The Ghost of Ransom Creek

By Jestress

Mystery / Romance

The Agency's Assistance

The meeting that afternoon didn’t go very well, although there weren’t any more outbursts like the one Romano had that morning. Romano rejoined them, but he sat stony-faced and silent throughout the entire meeting, not even giving Annette a glance.

“What we have to face,” Billy said to everyone, “is that the last mission failed because there is a traitor among your team. Whether that leak is here in this room or not, I cannot and will not offer any of my field agents for your next mission until the person responsible has been identified.”

There were uneasy glances, and Baudin opened his mouth to say something, but then he seemed to think better of it and closed it again.

Senator Kahler spoke up. “Are you saying then that you feel the mission they’ve proposed is too risky and should be scrapped altogether?”

“We can’t do that!” Gordon insisted. “Our intelligence indicates that a large shipment is due to be smuggled from London to the United States very soon. If we are going to stop these people, the best window of opportunity will be coming soon.”

“But Mr. Melrose has a point,” Annette said matter-of-factly. “If the informant is still at large, the mission will end in failure again, and more lives could be lost.”

Romano didn’t move, didn’t even twitch. He stared straight ahead with his features perfectly composed, but Amanda could see the tension in his hands. They were folded neatly in front of him, but they were clenched tightly, his knuckles noticeably pale.

“This matter is of joint concern to all of us,” Gordon said. “We came to the United States for help-”

“We’re not refusing to help, as I explained to you earlier,” Billy said. “I’m not willing to risk any of my people in the field, but the Agency is prepared to offer our assistance in identifying the informant. As a neutral entity, we may be able to offer a new perspective on the problem.”

Gordon’s eyes narrowed, and he addressed Senator Kahler, “We asked you for assistance, and your government and your committee assured us that you would provide it.”

Senator Kahler said, “We made no promises about what kind of assistance you would receive. As the Agency’s representative, Mr. Melrose may offer whatever he feels is appropriate under the circumstances.”

Billy said, “I made it clear that we will not participate any further until this matter has been resolved.”

“Yes, and I agree that we must find the traitor. But, I would like to remind you that my people and I are not Americans, and we do not have to submit to your interrogation,” Gordon said. His right hand clenched into a fist on the table in front of him.

“This isn’t an interrogation,” Billy said calmly. “This is an investigation, undertaken in cooperation with MI6, into a problem of mutual interest. Think of my people as neutral observers-”

“But you are not neutral observers,” Gordon said. “You’ve already admitted that you and Baudin are old friends as well as fellow countrymen. Your friendship would give you a natural bias.”

“I won’t be overseeing the investigation,” Billy said. “I’m just laying the groundwork for it. You approached my department for manpower, but I cannot supply it unless I know that my people will be reasonably safe.”

“There is something else that you should know,” Senator Kahler said. “The Intelligence Oversight Committee has suggested the possibility that the Agency might completely replace the CIA in this effort. Unless we can find the individual responsible for the failure of the last mission, everyone who had anything to do with that mission is considered suspect.”

Billy looked around the table. “You all know as well as I do that if the informant isn’t found, the only alternative would be to completely replace everyone involved with the previous mission and form entirely new teams. But, of course, that would take time, and even though you can replace people, you can’t replace knowledge and experience. By the time the new teams are put together and brought up to speed, we’ll have lost our window of opportunity.”

No one was happy, but no one could argue with what Billy was saying.

“According to each of your reports,” Billy said, jabbing the file folders in front of him with his finger, “the crucial time we’re looking at is in the twenty-four hours immediately before the mission began. That was the time period in which your plans were finalized. What I’d like from each of you is an account of your whereabouts during that time. Your reports detail your work at MI6 headquarters, but aside from that, I want to know where you went and who you spoke to during that time. If any outsider was monitoring your activities then, there could be vital clues in the places you went and the people you interacted with.”

Worth frowned and said, “It’s been over a month. What if we can’t remember all of the details of what we did during that day?”

“Record as much as you can remember. Anything you can remember will help. You’ll be discussing your recollections with the investigation team. The team will consist of members of our internal investigations department and personnel from the CIA and MI6. They’ll use your reports to put together a picture of what happened during that day, and we’ll use it to identify the leak.”

“And once the leak is identified?” Baudin asked.

“We will deal with that person, and the others will be free to participate in the next mission or move on to other assignments, as necessary.”

“Excuse me,” Annette said, “but I wasn’t part of the last mission.”

“No,” Billy said, “we won’t need an account of your whereabouts during the mission. But, as an expert in dealing with smuggling operations, we would like you to participate in the investigation.”

Romano’s eyes widened at the news. Now that Amanda knew about his former romance with Annette, she could understand his nervousness. Maybe she should ask Lee to tell Billy about it, if he didn’t know already.

“You’ve already heard my assessment of the situation,” Annette said. “But, I would be happy to participate and review any new information you can offer.”

Again, Amanda felt like Annette must not have any feelings. She was being so cool and matter-of-fact while all the others were plainly nervous and miserable, especially Romano. But then, she wasn’t under scrutiny. The others were. They had all actually known the agent who had died on the mission, and as far as Amanda knew, Annette didn’t. Whatever her feelings once were for Romano, she was more removed from the current situation than they were. Unless she had more feelings for Romano than she cared to admit.

Romano was watching Annette like a hawk, but she barely even glanced in his direction.

When the meeting broke up and most of the others went to work on their personal recollections of where they’d been and what they’d done before the mission, Billy had a private word with his people.

“You heard what I told the others. I discussed it with Baudin and Gordon when I spoke to them privately. Gordon protested then, too, but Baudin agreed to my terms. Neither of them likes the situation, but with a traitor among them and the Intelligence Oversight Committee breathing down their necks, it’s really the best option.”

“Sir, will the Agency become more involved with the mission after the informant is found?” Amanda asked.

“The Intelligence Oversight Committee has been strongly recommending it. I discussed it with Dr. Smyth before we left Washington, and he was generally in favor of it, but he also insists on the importance of finding the leak. I would be willing to contribute some of our resources and people once I’m sure that the traitor is apprehended,” Billy said. “Internal affairs will soon be taking over the investigation, but I’m interested in what each of you thinks of the people involved so far.”

“Romano is obviously suffering from the death of his partner,” Amanda volunteered.

“But understandably so,” Lee added.

“That outburst of his earlier was troubling,” Billy said. “You think he might be burning out?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Lee said. “I want to talk to him later. Alone, if I can. Maybe I can get a better idea of his state of mind.”

“I think that would be a good idea,” Billy said. “In fact, I’d like all of you to talk to these people, get an assessment of their characters. You and Worth seemed to hit it off earlier, Francine. What’s your opinion of him so far?”

“I can’t speak about his professional qualifications yet,” Francine said, “but personality-wise, he’s a show-off and a flirt. I think it’s partly an act.”

“An act?”

“I think he’s just as worried about what’s happened as the others are, but he’s covering up for it with light banter.”

“Keep talking to him and see if you can draw him out more.”

“No problem. The man hardly ever shuts up anyway.” In spite of her comment, Francine looked like she kind of liked the idea of that assignment.

Billy ignored Francine’s reaction and said, “Amanda?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Remember that incident when Mitch Larner’s secretary tried to frame you as an informer?”

“Yes, sir.” How could she forget?

“I’d like you to try to get to know Baudin’s assistant, Georgia Eastman, and Gordon’s assistant, Victoria Sanders. We don’t know much about them yet, and I’d like to hear your impressions of them.”

“Yes, sir.”

Amanda didn’t want to mention her conversation with Georgia yet. Her relationship with Lee made her reluctant to discuss Georgia’s possible relationship with Romano. It seemed better to wait until she really had to say something. Maybe it wouldn’t be necessary.

“Good. That’s about all we can do right now, besides keep everyone calm and patient. I’m going to keep talking to Baudin and Gordon.”

“Gordon doesn’t trust you,” Lee said. “He’s convinced that you’re going to try to blame one of his people just because you and Baudin are old friends.”

“Baudin and I are old friends. I mean, we were friends a long time ago. Aside from the Christmas cards, which my wife really sends out in my name, we haven’t seen much of each other in years. I couldn’t say for sure what he’s been involved in recently.”

“Then, he’s as likely a suspect as anyone else?”

“Exactly,” Billy said. “And I want all of you to be careful. Right now, we have these people pretty well contained, surrounded by security and under investigation. But, if the guilty one really is here, they have to be getting nervous. I want all of you to be on your guard.”

There were nods of agreement all around the table.

“If you find reason to suspect anyone in particular, do not try to confront that person alone. I want you to tell me and notify the nearest guards as quickly as possible. Be careful.”

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