Oct. 15 – 2:00am
After she reported the text message to the detective, he deemed it unsafe for Alex to remain with Lizzie. For both of them. Experts back at the station were doing what they could to trace the message but, since the number was from a throw-away cell phone, they didn’t expect much luck. While they were working on the trace, al-Zahir took Alex back to her apartment to pack a small bag. If the murderers were who he suspected, a patrol car cruising past the girl’s apartment wouldn’t be nearly enough. Hell, an officer camped in her living room probably wouldn’t be enough. So, he took her to the one person he knew could protect her: Erik Devereaux.
He had met the masked man five years ago while working as a deep insertion operative in Iraq. As a second-generation Iranian raised bilingual, it was easy for the Agency to build a background that would be accepted by the terrorist cell. However, somehow his position inside the enemy’s operation had been compromised and so his orders were to rendezvous with Le Fantôme’s infiltration unit, neutralize the warehouse, and then return for debriefing. The explosives had been set by the time he met up with Christine for a final sweep of the area. Tearfully, she told him that Le Fantôme had been executed and they needed to evac before reinforcements arrived. The girl looked positively broken hearted and said she would prepare their vehicle while he finished the sweep. That’s how he found Devereaux, bound and bloody with a bullet wound to the chest…but still breathing. It was difficult getting him out of the warehouse; sometimes helping him walk, sometimes dragging him as he drifted in and out of consciousness. They had barely cleared the building when the first of the charges went off. Exhausted, al-Zahir struggled to make it to the rendezvous point only to find the road deserted. Christine and their transport were nowhere in sight. It was hours before another transport could be arranged and he worried Devereaux would bleed out before he could be taken to a competent doctor. Luckily, the bullet had missed all of the vital organs so, physically, he recovered quickly; however, the detective wondered if Le Fantôme would ever recover from the wounds Christine inflicted on his soul.
During the drive to Devereaux’s home the detective encouraged Alex to try to sleep in the passenger seat, folding his jacket for her to use as a pillow. The poor girl was physically and emotionally exhausted and yet there was still a long night ahead once they reached the house. He could tell she was slowly breaking down; she had suppressed her grief all day and it was coming through in her sleep. She woke several times screaming or crying for her brother. Even though he tried to keep his voice low, she had jerked awake once more when he called Devereaux for entry into the Estate.
“Miss Roberts?” al-Zahir glanced over at her before driving through the large gate. “We will be arriving at the house shortly to meet with Mr. Devereaux. He will ensure your safety while we continue to investigate both the murder of your brother as well as the threat to you.”
“Is…is he a police officer as well?” Alex asked as she ran a hand through her hair to bring it under some sort of control. She didn’t feel like digging through her purse for a brush.
“No, not exactly.” The detective considered how much to tell the girl about Erik Devereaux and decided to keep to the bare facts. “We met some years ago before I left the Agency to be a cop; I saved his life, he saved mine, that sort of thing. He is the best at what he does and I trust him. If he says he can keep you safe, then he will do just that or die trying.”
Alex paled at the mention of death. “I just don’t understand. Why come after me at all? I don’t have what they want; hell, I don’t even know what they want! Sammy was the genius with computers; most of the time I can barely program my DVR.”
“I know. But whatever Samuel found must be incriminating in some way to these people. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what he found; they will pursue you simply on the off-chance that you do.”
He pulled the car to a stop in front of the most beautiful house Alex had ever seen. Every part of it, even the decorative flourishes, flowed seamlessly together. It was form and function and beauty all at once and, even in her grief, she was awed at the sight of it bathed in the pale moonlight. Al-Zahir moved around the car to her door to let her out and advised her to walk directly to the front door. Meanwhile, he matched her steps to provide a shield from possible rear attacks. The door opened just as they were close enough to ring the bell and the detective ushered her inside.
If Alex thought the building’s façade was beautiful, the interior took her breath away. Natural slate tiles were covered by colorful Persian silk rugs in deep earth tones, the Venetian plaster on the walls bore art that belonged in a gallery selling for more money than she’d make in a year, and the cherry wood furniture looked to be custom made to match the crown molding and chair rails. The overall effect was clean and warm but elegant. The detective gently nudged her forward and she reluctantly pulled her eyes from further exploring the details in the room.
Al-Zahir led her to what appeared to be the Library. Built-in cherry wood bookcases spanned from floor to ceiling but still were overflowing with books. There was a matching computer console as well as an executive style desk complete with leather chair. While Alex was gazing about the room, Erik took the opportunity to study her. He was pleased that she had dressed casually and comfortably in a t-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers; he hadn’t met a woman yet who could run evasive maneuvers effectively in heels and a skirt. He trusted in his security but it was always good to keep your options open and escape routes planned. The information he’d pulled up on her told of her parents’ deaths, her brother’s computer crimes, and her rush to get her degree as soon as possible. The photo attached to the file, however, did not do her justice. She was lovely. Stepping from the shadows in the corner, Erik motioned to the sofa near the desk.
“Da’ud. Miss Roberts.” He nodded to each in turn, smiling faintly at the girl’s startled jump. “Care to join me for a drink?” The detective declined as always and Alex asked only for a glass of water. He poured for the two of them then sat behind the desk. “Now…explain.”