but then word went out he was there. I don't know if any of it is true. This was why I didn't want to tell you yet. I didn't have any proof, and I didn't want to lead you into something that proved completely false."
"Damn it, Decker, I can't have you going rogue on me."
"I was always coming to you with this, Auggie. I just had to check it out first. I knew Joan wouldn't believe me without proof of something more. She just thinks I'm out for revenge."
"And you're not."
"No. I'm on our team, Auggie. I'm not going to jeopardise you, or Joan, or this place. I was coming with this information to you. Because it matters. Because I'm not on this one alone."
"No, you are not." Auggie slid his chair back to his desk, and began typing. He started bringing up every report he could find on an explosion in a building in Grozny, and simultaneously calling Joan in on the phone.
"Joan, you should probably come down here," was all he said, continuing his search.
When Joan walked in, Auggie started right in with what he'd learned, calling Eric over in the process. Decker added any information he could to Auggie's details, and Auggie gave Joan the information that was feeding through his display. There had been an explosion, and three bodies had been recovered. None were identified as Belenko. Auggie checked the ownership records of the building, and it was registered to an Ortsa Maskhadov. The name brought up nothing but a couple of business records and transaction records, empty information. There was no other appearance of the name in any travel or passport records.
When they'd compared reports and dug up anything related to the business and explosion, Joan left to apprise Calder Michaels of the situation.
Auggie continued to work, his fingers tapping the keyboard and then reading the Braille display as it flickered under his fingertips. Calder Michaels had been the one who had saved Auggie and Decker from Belenko's final attempt to take them out. Calder Michaels had figured it out at the last possible second that Allen Langer was in the building and had taken Auggie and Decker inside an interrogation room, locked them in, and nearly killed them with poison gas. He would need to know that his operatives and the department could be in direct danger once more.
"What do you want me to do?" Decker asked.
Auggie shook his head. What Decker was doing was exactly what he needed to be doing. And yet, Auggie didn't want to let him out of his contact. He trusted Decker implicitly, but he was afraid to let his friend do this one on his own.
"Can you make your contact again? Do they have anyone inside?"
"Not that I've gathered. I'll keep trying." Decker got up and slid the chair back over across the room.
"That was good intel. You did right."
"We'll get him, won't we Auggie?"
"Are you and Annie going to be all right?"
"Are you kidding? We are a team that shouldn't be messed with." He winked at Decker, and gave him a reassuring smile. "I promise, Decker, we will be okay. And we'll get Belenko. His time's coming."
"Yeah, well, I'll be checking in with you until he is."
Auggie nodded. This worked both ways. "Please do," he said, waving James off, giving him what he hoped was a look that said it would all turn out okay for them.
"Hello!" Auggie called as he entered the house.
"Hey, Auggie," Annie answered him from somewhere in the kitchen area. Auggie veered and counted his steps to the left, finding the alcove by the steps, and putting his keys and bag on the tray they'd put on top of the credenza that had fit in so nicely. He took his chances, folding his cane and putting it beside the bag. Then he moved along toward the kitchen, keeping contact with the wall.
Annie stepped into his path and put her hand against his chest, stopping him. He wrapped his arms around her hips. "Hey," he said. "It smells good in here."
"That would be my sister's work. We're so lucky we get to have her feed us our first week in our home."
"I hope she'll teach us things before she goes," Auggie said, setting his gaze where he thought Danielle was standing.
"I hope you're a better student than Annie," Danielle replied.
"I'm pretty hopeless," Annie agreed.
"You just need to pay better attention," Danielle instructed. "I truly don't think you're hopeless. She's really not that bad, Auggie."
"She just has better hopes for you," Annie added.
"Well," said Auggie, "I have killer microwaving skills."
"You guys are in sad trouble," Danielle said, turning something on and moving something off the stove. "I swear, if it's the last thing I get in before I leave, one of you will be able to cook something decent."
Auggie laughed and rolled his eyes, and Annie shook her head and leaned forward, bumping it against Auggie's chest in defeat.
She leaned back again, peering into his face. "I can't wait any longer," she said. "Come on, I want to show you something. Danielle? Come."
Annie took Auggie's hand and led him to the double doors on the side of the house. She opened them up and he followed her through, Danielle several steps behind.
"Ta da!" she said.
Auggie shook his head, pursing his lips. "Looks great," he quipped.
"Come'ere, Silly," Annie teased, pulling him gently toward her, and taking both his hands and putting them on a thick chain link.
Auggie stepped forward, exploring the chain link, following it up, then down, where it split into two chains, which in turn were attached to a metal bedspring frame. Auggie's face broke into a smile, and his hands ran along the narrow mattress on the frame, wrapped in a very soft blanket of some kind. He stepped down the length of it, until he reached the other end, where two pillows lay against the heavy chains that ran up to under the roof of the verandah, and then he turned with a look of wonder and happiness.
"Do I dare ask?"
"Thrift shop," Annie answered. "And the hardware store. We worked on it all morning. What do you think?"
Auggie was more than happy. He reached out and hugged Annie, and then he waved a hand to motion her sister in. Moments later, she joined their hug and Auggie couldn't stop grinning.
"I think he likes," Danielle said.
"I love this. I love you, and I love you," He leaned forward and kissed Danielle's cheek, and then he leaned toward Annie and she kissed him back.
"It makes it feel more ours," Annie said as they went back in behind Danielle, arm in arm. "It's really becoming ours."
"Every day," Auggie said. "It's even starting to smell more familiar, more like us."
Annie stopped, sniffing the air. "Really?"
"Really," Auggie nodded. "Well, except for right now, when it doesn't smell like our cooking at all."
Annie laughed. "Come on, help me set the table," she said. "We found two more chairs so we can have guests now."
"Nice," Auggie answered, following her around the island, out of Danielle's way. He got the plates down and three wine glasses. The path was clear; the work he'd been putting in at mapping the house was already paying off. They had the table set presentably in no time, and Danielle was finishing preparing the meal.
She ushered them into their seats after they'd washed up, while she dished up their plates.
She served them each a salad, made with grilled almonds, spinach, and strawberries with vinaigrette she'd made herself. Then she brought in lemon chicken on a bed of basmati rice, seasoned with thyme and ginger. As she brought in each dish, she gave Auggie the lay-out and a brief description of his meal. Like her sister, Danielle had no trouble incorporating Auggie's needs into her regular actions. There was a plate of hot croissants, and stuffed peppers on the side.
"You're staying here all month, right?" Auggie said after they'd all begun eating. "This is beautiful, Danielle."
"Thanks, Auggie. I should take you home with me to show my family how to appreciate my cooking. And save room, there's dessert."
Auggie and Annie thanked Danielle as she climbed into the taxi later that night. She was only there for one more full day, and Annie and Auggie were grateful for all the help she was giving to them. The house was beginning to have some organisation, there was art on the walls, furniture had been added where it was needed, thanks to a few trips to an antique store and a thrift shop they'd found. Auggie appraised everything that appeared under his hands, his fingers sensitive to the planes and curves and fine details that the others could see immediately.
Annie and Auggie walked hand-in-hand back outside to try the hanging bed swing wit their wine. Auggie sat on the end with the pillows and Annie sat beside him, after putting their glasses nearby on the deck of the verandah. He put his arm around her.
"Is it dark yet?" Auggie asked.
"Not quite. Still evening light."
"What do you see?"
"Just our trees. I can sort of see some glow over to the right from the city. No stars yet."
"And the roses."
"Yes," Annie said, the smile evident in her word. "The roses."
Auggie smiled, too. "I can smell them. I know they're still blooming."
They sat like this for a moment, and then Annie broke the silence. "So, you're worried about Belenko," she said softly.
"Yeah," Auggie said, and he sighed. "James came back with some information." In a soft, low voice that could be mistaken as quietly romantic, Auggie gave Annie the details of what they had learned from Decker's contact. Annie never moved from beneath Auggie's arm, just listening as he outlined what they knew.
"I'm glad Danielle is going home on Friday," Auggie said. "I don't want her to be in on any of this."
"What if he already knows?" Annie asked.
"I still don't think he's here. Not yet."
"But if he has someone... like Langer... doing his research."
Auggie had thought of that, too.
"The sooner she's off the radar, the better," Auggie said. "Though I don't know what we would've done without her this week."
"I know. She's really been our supporter all along, Auggie. She knew me before I knew me."
"Yeah, I know that. I'm glad she told you straight off, and put the idea in your head that maybe you had something for me. She's a smart woman. But I like her sister more."
"Yeah, well, I don't want to rush her off, but I don't want anything to happen to her, Auggie. Should I tell her to go tomorrow? We could probably switch it."
"No, one more day... it's fine. It's going to be fine. Decker is going to be on your tail tomorrow, though, and I am sending someone with Danielle for the flight home. Just to get her there safely."
"Are you gonna tell her? Because she's pretty clever, you know. She'll think the bad guys are following her and somehow it's all going to come back to me to sort out."
Auggie laughed. "I'm gonna tell her," he said. "Just for safety's sake. I won't tell her there's a reason. Because, right now, there isn't."
"But if the weapons hideout we can't find has become a bio-weapons hideout, there may be more than just a sister to watch out for."
"Yeah, I wasn't trying to think that one," Auggie said soberly. "But, yeah."
Annie was quiet. Thinking.
"He doesn't know we're here," she said. "Not yet."
"I don't know," Auggie admitted. "Right now, we don't know anything. He could be dead in that explosion. I just really doubt it."
"What was the name again?" Annie asked.
"Ortsa Maskhadov," Auggie answered.
"And you definitely know this is his cover?"
"Not an ounce of proof, and yet there are several key witnesses who have stated it."
"I'm scared. For you and James."
"Well, I'm scared for you. I don't want you to take any risks, just like I told Decker. Until we can get a trace on him. I just don't get why there is absolutely no intel coming in at all. Someone would have seen him leave that place. What name is he travelling under? I think he smuggled himself through Cuba, as they lifted the bans. I think he was in South America, waiting for the air to clear. But after that, I have no idea."
"Joan and Calder?"
"Working every angle."
Annie groaned. "It won't happen tonight."
"No," he smiled into her hair. "It won't happen tonight. Tonight is ours."
"Good. Because a star just came out."
Auggie automatically looked up. "Is it the Evening Star?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Actually a planet," he told her.
"I know, Dork."
Auggie chuckled. "Got me."
"There's another one," Annie said.
They sat out as Annie watched the sky from under the verandah, counting the stars as they appeared, until there were just too many. Annie shivered, and Auggie tugged her tighter under his arm. They finished the wine, and then they headed inside.