Lee was woken by the sound of loud voices. In his half-dreaming state, he thought they were a woman’s screams.
Jolting awake, Lee called, “Amanda!”
She was still in his arms. She was still alright.
“Lee, what’s happening?”
The fire had died down, and in the darkness, he couldn’t see Amanda’s face clearly, but her voice was sleepy and confused.
“I don’t know.”
Some of the voices were coming from their radios, resting near his gun on the bedside table. From the sound of it, there was a security sweep in progress and guards were reporting their status. Lee knew he must have been tired not to hear the original alert that spawned this security sweep. He heard other voices coming from outside in the hallway. Lee let go of Amanda, pushed off the covers, and sat up, reaching for his gun and his radio. The digital alarm clock told him that he’d only been asleep for about three hours.
“You stay here!” Lee commanded Amanda as he shrugged his holster over his pajamas and grabbed his robe off the back of a chair.
“Stay here!” he said. It was the only place where he knew she’d be safe until he found out what was going on.
There was chaos in the hallway. Security guards were everywhere. Billy was talking to a couple of them. Others were knocking on doors and waking people up.
One of the guards, Glenn, said to Lee, “Sir, I was just coming to wake you.”
“Agent Romano was attacked in his room, sir.”
“Attacked? Is he alright?”
“He’s injured, sir. He says that someone tried to kill him while he was sleeping.”
“I want to talk to him.”
“Just after the attack, there was a break-in alert in the west wing,” Glenn said. “A window in one of the empty rooms. We’re checking it out now, sir.”
Two alerts! Lee was a little embarrassed that he’d slept through them, even though he had turned down the volume on his radio. He turned the volume back up.
“Good,” he said to Glenn. “Let me know immediately when you’ve found something. The outside teams are also conducting a sweep of the grounds?”
“Yes.” Glenn and Lee turned to face Billy. Billy came up to Lee and said, “The guards woke me a couple minutes ago. I’ve told them to conduct a bed check of everyone in the house. Then, I want everyone down in the drawing room, no exceptions. The security guards will conduct another full sweep of the house and grounds . . .” Billy paused, looking at something behind Lee. Before Lee could turn to look, he continued, “None of us are getting any more sleep tonight.”
“Everyone downstairs?” Lee asked. Amanda was still in his room . . .
“Everyone,” Billy said firmly. “You and I will speak to Romano first, though. Baudin’s with him now.”
“What’s going on?” Amanda’s voice called suddenly.
Lee turned and saw her standing in the bathroom doorway, just a little way down from his room. She must have run quickly to avoid being seen by the security guards, who were just now working their way down to that end of the hall. He smiled until he turned again to face Billy. Billy also had a smile on his face. A dangerously knowing smile. Billy had been facing Lee while Amanda had run behind his back.
Lee cleared his throat. “Someone attacked Agent Romano, Amanda. We’re checking everyone’s whereabouts now. Then, everyone is going to get together in the drawing room. But first, I’d like you to come with me to talk to Romano. Does he need medical help?” The last question was addressed to Billy.
“No, he only has a minor injury. One of the guards helped bandage it. Baudin and Worth are with him now.”
“Good. Amanda, are you coming?”
Amanda said, “May I get my robe first?”
“Certainly,” Billy said sweetly.
Fortunately, Amanda had left her robe in her own room. At some point, they’d have to get her clothes and toiletries out of Lee’s. Billy was giving Lee an appraising look. Lee tried to act casual and not look him in the eye. When Amanda returned in a light blue bathrobe, they went upstairs to Romano’s room.
Romano had been given the Phoebe Room. It was right across the hall from the Sparrow Room where Worth was staying, small, decorated in shades of yellow and brown. Worth and Baudin were sitting there with him. Baudin had claimed the only chair in the room, and Worth was sitting next to Romano on the bed, checking the bandage on his arm.
“It looks good,” he said. “Did they give you anything for the pain?”
“Not yet,” Romano said. “With the scotch I had earlier, it wouldn’t be safe. I’m doing okay.”
“Excuse me,” Lee said to Worth and Baudin, “but we need to talk to Agent Romano now. We need to hear his report of the incident.”
“Go ahead,” Baudin said. “I’ve already heard it.”
“It’s a little crowded in here, Rich,” Billy pointed out.
“Oh, right.” Baudin got up.
“Everyone is meeting down in the drawing room,” Billy said. “We’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
“Alright,” Baudin said. “Agent Worth?”
Baudin and Worth left together, and Billy immediately took Baudin’s chair for himself. For lack of anywhere else to sit, Lee sat on the bed next to Romano, where Worth had been sitting. Amanda, seeing bloodstains on the sheets, decided to stay standing.
“I know you’ve already told Baudin what happened,” Lee said, “but we’d like to hear it, too.”
“All I know is that somebody came into my room in the middle of the night and tried to kill me!” Romano said. “I heard the door open and close, but with the lights off, I couldn’t see who was there. I called out, but nobody answered. Then, she ran up to the bed and tried to stab me!”
“She? How did you know it was a she?”
“When I heard her running toward me, I reached out and grabbed her! Good thing I did, or I’d be dead now. Believe me, it felt like a woman.”
“I believe you,” Lee said. “But who was it?”
“I don’t know! It was dark. All I know is that she had a knife. She got me across the arm before I wrenched it out of her hand.”
“Did you manage to cut her at all?” Lee asked. If the attacker had a wound, it would easily identify her.
“I don’t think so, but she kind of cried out and took off running. I must have hurt her arm when I wrenched it around.”
“The right or the left?”
“The right arm. Her right.”
“We’ll check everyone for bruises and other injuries,” Billy said.
“Is there anything else you can tell us about your attacker?” Lee asked. “Anything you noticed?”
Romano shrugged. “As I said, it was dark.”
“You heard her voice,” Amanda pointed out. “Could you recognize it?”
“It was just kind of a wordless cry,” Romano said. “It could have been anybody.”
“Maybe another sound the person made?” Amanda suggested. “Or a smell? Women wear perfume, and we all use different shampoos.”
It was a clever suggestion, but still no help.
“I don’t remember anything like that,” Romano said. “I was startled out of a sound sleep. Then, I was fighting her, not smelling her.”
There wasn’t much else to say. Romano had shouted for help, bringing Worth from across the hall to his aid, and Worth had called the guards for help. None of them had seen the woman fleeing, but Worth had also been startled out of a sound sleep, and it took him a moment to arrive on the scene. A woman running fast could have made it to the nearest staircase and the second floor fast enough to escape detection.
Then, there was the alarm that went off in the west wing after the attack.
“Do you think the attacker could have fled the building?” Lee asked Billy.
“We’ll know when the security team is finished searching the area and counting heads,” Billy said. “If anyone’s missing, that will pretty much settle it. But, the alarm could be a blind.”
“Yeah,” Lee said. “Maybe someone set it off on purpose as a distraction.”
Billy decided that Romano would be safer away from the others and arranged for him to rest in one of the guards’ bedrooms with a couple of guards standing nearby for protection.
Glenn approached Lee as they left Romano’s room and reported that everyone else was down in the drawing room and that the sweep had so far not uncovered any intruders.
“All of the guests and staff have been accounted for, sir. No one appears to have entered or exited the house except for our own men,” the guard said.
“What about the break-in alert?” Lee asked.
The guard held out a small device to show Lee. It was one of the magnetic contacts that had been attached to the windows of the house. Moving the contact too far out of place, as it would if someone opened a window wide enough to enter or leave, would trigger the security system.
“This is the contact from the window that triggered the alert,” Glenn said. “We found it lying on the floor under the window. The window was still shut and locked.”
“How did that happen?” Lee demanded. “They use special adhesives on those that last for years. They don’t just fall off.”
“It looks like something dissolved the adhesive,” Glenn said. “The back hardly feels sticky anymore.”
“Can you tell what they used?”
“We’d need the lab for that.”
“Well, keep it somewhere safe until we can have it analyzed,” Lee said. “Take it to the control room and tell the guards there to keep everyone away from it.”
“We’ll let the sweeps continue. I doubt you’ll find anything more than you found on the other sweeps,” Lee said, “but be thorough anyway. Did any of the patrols catch anyone out of bed at any time during the night? Anyone who wasn’t where they were supposed to be?”
“Only Cynthia Ransom. She was heading to the west wing of the house at about 12:30, and as you ordered, we didn’t stop her.”
“As you ordered?” Billy asked with raised eyebrows. The knowing smirk was back again.
“I simply reminded them that this is Cynthia’s house, and she has a right to be anywhere she wishes.”
“She was in the Senator’s room when we knocked on his door,” the guard said, his face carefully blank. “She went down to the drawing room with him a few minutes ago.”
Lee allowed himself a pang of sympathy for the Senator and his fiance.
“I don’t think that’s significant,” Lee said. “They alibi each other, and we’re looking for someone without an alibi, a woman who was out of bed by herself shortly before or after Romano was attacked.”
“Our patrols didn’t catch anyone out of bed at that time. Kirby and Jensen were in the west wing then, and Chen and Duncan were down on the first floor. Brown and Ramos were coming up the main staircase about that time. They probably just missed her.”
“So she was either lucky or she kept a good eye on the patrols to figure out that the coast was clear,” Billy said.
“When we talk to everyone, they’ll all just say that they were in bed at the time of the attack,” Lee said. “Unless there are noticeable marks on someone’s arm from fighting with Romano, we wouldn’t have anything to prove which of the women is the attacker.”
“Sir,” Amanda said, “where the attacker get the knife?”
Billy looked at the guard, who said, “It was a steak knife, sir. It probably came from the kitchen or dining room. The handle was wrapped in a cloth napkin from the dining room.”
“I’ll put in a call to the Agency and get a couple of lab techs in,” Billy said. “They may not find anything on the knife, but it’s worth a try, and we should have the window contact analyzed. The police couldn’t get here any faster, and because security agencies are involved, this is clearly a security matter. Where are you keeping the weapon?”
“We took it to the control room, sir.”
“Good. Make sure no one touches it.”
“So, really, we only have two suspects,” Amanda said thoughtfully. “It must either be Georgia Eastman or Victoria Sanders.”
“Why do you say that?” Billy asked.
“Well, we know that the attacker is a woman, and if this person is also the traitor, someone who was afraid that Romano would realize something that would give her away, it’s got to be one of those two,” Amanda said.
“That makes sense,” Billy said, “but there may be someone else here with a motive to attack Romano. What about Ms. Sobol?”
“Professional jealousy because she wasn’t chosen for the original mission and he was? Maybe something more personal because they were once in a relationship?“ Lee asked. “That’s kind of reaching, isn’t it Billy? Annette Sobol was brought in to investigate the possibility of a traitor. If she were out to get Romano, she could do it just by uncovering some piece of evidence that points to him. She wouldn’t have to knife him in the middle of the night.”
“I know it’s unlikely, but we have to consider every possibility,” Billy said. “Check Annette’s arms for injuries. While you’re at it, check Cynthia’s arms along with the others. Who’s to say that she didn’t slip away from her fiance for a few minutes?”
“Or that he wouldn’t cover for her if she did,” Lee pointed out. “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t think it of him, but love can make a man do some surprising things.”
That was a daring thing to say, considering what Billy had seen earlier, but other than a slight smile and a twinkle in his eye, Billy let the comment pass so they could get on with business.
“Check Mrs. Ransom and Mrs. Nicholson, too,” Billy said. “They aren’t likely suspects either, but we might as well be thorough. You might as well check Francine, too, just for the sake of completeness and so the others don’t complain about her being left out. By the way, may I see your arms, Amanda?”
Amanda dutifully rolled up her sleeves and demonstrated that her arms were uninjured and unmarked.
“That’s fine,” Billy said. “Of course, I don’t really suspect you. It’s just a formality.”
“I understand, sir.”
Billy didn’t add that Amanda also apparently had an alibi, but Lee didn’t like the knowing looks Billy kept giving him.
“Where is Francine now?” Lee asked. “Did she go downstairs with the others?”
“Yes, I spoke to her just before you came out of your room. She’s keeping an eye on everyone in the drawing room.”
“Then I guess we’d better get down there,” Lee said.