In the USSS
Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
Connor MacLeod opened the door to his home in New York. Well, "home" may be something of a misnomer. The entire first floor was an antique store. The upstairs was his apartment. Based on the size of the building, there had to be more rooms somewhere. Storage space and training rooms, most likely.
"Andrea will be here tomorrow afternoon," stated Connor as he led the way upstairs. "She's bringing her husband," he added almost as an afterthought.
Great, even more complications.
"Why me? Why do you want ME to do this?" I'd been asking the question or a variation of it on and off ever since he dumped this intriguing suggestion on me a couple days ago. Since then, I'd flown home with Jennifer to gather a few items and then driven to New York City.
"She'll explain it to you," was the answer to my question. Based on his tone, that answer and his patience were both wearing thin. Fine, I'll drop it. He won't tell me anything, anyway.
He wordlessly pointed to a doorway as he went walking past. I stopped there and nudged the door open with a foot. I poked my head in to find a spare bedroom, presumably where he wanted me to stay for the time being. Fine by me. I trudged in and dropped my suitcases in a pile at the foot of the bed. Removing my coat, I fished my cell phone out of it before draping the coat over a chair. With one hand I dialed home while my other was pulling my gun out of the holster across my back. I finally dropped onto the bed as the phone on the other end started ringing. I glanced at my watch and decided Jennifer really should be awake by now.
"Hi, Jen. It's me. I just got into town. I'm at Connor's place now."
"One day drive. You must be exhausted."
"Yeah, I am. A good night's sleep will do me good, though. How's everything there?"
"You've only been gone twelve hours, Ryan. Everything's fine. I hope to hear from Richie and Hoa tonight." The words were innocuous enough, but the tone was bordering hostile.
"Hon', you DO know why I'm here, don't you?"
I could hear her sigh. "Just because I understand and agree doesn't mean I like it."
"Well, if it doesn't pan out, I'll be home in a few days. If it does, DC to Toronto is only a couple hour flight. We can see each other every weekend or so."
"I suppose," came the subdued response. I couldn't blame her. I wasn't terribly wild about this idea either, but it was potentially too important to NOT deal with.
"Besides," I continued, "you'll be too busy training Hoa to miss me."
Mischief glimmered through in her tone. "During the night, perhaps, but Hoa won't be keeping my bed warm in the mornings."
A grin surfaced despite itself. "I certainly hope not!" I said, trying for an indignant tone. She giggled in response. "I'll call you tomorrow night with how the meeting goes, okay?"
"Talk to you then."
The line went dead. Folding the phone closed in my hand, I gave a sigh. I was going to miss Jennifer, even if only for a few days.
The next afternoon Connor was running through a few stories about the Clan MacLeod when a Buzz walked into range. Laying a hand on my wakizashi that was mirrored by Connor and his katana, I paid attention to the aura. I relaxed immediately. Less than a year old, and no heads to their credit, this almost HAD to be Connor's student Andrea O'Day nee Price.
"Connor?" came the hesitant voice from downstairs.
Connor released his sword and replied, "Be right down, Andrea!" So saying, he stood and waved me along.
I followed him downstairs and paid attention to the couple waiting for us there. The woman was brunette and slim. The man was slightly over six foot, broad shouldered, and wearing a bulky leather jacket.
"Pat," greeted Connor, smiling at the man. When we got to the base of the stairs, he waved at me and said, "I'd like you both to meet Ryan Chessman, a friend of the family's so to speak." I gave Connor a wry grin while the couple in front of us frowned. Connor continued, "This is Andrea Price and her husband Pat O'Day." I shook hands all around.
Pat was looking around admiringly. "Nice place you have here, Connor."
Connor gave him one of his quirky grins. "It pays the bills."
Andrea had been evaluating me the entire time. "Yes, he'll do nicely."
I raised an eyebrow at her statement. "And exactly what will I be doing nicely?"
She folded her arms over her chest and said, "Did Connor tell you what my job is?"
I shook my head. "Nothing beyond the fact that you're a member of the Secret Service."
She nodded. "True as far as it goes. Until very recently, I was head of the Presidential Detail for President Ryan. Since I got married, I was promoted to Deputy Director (Protection) of the Secret Service. It's a much more bureaucratic position, and I thought it'd be safer." She rolled her eyes and sighed. "Not that it turned out that way, but that was the plan. Since my training with Connor began, I realized how valuable an Immortal in the Presidential Detail would be." I flicked a glance at Pat, but he didn't react. She must have seen my shift in attention because she waved it off. "He knows." She suddenly smiled and glanced at him. "He was there when I died. Anyway, Megan doesn't quite understand it, but I don't intend on hiding it from her either."
"Megan?" I asked.
"My daughter," said Pat.
I nodded, accepting Andrea's decision to tell the two of them. "Okay, I can understand why an Immortal would be valuable as one of the immediate bodyguards, but why me?"
She chewed on a lip for a moment. "I asked Connor if he knew of any Immortals that looked between twenty and thirty, preferably male, were good fighters, intelligent, and could be trusted implicitly."
I raised both eyebrows at that. Turning to Connor, I said, "I'm flattered. But why didn't you recommend Richie? He's a better fighter than I am."
He nodded. "Perhaps, but you're probably a better choice for two reasons. Based on what Duncan's said about you, then you have some other skills that would be even more useful. And Richie is a little . . . rough around the edges for what Andrea has in mind."
What in the world did he mean by that? I turned back to Andrea. "Okay, I'm listening."
"Adding anyone to the official Detail involves a LOT of red tape. However, as Deputy Director of the Secret Service, I have a lot of leeway as far as unofficial means. I was hoping to put someone close to the President, but not officially part of his guard. With a little luck, potential attackers wouldn't pay any attention to anybody except the obvious protectors. With a little more training, I'm sure we could turn you into a bodyguard at least as good as any agent we have right now."
I folded my arms across my chest as I thought about it. While I was pondering the situation, Connor herded us all up to his apartment and distributed drinks. Once we were all seated, I started my questioning. "How do you intend to get someone close to President Ryan without it being part of the Secret Service Detail?"
I tilted my head. "What's that entail?"
"Part gopher, part secretary. He's the one who does the running around stuff that makes the President's life just a little easier. Also called a bag man since he tends to carry the President's bags during trips."
"Why that set of attributes for someone? Twenty to thirty, etcetera."
"Historically, that's the description of the personal aide. Since the 'incident' at the Capitol, we've been having to repopulate all the miscellaneous jobs. President Ryan has fought against this one as long as he can, but it's becoming obvious he needs someone in a position like this."
I nodded, remembering hearing about the news of the JAL 747 that wiped out three-quarters of the top of the American federal government a few months ago. It wasn't surprising that they were hiring for all these extraneous jobs. And that also explained why she got bumped UP instead of sideways when she got married. Another potential problem surfaced and I gave voice to it. "You should know that I don't live in the United States right now."
Pat frowned slightly. "Where're you from?"
"Originally from Indiana, but currently living in Toronto."
Andrea nodded. "As I said, I have a lot of leeway. We can't let you use your real name anyway, so I was going to have to create an identity for you either way."
Good news all around. "Who would I report to?"
"Me," she returned succinctly. "You wouldn't be a part of the visible Secret Service, but you'd be taking your orders from me."
"What would be the rules for my behavior?"
"Be a personal aide until one of two things happen. Somebody dangerous shows up in front of your face or until you sense an Immortal. I don't want your real position to become known until it's really NEEDED."
I frowned slightly. "If I sense an Immortal, I'll have to do something very out of character for a personal aide. And if a bad guy gets close enough that I'm part of the immediate protection, my actions and training will become glaringly obvious."
She nodded. "President Ryan would have to be told who and what you are. The rest of the Detail would be told to obey your orders if you gave any, but to treat you as an aide otherwise."
"Slow down," interrupted Connor. "Why would you have to tell President Ryan?"
She shifted her attention to Connor. "So he would know to follow Ryan's orders if that becomes necessary," she answered.
I smiled softly. "How do you know you can trust me this close to the President of the United States?"
Her expression didn't even flicker. "I trust Connor, he trusts a friend of his named Duncan, and he vouched for your loyalty."
All this faith in me certainly wasn't doing my ego any harm. I forced myself to keep to the topic. "If I'm going to be part of his security force, however unofficial, you realize I have to be armed."
She nodded. "You'll get a badge that gets you through the metal detectors without having to reveal whatever sword you may use. You'll also be issued a handgun and taught to use it."
"That's where I come in," added Pat.
"How so?" asked Connor.
"I taught firearm safety and shooting at the FBI academy for ten years before becoming a roving inspector."
I almost grinned. "And you can teach me without it being 'official'."
He nodded with a slight grin.
"As for issuing me a handgun," I continued, "I already have two."
Connor frowned slightly in distaste, but Pat raised an eyebrow. "Where'd you get them?"
"Their previous owners have no more use for them," I answered levelly.
Andrea looked back and forth between Connor and me. "Should I ask?"
"I've been in the Game for a few years now," I answered.
It took a few seconds for Pat to put it together. He frowned. "That's criminal."
The answer from an FBI agent didn't surprise me. I shook my head. "No, just practical. If you know about the Game, then you'll know it's impossible to avoid the Challenges. You know what the end result of those fights are. Why walk away from valuable tools?"
He frowned but didn't refute the logic. "What kind of weapon?" he asked instead.
I reached behind my back and pulled the gun out of its holster. Connor was the only one of the three who didn't immediately reach for their own weapon. I calmly placed it down on the coffee table between me and Pat. Relaxing slightly, he reached for it and inspected it. Turning it over in his hands, he muttered, "Nine millimeter Glock. Not a bad weapon." He stopped turning the gun over and peered at one area along the barrel. He looked up with a smile. "Somebody filed the serial number off."
I smiled back. "Got it that way, actually. Though it was a good idea."
He returned his attention to my gun. Working the action once, he nodded in acceptance. He handed it back to me. "Not bad. I'll teach you how to take better care of it, though. How are you shooting?"
Slipping it back into its holster, I shook my head. "I've hardly ever had cause to use it."
"I'll turn you into a crack shot within a month."
I grinned. "I'll hold you to that. If I accept this proposal, of course."
"Of course," echoed Connor in amusement.
"How about your hand-to-hand skills?" asked Andrea.
"I can't beat Duncan, but I've been told that I'm pretty good."
Andrea grinned wolfishly. Connor cut in, "*I* can't beat Duncan either. He's a lot better than I am in hand-to-hand. He studied in Japan for a few decades when he was younger."
Andrea's smile faded. "Well, I'll teach you what I can about our techniques. Plus how to fight with the Asp." I nodded, remembering that that was what they called their telescoping metal batons. "Well, Mister Chessman, how about it?"
I leaned back in thought. The whole deal did sound interesting. "I'll have to give it some thought. Give me the particulars of the job . . ." I trailed off as she pulled an unmarked envelope out of her coat and handed it over. I took it and looked at her ruefully. "You had this all planned, didn't you?"
She tried to give me an innocent look. It failed miserably.
While I read, Pat began quizzing Connor about Immortality. It was mildly heartening to know that he had as few answers as I did.
Dragging my full attention back to the papers in my hand, one particular benefit caught my eye. I snorted quietly in amusement as I read that health coverage was included. All the other items weren't terribly surprising: pay was healthy, travel expenses covered, relocation expenses and so on.
When I finished reading, I put it down and looked up at Andrea. "Since this is already to this stage, your boss has to know some of this. Secretary of the Treasury if I remember correctly."
She nodded. "Yes, Secretary George Winston. I don't tell him how to run the Treasury, and he doesn't tell me how to run my corner of the Secret Service." She smiled. "Very good working relationship if you ask me."
"How long is the position good for?"
"Just President Ryan's term in office, or until you're 'killed' publicly."
Up to eight years then if Ryan got elected immediately and then re- elected. He'd filled in the remainder of Durling's term, and now the elections would decide if he was the right man in the public's opinion.
"I'll have to give it some thought." Though I was already leaning toward accepting it.
She nodded. "Not too much, though. I'm holding up the processing of this position. If I hold it too much longer, people will start to wonder why."
Connor stood. "Well, since you ARE here, how about a quick lesson before you go home tonight?"
That evening, I asked Connor about how he found her.
He smiled at the memory. "I was just walking home from the grocery and watched her get run over by a hit and run driver. Turns out she was newly married, and she and Pat were on their honeymoon. I had a hell of a time trying to get her under cover with Pat going crazy right there beside me. I almost had to knock him unconscious before she revived. It took hours before they both accepted this insane story I was telling them."
I smiled at that mental image. "How's her training coming?" I'd sparred against her, so I had my own opinion, but I was interested in his, too.
"You saw her. She isn't bad, but not good enough to go out on her own yet." That much was true. She had natural talent, but it wasn't refined yet. "Unfortunately," he continued, "she probably won't let me finish her training. She's been making more noise about having to come up here for it the past couple times."
"How serious is she about this job offer?"
"Very, as far as I can tell." He paused. "It IS an interesting idea, isn't it?"
I nodded thoughtfully in agreement. That it was.
Jennifer thought so too, but she wasn't happy about me taking a job a thousand miles away. "What do you mean, EIGHT YEARS?"
I winced at her sharp tone and the volume. This wasn't going nearly as well as I'd hoped. "We won't be apart nearly that long," I soothed. "You've been saying that we'll have to move out of Toronto soon, anyway, right?"
"Right," she grudgingly admitted.
"Well then, once you finish training Hoa, you can come down here." I crossed my fingers, hoping it was going to work.
She was silent for nearly a minute before she sighed. "I suppose you're right. It's just . . ." she trailed off.
I thought I saw the problem. "This is the first time you've had to move, isn't it? You went to Toronto the first time thinking it'd only be for school, but you've found a home there."
"I guess so . . ."
"Besides," I continued, "I can come home every other weekend or so, and you can come visit me here."
"I suppose." She didn't sound all that thrilled about the idea, but wasn't fighting it. Abruptly changing the subject, she said, "Richie and Hoa called last night. They'll be moving into town in less than a month. They said it'd take at least that long to close down everything on that end and put everything into storage. They'll just show up here with a carload of clothing and like that. No sense in them bringing everything since this place is already stocked with all the household stuff needed."
"Well, it's good to hear that everything's still in the works." Though I'm still somewhat surprised Hoa agreed to all this. And was willing to do it so quick. "I'll be home tomorrow night. My system is still on a daylight schedule, so I'll start back toward home first thing tomorrow morning."
"Why bother?" she asked. "Go down to DC and get yourself settled there. Let Price know your decision to go through with this so she can get the ball rolling on that end. You can come back up here this weekend to get your stuff." The words were straightforward enough, but she was clearly upset.
"Hon', if you don't want me to do this, say so."
There was a long pause before she finally answered, "No, this is something that probably needs to be done. You're one of the better choices. I'll just miss you, that's all."
"Not as much as I'll miss you," I returned with a smile.
I could hear her smile on the other end. "Uh, huh. Call me with a phone number and address once you have one."
"Will do. Love you."
"Not as much as I love you."
I heard her chuckle before the line disconnected. I echoed the chuckle as I pulled out the phone number that Andrea had left me. Dialing the number, I heard, "Secret Service. How may I direct your call?"
"Deputy Director Price's office, please."
The dreaded music only lasted moments before the other end was answered. "This is Deputy Director Price's office. How can I help you?"
"This is Ryan Allen," I said, giving the name Andrea had told me to use. "Can I leave a message with Deputy Director Price?"
"Certainly. Go ahead."
"Please tell her I'll be in DC tomorrow and would appreciate her giving me a call at my cell phone." I rattled off the number quickly.
"Very well. Anything else?" For a large bureaucracy, they were amazingly polite.
"No, thank you. Have a nice night."
Late the next morning found me seated at a bakery in downtown DC, working on a huge cinnamon roll and poring over a map of town and a Washington Post. Looking over the classifieds section, I realized why the pay was so nice. You had to get paid a fortune to live anywhere nearby.
My pocket chirped. Digging out my phone, I held it up. "Hello?"
"Mister Allen, this is Deputy Director Price."
"Ah, Director! Thank you for calling me back." Based on her calling me Allen, I assumed that this phone call was being recorded. Better stick to formal. "I've given your offer some thought and decided to accept."
"That's good to hear. If you can come by the main offices sometime today, we can get the paperwork started. You know where we are?" At my negative answer, she gave me an address that looked easy enough to find with the map on the table in front of me. It was quite close to the White House, unsurprisingly. Once I'd indicated that I'd located the address, she added, "Oh, and you'll have to go through a metal detector, so you'd better leave your phone in the car." That was also a round-about hint to leave any other large metal objects outside the building. Long pointy knives won't go over very well.
"Thank you for the tip. Don't want to annoy the agents at the metal detector. Until this afternoon then, Director."
Smiling politely but missing the reassuring weight of the swords in my coat, I went through the metal detector without any problem. I stopped in front of the first information desk. "My name is Ryan Allen. Deputy Director Price is expecting me."
The agent merely nodded without saying a word to me. Checking my name against a list he had, he picked up the phone and punched in a few digits. He announced me to whoever answered the other end before addressing me. "Agent Thompson will be along in a moment."
I nodded before wandering off toward the pictures along one wall. I looked at and read the history of Secret Service from Pinkerton up to a very recent plaque / memorial describing how thirty agents died in the capital building a few months ago. While studying a picture of a JAL 747 tail sticking up out of the wreckage, I heard a voice behind me, "Mister Allen?"
I turned and acknowledged the middle-aged man standing there, "Yes?"
He smiled, but the smile stopped before reaching his eyes. Without being obtrusive about it, he was studying me intently, eyes continually sweeping me. "I'm Special Agent Thompson." He handed me a "Visitor" badge and continued while I clipped it on. "Deputy Director Price sent me down to fetch you. If you'll come with me, sir?" He stood aside and gestured me down one hallway.
As we walked along, I noticed something just slightly out of place. For such a large working group, the building was surprisingly quiet. These people must be amazingly focused. But based on what they did, it shouldn't have surprised me much.
One hallway and two turns later, Special Agent Thompson walked past an empty desk and ushered me through an open door. Since I'd already entered Andrea's Buzz, it didn't surprise me to find her there. She visibly relaxed once she spotted me. Without having said a word, Thompson nodded slightly to Price, gave me another half-smile, and retreated out the door, closing it softly behind himself.
"I will never get used to that," she commented, waving me to a chair in front of her desk.
"What's that?" I asked as I idly scanned the room. A couple framed diplomas, several pictures of her with Pat, one with her and a girl I assumed to be Megan, her with three different presidents, two shooting range targets, and a group photo of some variety.
"The Sense, as Connor calls it."
My head snapped around to frown at her then flicked to the closed door.
She smiled and shook her head. "The phone calls are recorded as a matter of security, but there aren't any bugs in the building."
You say so. "Okay, now what?"
She sat back down behind her desk and studied me for a few moments. "How old are you?"
She shook her head. "That's how old you LOOK. How old ARE you?"
I smiled slightly. "Why?"
Her smile matched mine. "I'm wondering how to treat you away from prying ears. For this position, I have to be your superior. I'm wondering if I am."
"Would it make you feel better if I said I was thirty or two hundred thirty?"
"Thirty," she answered with a more genuine smile.
"Why?" I asked, intrigued.
"I wouldn't feel nearly so bad giving you orders if I was at least older than you are. Besides, there are some times I want to talk to an Immortal at least somewhere close to my age."
I laughed at that one. "Yeah, having a mentor that's four hundred years older makes it kind of tough for him to relate to some of our problems, doesn't it?" She rolled her eyes, causing me to smile. "To answer your question, I'm thirty-two. For these discussions, so long as they remain friendly, I'll be glad to be a like-age sounding board for you. Richie has done the same for me for the past seven years. I tried to do the same for Nick, and I'd be happy to continue with you."
"There are several more young Immortals out there then?"
I nodded. "All the time. Unfortunately, young ones tend to . . . fall in the Game quicker than the older ones. You and I were lucky to be found by someone who was a good, willing teacher."
She shrugged negligently. I bit back the urge to tell her that she HAD to finish her training with Connor. This was her life, and she was capable of making her own decisions.
"Well," she said, leaning back in her chair and steepling her fingers, "do you have any more questions about this position?"
Back to the official reason for my visit then. "How much training will I need?"
She shook her head. "Not much. Pat can turn you into an expert marksman within a month. It'll take less time than that for me to train you to use the Asp. Then I'll need to teach you on some of our more important protocols, but not that many."
"Why not all of them?" I asked with a frown.
"I don't want you ACTING like an agent. For instance, if I teach you some of our surveillance techniques, you'll start using them. If you're seen using them, then you'll be pegged as part of the Detail. I want you to look like part of the scenery. I'll trust that you can act appropriately when the situation demands it."
"Don't take this wrong, but you're placing an awful lot of faith in me." I wondered what kind of response I'd get.
She shrugged. "Even if you screw up, it wouldn't be any worse than if you weren't there at all. You're just an extra layer of protection."
I nodded, satisfied with her logic. "Okay. Now what?"
"I assume you haven't moved into town yet?"
"Just started looking today." Hell, she'd only given me the offer yesterday.
"Okay. Agent Thompson will give you what forms you can fill out, then. After that, we'll issue you what you'll be needing." She scribbled down an address and held out the sheet. "Come over tonight and Pat can start your training."
I stood to take the address, slipping it into a pocket. "If I'm going to be employed by the Secret Service, why won't I be taking my courses here?"
"It'd take too long, you'd pick up some things that would blow your cover, and the fewer agents who see you, the fewer who will treat you as one of our own."
Very odd circumstances, but the logic tracked. "Anything else?"
She nodded slowly. "I'll have to be creating Ryan Allen, so I'll need some info from you." She pulled a sheet out of one of her desk drawers and started asking questions. "What's your degree in?"
She started taking notes. "Any living family?"
"My adoptive parents are still alive, yes."
I just stared at her.
She blushed faintly. "Sorry, forgot. Medical history?" She shook her head immediately. "Never mind. This list may be easier than I thought." She scanned down a check sheet and started marking off things rapidly. She paused at a few spots and asked me questions. Getting to the end of the page, she asked, "Anything else you want me to take into consideration?"
I thought about it for a second. "Yeah, there is. Make Ryan Allen married."
Her eyebrows disappeared under her hair before an amused grin appeared. "You'll need to provide the wife."
I feigned surprise. "You mean I'm not issued one?"
She glared at me.
I chuckled and waved a hand. "Jennifer will be moving into town in about three months. We may very well qualify as a common-law marriage by now anyway. May as well make it official."
"YOU get to explain that one to her."
I grinned. "Not a problem. We've talked about it anyway. This saves us the hassle of really doing one."
"You are hopelessly un-romantic."
I gave her a half bow from the shoulders. I didn't even want to try to explain how difficult it would be for us to get married.
Seeing that I wasn't going to rise to the bait, she asked, "Let me know your phone number and address once you get one. Any more questions?"
I pointed to the sheet she'd been filling out. "Do you 'create' people often?" If so, this may be an easy way for Immortals to create new identities when they move.
To my disappointment, she shook her head. "Not often, no. The US Marshals with their Witness Protection program do it much more often. I have to go through them to get anybody created. Fortunately, Pat is owed a favor by one of the Marshals, so this one will be going through without any questions being asked."
Oh, well. It was worth a shot. But it was something to keep in mind.
Most of the rest of the day passed in a blur. I filled out a few forms (mostly having to do with the IRS), was issued a Beretta handgun, holster, Asp, Kevlar vest, and (my personal favorite) a shiny new badge. Cut loose with instructions to show up at the O'Day household by seven, I checked into a hotel.
My phone call with Jennifer that evening went much smoother than the previous few day's worth. We discussed what type of apartment we wanted, when she was going to be moving down, and what time that weekend I was going back up there. Fortunately for my peace of mind, she was ecstatic over my suggestion that our new identity had us as husband and wife.
Since I still had a few hours until Andrea and Pat were expecting me, I asked the front desk to recommend a good men's clothing store. I definitely needed more suits. Once there, the salesperson helping me get sized and picking out suits, ties, shirts, etcetera was a fount of useful information for me. She let me know where decent apartments were, what the good restaurants were, how to navigate through town, and so on.
When I was paying for my horde of purchases, she asked, "Will you be needing any alterations done?"
I frowned at her slightly. "I don't think so. The forty regular seems to fit me just fine."
She shook her head and smiled slightly. "No, I meant along the waistline in the middle of your back. You know, where that gun is."
My mouth must have been hanging open, because she burst into laughter. Wiping her eyes, she said, "Don't worry. You're obviously new in town, buying lots of suits suddenly, and wearing a gun. We do a lot of sales to the FBI, Secret Service, and police. So, do you need alterations done?" She was still smiling.
Smiling sheepishly back, I fished my brand new badge out and showed it to her. "Um, yeah, I guess I do."
I shook my head as it occurred to me that Andrea and Pat would get a kick out of this story.
On my way toward where I'd parked my car, I walked into a Buzz and stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes scanned frantically as I started moving again and hurried the last few steps to the car. I laid down my suits across the top of the car just as I spotted the woman standing across the road and staring in my direction. Both of her hands were without weapons (though she was carrying a briefcase in one hand), so I wasn't immediately concerned with my personal safety. Since we'd both obviously spotted each other, I glanced at the traffic and crossed straight over to her, careful to keep my hands in plain sight.
As I approached her, I noted what I could. She appeared to be in her early thirties, brown hair, medium height and trim. I vaguely thought she had a VERY nice figure, though it was tough to tell through the US Marine Corp uniform she wore. What was a silver oak leaf the rank symbol for, anyway? Her aura told me she was only a few years Immortal without any heads to her credit.
I stopped on the sidewalk five feet away from her. Since spotting me, she hadn't taken her eyes away from me, and I could see the wariness there. But neither hand had reached for a weapon so far. Folding my hands in front of me in a non-threatening fashion, I said, "My name is Ryan Chessman, and I avoid playing the Game if possible."
She nodded. "Diane Schonke. Me too. I'm willing to walk away if you are."
I tilted my head to her and checked traffic again, recrossing back to my car when it proved safe to do so. As I dropped my new purchases into the back seat, I glanced up at Diane just as her Buzz faded.
Well, it was nice to know that there were at last a few Immortals around here who weren't hunters. And if she, as young as she was, was still here, then there probably weren't any hunters around. Good news all around.
During the next two weeks, I moved into a one-bedroom apartment, had nightly training with Pat and Andrea, and still found time to go to Toronto once.
Due to the fact that Price felt that President Ryan was in dire need of my presence and my prior training was good enough for the interim, Pat and Andrea agreed to get me to work before my month of training was up. I'd continue working with Pat on marksmanship skills, but otherwise I was ready to go.
On the Friday before my first official work day, I drove to the Secret Service headquarters and from there, Deputy Director Price and I walked over to the White House. It was time to meet the President.
We ended up waiting in the secretary's room before being allowed into the Oval Office. I'd spent the entire time looking around in wonder and got the distinct impression that Andrea found my attitude amusing. Well, she'd been here longer than I had.
Finally, the doors to the Oval Office opened and several men in military uniforms marched out. "Still up for Monday, Robby?" asked a voice from inside.
The last man in line, a medium height black man wearing a navy admiral's stars and aviator wings, turned around before exiting the room and replied, "Of course, Mister President."
Taking on a slightly chiding tone, the voice replied, "Now what have I told you about calling me Jack?"
'Robby' tilted his head in Andrea's and my direction and replied, "We're not alone, sir. See you in a few days." With that, he threw a cheerful wave back inside, smiled at Andrea, nodded to me, and went off in the wake of the other officers.
Andrea led the way inside. "Good afternoon, Mister President," she greeted.
"Andrea! And how are you this fine day?" He smiled pleasantly at her before turning his attention to me. Walking toward me with a hand extended, he said, "Hello, I'm Jack Ryan."
I shook the offered hand. "Yes, sir. I'm Ryan Allen." I smiled as calmly as I could, but I doubted it was very believable. The President of the United States was on the tall side and had brown hair going to gray. In person, he was less intimidating than the press made him out to be.
After shaking my hand, he crossed back to his desk and took a seat behind it. Leaning back and looking at Price, he said, "When I was told you wanted half an hour of my time, by appointment no less, I must admit I was curious, Andrea. What's up?"
"I just wanted the two of you to meet, sir. Special Agent Allen is the man who's been selected to be your bag man."
His face closed off immediately a frown, but his voice took on a weary resignation. "I've told you that I don't want a personal aide."
"Yes, sir, you did." Based on her tone, this was a discussion they'd had multiple times before. "However, everyone agrees that you need one. Moreover, his purpose here is more than just a personal aide. He will also be part of you Detail."
President Ryan looked over at me and raised an eyebrow. I had to admit that I probably didn't look all that threatening at less than six foot and a hundred forty pounds. I gave him a small smile. "Perhaps I don't look intimidating, sir, but neither does Deputy Director Price."
I could see a smile start to form on his face. He steepled his fingers and said, "Tell me a little about yourself."
"I'm twenty-five, have a degree in computer science, grew up in Indiana, dislike almost all forms of professional sports, and play a mean game of chess, Mister President."
His smile grew fractionally. He tilted his head toward Andrea, "How did you find him, Andrea?"
I answered, "That, sir, is a very long story. I'll be happy to tell you when we have the time and a little more privacy." Andrea and I had had this argument several times. She'd finally convinced me to tell him the truth. She even gave me permission to tell him about her.
Both of his eyebrows rose at my comment. "More privacy than the Oval Office?"
"Not to sound insubordinate, sir, but yes. More than this." I nodded slightly.
He returned his attention to Andrea. "Is he serious?"
"Do YOU trust him?" he continued.
She nearly smiled. "Sir, I'm trained to trust exactly two people: myself and my protectee. Outside of that group, I trust Agent Allen as much as I trust anyone else." She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. "He comes well recommended."
Amusement and curiosity warred in his voice, "I can't WAIT to hear this story."
I smiled and tilted my head to him. "At your convenience, sir."
Quickly changing tracks, he asked Andrea, "Okay, what's the plan?"
"Today is just a meet and greet day. He'll report here for work Monday morning. As for daily interaction, I'd like everyone to treat him as a personal aide. He'll only reveal his identity as a member of your Detail if he's well and truly needed." She almost shrugged. "Call it a wolf in sheep's clothing."
Monday morning started way too early. Since I'd need to be working before the President did, I had to arrive at seven. I'd been introduced to all the secretaries on Friday, so none of them reacted badly when I took the seat nearest the door to the Oval Office that I'd been assigned. Booting the computer, I pulled up the latest copy of his itinerary. Meetings all morning, then a round of golf with Admiral Robby Jackson in the afternoon.
Almost nothing happened from my point of view all morning. President Ryan was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of a personal aide, and he didn't require anything at all from me. I ended up spending the time configuring my PC the way I wanted it.
As I was delivering his lunch, I said, "I saw you had a round of golf on your schedule. Who's your caddy?"
He looked up from his corned beef sandwich warily. "Why?"
I smiled to put him at ease. "Did I forget to mention that I was on my high school's varsity golf team? I'll bet I can caddy decently. Besides, your Detail will feel a whole hell of a lot better for it."
He laughed. "I'm beginning to like you, Agent Allen."
I raised one hand. "Ryan, please. Nobody's supposed to be treating me like Secret Service, remember?"
He nodded agreeably. "Ryan it is. Only if you call me Jack, though."
I appeared to think it over. "You realize that Director Price would have my head on a platter if I did that."
He grinned mischievously. "So we won't tell her."
A smile broke over my face. "Has anyone ever told you what a sneaky individual you are, Mister President?"
He cocked his head and waggled one finger at me.
"Jack," I amended.
He nodded, apparently satisfied. "Yes, frequently. Mostly, they're friends, though." He waved at the door. "Now get out of here. I need to eat my lunch, and you need to change before we all go to the course."
"Yes, sir, Mister President, sir," I replied cockily.
His laugh followed me out the door. I decided I'd like this guy. I promised myself to be more a friend than anything else to him. He probably needed it and definitely deserved it.
He was taking practice swings on the first tee when he commented, "Now, Ryan, you have to promise not to laugh. I haven't even been playing a full year yet."
"Not to worry, sir. I'm so rusty, I'd bet that my divots would fly further than my balls."
Admiral Jackson covered a laugh by converting it into a cough.
Jack looked up at me in amusement before shifting his attention to Jackson. "This young reprobate is my new personal aide and my caddy for the afternoon, Robby. Admiral Robert Jackson, meet Special Agent Ryan Allen."
We shook as he nodded to Jack. "We bumped into each other outside your office on Friday, Jack." He turned to me. "Agent?"
I nodded. "Yes, sir. Officially, part of the Presidential Detail. For all practical purposes, though, treat me as a personal aide. I'll act like a special agent only if I have to."
He nodded. "Fair enough. And I'm Robby, not 'sir'. Sir is only for personnel in uniform."
We both watched in silence as Ryan addressed the ball and smoothly went through his back swing, pausing at just past vertical, and accelerated downward. The ball went rocketing along at ten feet above ground level before it disappeared into the woods, twenty yards forward, and thirty yards to the right.
Not daring to crack a smile, I jogged over to the cart we'd been assigned. Pulling another ball out of the bag, I idly wondered if an agent nearly had his head taken off by that shot. Jogging back toward the tee station, I stopped ten feet away and tossed him the ball I'd retrieved. Casually, I said to Robby, "I played through high school myself. Made varsity my senior year. Our school hosted a six team tournament each year. I'd been watching this tournament for three years, just waiting for the chance to play. So I finally get the chance. I'm number five man on the team and therefore the first to tee off. Turns out that I'm the VERY first to tee off that morning. So I set up, smoothly back, take the swing, and look up. Nothing. Look down. I'd missed completely. In front of my entire team, coach, and five visiting teams, I'd whiffed."
"Ouch," said Robby in sympathy.
Jack had listened to the whole thing, of course. He cocked his head at me and asked, "Is that supposed to somehow make me feel better?"
I nodded. "You now know my most embarrassing golf story. Nothing you can do now would compare."
"Your caddy is trying to get you to relax, Jack," commented Robby. "He's actually looking out for your best interest."
"Yeah, I'll even promise not to tell the Post about that shot," I added innocently.
Jack glared at me as Robby muffled a chuckle. I was fighting to keep a smile off my face.
Muttering darkly under his breath, Jack set himself and tried again. This time, the ball ended up one hundred seventy yards downrange almost in the middle of the fairway.
Everyone watched it silently until it stopped rolling. As Jack was retrieving his tee, Robby said, "See? Just relax and let it flow."
"Yes, sir, Admiral, sir," he responded with a smile.
"And salute when you say it, Marine," returned Jackson.
Yep, these two were definitely long-time friends, I thought to myself as they both laughed.
We quieted down long enough for Jackson to tee off before all of us returned to the carts we had. As we neared them, I asked, "Would the President care to drive or ride?"
He raised an eyebrow at me. "You mean you'll actually let me do SOMETHING by myself?"
I shrugged. "Sure, why not?" I smiled suddenly. "Rest assured, there are several things I'll let you do on your own. Anything in your bedroom or bathroom for example."
Robby Jackson suddenly had another coughing fit.
Jack gave me a wry look. "Okay, okay."
We were heading down the rough toward Jack's ball when he asked me casually, "Is this a private enough forum for that talk you promised?"
"I wondered if this was going to come up. The discussion is likely to take quite a while, and I'd prefer not to do it around Admiral Jackson."
He frowned. "Robby has more than enough security clearance for anything you may say."
I sighed as we coasted to a stop. I stood with him and said, "It's not that. This has nothing to do with government security clearances. It's a matter of safety for an entire people."
He was in the act of pulling out a long iron and stopped and stared at me. "What?"
"Hundreds of lives are at risk whenever one of us talks about it."
His gaze sharpened. "Us?"
Shit. One little slip of the tongue . . . I nodded to him. "Yes, I'm part of the group that I'm talking about. My life would also be endangered by the wrong people learning of us."
His jaw tensed once. "I assure you that Robby Jackson is one of the most honorable and trustworthy men I know." And based on everything I knew about him, Jack Ryan wouldn't say that lightly.
I stared at him thoughtfully. He didn't avert his gaze. I nodded finally, and he nodded back and carried his three iron over to the one spot of white in the fairway. I dropped back down into the cart. This would take some planning.
By the time we'd made it up to the first green, I had to force myself to act as a caddy again. I watched as Robby expertly two putted for a par, and Jack also two putted after a short chip to make a triple bogey.
Instead of following Jack back to his cart, I followed Robby to his. He raised an eyebrow but didn't comment as I climbed in. "The President has asked me a question that I'm willing to discuss with him, but I'd rather you not be part of," I began without preamble quietly enough that nobody could overhear. "However, he's convinced me that you're trustworthy enough. I will be discussing things with the two of you that CANNOT be repeated. Considering the fate of the victims if this information becomes widely distributed, I wouldn't hesitate to kill whoever leaked the it."
"Was that a threat, Agent Allen?" he asked me in a deceptively calm voice.
"Only if you force it to be, Admiral Jackson," I returned with equal composure.
He looked at me for a moment out of the corner of his eye before giving a slow nod.
Time to mend the fence. "I really do hope we can be friends. You just have to understand that what I'm going to be telling the two of you means more than you can know."
"We'll see," was his cool answer as the cart pulled up beside Jack's.
I got out and walked over to Jack as Robby pulled out a medium iron for the par three hole. "You get everything covered with Robby?" asked Jack. I nodded. "Okay, why all the secrecy?"
"Because almost nobody in you Detail knows this information either."
THAT caused both men to stop and look at me. I smiled. "So, please, continue the game. If we stop, the Detail will wonder what's going on."
The two men in front of me shared a look and Robby continued toward the tee. As he was setting up his shot, Robby said, "Okay, Ryan. You have my attention."
I nodded. Robby took his shot, and I took a breath. Here goes. "First, I must reiterate that this information doesn't go any further than the three of us plus Director Price." I took another breath as Jack traded places with Robby. He took his shot and I continued, "You were right, Mister President, that Director Price had no reason to pick me except for one factor. She and I are both Immortal."
They both stopped on their way back to their carts and stared at me again.
I sighed. This was getting old. "Please, gentlemen. We have to keep moving before someone starts to get suspicious."
They traded another look and then kept going. I climbed into the cart with President Ryan before he pulled away.
He drove up to his ball which was just off the green without anyone saying a word. He chipped up toward the cup, and I carried his putter up toward the green where Robby was waiting to take his shot. As he was lining up his shot and I was pulling the flag out of the cup, he asked, "And what precisely does Immortal mean?"
He rimmed out his put and tapped it in for a easy par. I said, "We are a group of people who are extremely difficult to kill. We do not age. I personally know several Immortals over a thousand years old." Robby leaned over and retrieved his ball out of the cup as Jack lined up his shot and sunk a ten footer. "Nice shot, Mister President." I retrieved his ball, replaced the flag and followed him back to the cart.
Robby said, "I find that very difficult to believe. Over a thousand?"
I nodded. "Yep. I know one at about twelve hundred and four more older than that. Not to mention the dozen or so I know that are less than a thousand." Technically, Theresa Ryan wasn't Immortal (at least this flavor of immortal), but I wasn't about to throw that into the mix.
"How come I haven't heard about this?" asked Jack.
"We're very secretive."
"Why?!" asked Robby from his cart behind us. "You'd be the perfect soldiers, police, firemen, any job that's high risk."
"Yes, IF we were left alone. Some people who find out about Immortals immediately begin hunting us."
We pulled up at the third tee and Jack said, "I thought you said you were impossible to kill."
"Not impossible," I corrected, "just difficult. We do have a weakness."
"What's that?" asked Robby as he teed up.
"I'd rather not say. Besides, it isn't pertinent to this discussion."
Neither looked happy with the answer but didn't comment. Robby hit his shot and Jack took his place. "If you're so secretive, how did Andrea find you?"
I smiled. "A friend of mine found her. She had her First Death while on her honeymoon. Once she understood about Immortals, she wanted one on the Presidential Detail." Jack hit his shot. I continued, "And here I am."
"First Death?" asked Robby.
"Until the first time we die, we are indistinguishable from mortals. We age, we get hurt, etcetera. After our First Death, we become full Immortals. We recover from almost any form of death or injury within minutes, we cease aging, and we're now part of the Game."
We were quiet until the next green. "Game?" asked Robby.
"Many Immortals hunt other Immortals. Survival of the fittest, so to speak. That's another reason we're so secretive. If nobody knows about me, I won't be hunted."
Jack raised a hand. "We'd better shelve this discussion until we're stopped somewhere. We can't continue to play and quiz Ryan at the same time."
The remaining five holes went calmly, even with the questioning looks Robby and Jack kept throwing me. We eventually finished up the ninth hole. Instead of continuing on to the tenth tee, Jack waved Robby over and said, "Let's call it a day. Come on back to the White House and we can continue this discussion there in the Residence." Robby nodded and started unloading his bag as Jack explained the change in plans to the head of the Detail, Agent Kessler.
I sat in the limo with President Ryan during the trip back to the White House. I had the scorecard from the course in my hand. "Congratulations, Mister President. You scored a forty-nine."
He chuckled. "Figures. Best nine holes of my life, and I can't concentrate on it. I'd rather go home and talk to you."
"It's my charming personality," I smiled.
He rolled his eyes.
I pulled the phone off its cradle and punched in a number from memory.
"Secret Service, how may I direct your call?"
"Agent Allen for Deputy Director Price, please."
I must have gotten the direct line this time, because Andrea answered, "Price."
"Deputy Director, it's Agent Allen. The President, Admiral Jackson, and I are going to be having a discussion that you may be interested in. Would you care to meet us in the Residence for it?" I had to be careful. I wanted to know if it was safe to talk there, but I didn't want to worry President Ryan about it either way.
She understood what I was asking. "The Residence is safe, but I probably can't make it. Let me talk to him."
I handed the phone over, saying, "Director Price wishes a word with you, sir."
He took the handset and gave me a dirty look before speaking into it. "Yes, Andrea?" He was silent for long seconds before he spoke again. "Yes, we've started to discuss it." He looked at me a moment before continuing, "No, I don't need you there if you think he can be trusted." He nodded. "Okay, I'll listen. See you later, Andrea. Bye." He hung up the phone.
Robby had watched this whole thing in silence. "What'd Andrea say?"
"To listen to everything Ryan says. She'll talk with us later if we want."
It was a quiet ride back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
There were a few raised eyebrows and frowns among the White House staff at our early return, but nobody commented.
Jack led Robby and me (with a loose ring of Secret Service around the lot of us) right over to the elevator that led to the Residence. As we arrived, Jack asked the agent standing post there, "Are any of my family here?" The agent shook his head, and Jack nodded. Four of us boarded the elevator and rode up in silence. Once the door opened, Agent Kessler settled himself at the door while Jack led Robby and myself to the Ryan's current living room. There, he waved us toward a couch and asked, "Either of you want anything to drink?"
"A beer would be nice," observed Robby, studying me.
I nodded at Jack's raised eyebrow. I turned to Robby and asked, "What, have I grown horns or something?"
"Or something," he agreed, looking slightly embarrassed.
Jack came back over and distributed bottles before taking a seat. "Immortal," he observed.
I shrugged. "Nobody knows. None of us know our real parents. We're normal human beings until our First Death. Then we're Immortal."
"Can you tell who will become Immortal?"
"Yes. Though mostly that skill is reserved to those Immortals over two hundred or so."
"You're over two hundred?" asked Robby in something between disbelief and wonder.
"No, I'm not. I'm thirty-two myself. I just happen to read Buzzes better than most."
I was beginning to feel like I was in the middle of a quiz show. "When two Immortals get close to each other, thirty feet to one hundred feet depending on circumstances, both Immortals will feel what we call a Buzz. For me, it's a tingly my-arm-fell-asleep feeling in the back of my brain. I can study that feeling with more accuracy than most Immortals my age." It was a lot more complex than that, but I was trying to keep this discussion as simple as possible.
"You mentioned a game of survival."
"When one Immortal kills another, our power, our soul if you will, gets transferred to the victor. Some hunters get addicted to that. This perverse Game has been going on for thousands of years. It's so ingrained into our culture that even those who wouldn't have normally been violent are forced to learn to defend themselves or they will be hunted down and killed." I sighed. "We aren't forced to fight, but many do for whatever reasons."
Jack had been watching quietly. "You know, you haven't provided any concrete proof of anything you're saying."
I sighed again. Damn Intelligence types, always needing proof. I'd been dreading this. Standing, I put my beer down and waved the two along after me as I walked to the kitchen. As I was entering, I reached inside my coat and pulled out my combat knife. When I stopped at the sink and turned to look at the other two, I saw that Jackson had stepped in front of Ryan and was subtly protecting him. I gave him a tight smile. "Good instincts, but isn't that my job?"
Jack, apparently realizing what Robby was doing, gave him a stern look and stepped around his friend to get a better look at what I was doing. I'd placed the knife down on the counter and was removing my coat. Putting it down further along the countertop, I rolled up one sleeve of my shirt. Holding my arm above the sink and gritting my teeth, I took the knife and cut along my forearm deep enough that blood immediately started dripping from the wound. Before my stunned audience's eyes, the cut slowly knitted itself together with little skitters of blue lightening. When it finished healing, I placed the knife back down and rinsed off my arm. Once the blood was gone, I presented the fully healed skin for their inspection. They both stared at it, at each other, then at me before I turned back to cleaning myself up. By the time I'd dried my arm off and dressed again, they'd both drifted back to the living room.
"Do all the Secret Service agents carry around knives like that?" asked Jack in a weak attempt at humor.
I smiled. "I'm a special case."
"What are you?" Robby asked quietly, staring at me intently.
My lip twisted in annoyance. "I'm not quite human if that's what you're asking. Superficially, emotionally, culturally, I'm an American. Look, Admiral, I didn't ask for this any more than you asked to get grounded due to your arthritis. I'm just trying to make the most of the hand I was dealt. Just like you."
He stared at me for another few seconds before nodding, apparently accepting my points.
"Okay, what do we do about it?" asked Jack.
I shook my head. "Nothing. I'm your personal aide. Treat me as such and everything will be fine. If I start to act strangely, well, you'll have some idea why I might."
"What's the Secret Service think of this?"
"Andrea Price was the one who came up with the idea of my being on your Detail," I reminded him.
"No," Jack corrected, "I mean the rest of the Detail."
I shook my head. "As I said, they don't know. They're under orders to treat me as your bag man unless and until I start giving orders. If I do that, I'm actually in charge." I smiled and shrugged self deprecatingly. "Color me important. If it gets to that point, though, my cover is blown." I sighed. "Your Detail has lots of standing orders that wouldn't make sense to you or the general public. This is just another one of them."
"Okay," said Jack, trying to come to grips with this new reality I'd presented him with, "if you're going to be my bag man, tell me about yourself."
"You want the real me or the identity Andrea made for me?"
Robby raised an eyebrow, but Jack calmly replied, "Start with the real you and then tell me about the differences."
"I was adopted by a couple in central Indiana and raised with a dozen other foster children. Once I was accepted at the engineering school of my choice, I left and never went back." I waved my hand at Robby's frown. "Don't get me wrong. I love my parents, but they understood that I never fit in there. Anyway, I got my degree in computer science and went to work for an international firm on the west coast after graduation. I was there for just over a year before I died the first time in a freak accident. My teacher found me and trained me. A friend from that first job moved in with me, and we were living happily together until she was killed by an Immortal that was after me. A few months later I started a cross-country sightseeing tour. I made it here to DC before I heard that a friend of my teacher's was living in a major city in Canada. Since I was looking for a place to settle down, I went up there and eventually stayed. She has eventually moved on, and is married herself now, but by then I'd met Jennifer. We rapidly fell in love and have been living together there for two years since. I heard that Andrea wanted someone in this position not quite a month ago and here I am." I'd left glaring holes in my story, but telling them the whole truth, including Watchers and vampires, sure wouldn't make my story any more believable.
"I notice there weren't any traceable names in that description," Jack pointed out delicately.
I smiled. "Yes, sir." He didn't appear to like that answer. I added, "I'm being deliberately vague. The less you know, the less you can hurt me, even unintentionally."
"Damn secrets," Jack muttered. "That's the one thing I like about this lousy job. There ARE no secrets from me."
"You say so, sir," commented Robby, fighting to keep a straight face.
Jack gave his friend a mock glare. "You know what I mean, Robby." He turned back to me. "And the differences between the real you, whatever your real name is, and Special Agent Ryan Allen?"
I smiled at his accurate remark. He still didn't know my real name. "Ryan Allen never left the States. He was working in a computer security firm on the west coast when someone in the LA Secret Service recruited him. He moved straight here from that point. He's been married to Jennifer for the past two years. She'll be meeting me here in two or three months."
"She'll be coming here?" asked Jack.
I nodded. "She grew up in Chicago if that makes you feel better."
"How old is she?" asked Robby.
"Twenty-four." Well, physically, anyway.
"She's Immortal, too?"
I shook my head. "No, she isn't." Not the Immortal you're asking about, anyway, I amended silently. "Two Immortals marrying each other is very uncommon."
"Andrea said you came well recommended?"
"Her teacher and my teacher know each other and trust each other. She asked her teacher for an Immortal who fit the historical profile of the bag man and eventually found me."
"How many Immortals are here in DC?" wondered Jack.
"At least two."
He gave me a sour look. "I already knew that. I was asking if there were any more besides you and Andrea."
"If they don't wish to reveal themselves, assuming there are any, then I have no right to."
Seeing he wasn't getting anywhere with that line of questioning, he switched tracks, "As a doctor, Cathy would be fascinated by this."
"No," I commented flatly. "She doesn't learn about me, Mister President. If circumstances force me to reveal it, then I will. Until then, the fewer who know about us, the better."
He opened his mouth to argue the point. My uncompromising stare must have put him off, though. Instead, he said, "Okay, I won't say anything to anyone. Who the hell would believe this anyway?"
"Hardly anyone," I grinned. "Though being Immortal, you do meet or hear about some of the most interesting people."
"Like who?" asked Robby, sounding mildly interested.
Who was the most important Immortal personage I'd met or heard about? I grinned as one name came to mind. "Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire."
Robby's bottle stopped halfway up to his mouth. He stared at me silently before commenting, "You're kidding."
I shook my head. "Nope. I haven't met him myself, but I know his adopted son. Marcus Constantine adopted Antonius when he was still a Roman general, though. Years before he became Emperor."
Robby turned to Jack. "Could you imagine if you tried to make him your Vice President?" He altered his voice to be a fair approximation of Jack, "My fellow Americans, I would like to introduce to you Marcus Constantine, who is my appointment as Vice President. He has a long history of politics starting with the time he was Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire."
I was nearly snickering and even Jack's lip kept trying to twitch. He said, "What, you don't think he'd be ratified by the Senate?"
I chuckled lightly before replying, "The only question would be how long it took them to impeach you on grounds of insanity." Robby chuckled and Jack smiled. I added, "Now you know why we're never mentioned in history books."
Jack got up to refresh his drink. "Either of you two want another?"
After Robby and I shook our heads, I turned to the admiral and said, "This job is going to be great. I have the President of the United States getting my drinks. What more could anyone ask for?"
Jack joined us in laughter.
"You realize that the business lobby will try to destroy you for this," commented Arnold van Damm as I walked in the door with a tray carrying a carafe of coffee and several mugs. Neither man really noticed my arrival. I'd been around so long that I was part of the scenery by this time. "You were elected by a landslide a few months ago, but that popularity won't protect you from this."
"Damnit, Arnie. I don't CARE what they think. The mainland Chinese have been abusing human rights for longer than I've been alive. Not to mention what happened two days ago. It's time we put a stop to it!"
Personally, I thought he was right. However, I wasn't a political animal, so I wasn't part of this discussion. I placed the tray down and Jack absently thanked me before looking up. "What do you think, Ryan?"
Okay, so maybe I WAS part of this discussion. I didn't pretend to not know what he was talking about. "I agree with you, Jack." I held up a hand to his impending grin. "However, how much political influence or savvy do I possess?" His grin fell. Mine came up. "That's why you have your Chief of Staff here," I waved at Arnie.
"Thank you, Ryan," van Damm nodded. He turned to Jack. "I'll admit that morally, revoking the Chinese favored nation trade status is the right thing to do. However, I'm telling you that businesses around the world rely on the low labor costs there. It ain't fair, but there you are." He turned back to me. "What's your girlfriend think of this, Ryan?"
I continued to pour the coffee as I replied, "First, she's my wife. Second, she's half Vietnamese, not Chinese. Third," I looked up at him, frowning slightly, "when did you meet her?"
He laughed at my look. "The staff's family Christmas party. She'd just moved into town and this was her first time in the White House. She was looking around in absolute wonder, and I couldn't resist the temptation to give her a quick tour."
I smiled back before assuming a stern tone and waggling a finger at him. "Just so long as that was the only thing you gave her, Arnie."
He laid a hand to his chest dramatically and took on a hurt tone. "What kind of man do you think I am? She's young enough to be my daughter."
Jack chuckled along with me. He commented, "I'm just glad he IS married. This way I don't have to worry about Sally with him."
I smothered a grin. His older daughter was well into her teens, otherwise known as the time that all fathers fear. Not to mention what her agents think of the fact that she wanted to start dating.
Arnie waved a hand. "You'll survive it, Jack. Andrea and her crew will protect her from all the senators' sons with raging hormones."
Jack forced a smile, and I bit my lip. Arnie had always been too casual with the Ryans' personal safety. But there was no way to convince him otherwise.
Since I'd finished pouring the coffee, I straightened up and addressed Jack. "Unless you'll be needing me further this evening, Jack, I think I'll be heading home."
He nodded and waved vaguely at the door. "Go. We'll be flying to Chicago early tomorrow for that dedication. See you tomorrow."
The next morning I got up before dawn to make it to Andrews Air Force Base an hour before Air Force One was scheduled to leave.
Of course, the advantage to getting up before dawn was that I could spend time with Jennifer before I left. I'd offered her the chance to go with us (being a personal aide does have SOME perks), but she didn't want to. She was still leery of bumping into someone who knew her before her time in Toronto.
After one enthusiastic sendoff, I finally made it to Andrews with only a few minutes to spare.
The flight was wonderfully uneventful. Everyone endured the necessary arrival festivities and speeches before we all loaded into the waiting vehicles for the quick trip to the new facilities on the University of Chicago's medical school campus. Since the Ryans had been major contributors toward it, the school felt that they deserved a place of honor during the dedication ceremonies. Doctor Ryan (Well, the First Lady. Both Ryans were doctors.) was the only one of the two who had any interest in attending, but Arnie convinced Jack that it would help his public image to go as well. Once again, we all suffered through the smiles and speeches before they finally cut the huge red ribbon with a pair of gaudy, shiny brass scissors.
When the administrators finally released both Ryans from their effusive thanks and handshaking, I was royally sick of the PR circus that the local media had made of it. You'd think that after months of watching it, I'd be immune, but I wasn't. Based on Jack and Cathy's reactions, they were even more uncomfortable than I was. But I was only on the fringes. They had to bear the brunt of it.
As their escorts formed up around us, I walked beside Cathy. Softly enough that none of the crowd or reporters could hear, I asked, "You ready to blow this joint?"
Cathy laughed and smiled at me. "I like you, Ryan. You seem to be the only one around here who agrees with my attitude toward all this pomp and circumstance."
I smiled back. "I'm the comic relief. With just a few exceptions, anyone in federal employ wouldn't know a joke if it ran up and urinated on their leg. I'm trying in my own humble way to keep the President of the United States and his lovely First Lady from going nucking futs."
"Nucking futs?" she asked.
"Another example of his warped humor," commented Jack. "Switch the first letters back."
I smiled as her eyes widened. "Parrot ceeler, nose hozzel, and so on. It's sick, but it's occasionally funny."
"Give up, Ryan. You're trying too hard," said Jack as he helped his wife into the limousine.
"And I suppose you won't let me tell the broccoli joke to her, either."
She raised an eyebrow, but he shook his head. "No," was his simple response.
I sighed dramatically as I joined them in the limo. "You're no fun."
Arnie and I were teamed up against the Ryans for a game of bridge several hours later. After the ceremony, we'd all retired to a suite of rooms that had been reserved for the presidential party. Once Jack had gotten a few items of business taken care of, he realized that he actually didn't have anything that needed to be done until the next morning. Given a rare evening off, Jack didn't really know what to do with himself until Arnie suggested cards. And so the three of them were trying to teach me how to play bridge.
My partner had won the bidding and that made me the "dummy", a role, I joked, that was my strong suit in this game. Since I was going to be watching for the next few minutes, I stood to stretch my legs. "Anybody want anything to drink?"
Jack and Cathy waved me off, but Arnie nodded. "Could you get me another beer?"
I nodded and headed toward the bar that was a part of this wonderful suite of rooms. I idly wondered how much the room went for as I pulled a bottle out of the mini-fridge.
My hand was reaching for the bottle opener when a Buzz walked into range. I put the bottle down and reached for my gun as I studied it. Since I was getting out of practice, it took me several seconds before I realized that it wasn't anyone I knew. Two hundred fifty years old, but not all that many heads to their credit. I'd better find out who and where this Immortal was.
Completely pulling my gun from its holster, I started to ask the Ryans to go into the bedroom when the door came slamming inward, clearly having been kicked in. Two men came tearing into the room immediately behind the swinging door. Both were wearing dark clothing and carrying Uzi machine guns. That was more than enough to consider them hostile.
"Gun! Get DOWN, Mister President," I yelled as I snapped off a shot at the first gunman. I was already shifting my aim at the second when I saw out of the corner of my eye as my first target's head sprayed messily on the far wall. I fired two shots into the chest of my second target before starting to look toward my protectees to see if they'd been hurt. One corner of my brain noted that there hadn't been any warning from the Service agents who should have been outside, and I worried about what may have happened to them. Since my vision had done a strange tunnel effect and I was looking toward the President, I didn't see the man standing in the doorway with another Uzi. I heard a stuttering series of shots from that direction and felt a dozen hammer blows impact my chest. I was thrown into the wall behind the bar and fell to the floor, hidden from view of whoever it was that was attacking. While being hidden from my attackers was a good thing, my body was shutting down in death far too quickly to make use of the situation. My last conscious action was to jam my left forearm into my mouth. I vaguely felt the unknown Immortal's Buzz fade out as the world drifted away.
The first thing I noticed when I came back around was the taste of my coat in my mouth. Since my body was trying to cough and draw a deep breath simultaneously, my arm effectively muffled the sounds.
Fighting through the pain in my chest, I tried to remember how I got into this position. It didn't take long for my memory to return. At that point I bit into my arm hard to prevent myself from making any noise while my chest continued to slowly and painfully heal. Hoping to distract myself, I listened in an effort to find out what was going on.
"What is it that you want?" Jack's voice was dangerously cold. Well, the good news was that he was apparently unhurt.
"You, Mister President," said Voice One. "With you under our control, anything else is possible." I couldn't tell anything useful about the voice beyond that it was male.
"You realize that you can't possibly get away with this," commented Cathy Ryan.
"Ah, but we already have," retorted Voice One.
"If you have any concept of what you're facing, you'll give yourselves up right now. The three of you can't hope to get out of here," said van Damm.
"Who said there were only three?" asked Voice Two in amusement. "Besides, your Secret Service protection hasn't been doing a very good job of stopping us so far, despite how your one man in here did."
True (and that was still a worry), but I was getting all sorts of useful information. Three of them alive in the room, and both of the Ryans and van Damm had all spoken. I knew where my principals were seated, and Voice One and Two where near them. That still left a third terrorist wandering around somewhere. Since I hadn't been shot since I'd started moving again, I assumed that I couldn't be seen.
At this point, three things happened that made my chances look much more promising. One was that I realized that the Buzz I'd felt earlier was gone, so I didn't have to mess with any Immortals. Two was that I still had my gun in my hand. Three was the bedroom door closing and Voice Three saying, "Nothing in there."
Okay, all three targets on the far end of the room. Two probably facing my principals. Can't do anything for the moment for fear that one of them would hurt some of the good guys.
Circumstances quickly saved me from making any decisions. Voice One said, "Good. Get the gun off that dead agent behind the bar. Can't leave guns lying around, now can we?" I could nearly see the sarcastic smile he must have been giving Jack at that point.
Fortunately, I'd almost finished healing by this point. I got to a squatting position as quickly but quietly as possible. I also drew my knife with my left hand. This was going to be messy.
Voice Three belonged to a non-descript Caucasian male, age approximately thirty-five, six foot tall or so. Unfortunately, he was still carrying his Uzi. Leading with my knife point, I jammed it upward under his chin. His face showed his surprise at my condition before my knife found his brain. Not bothering to waste time pulling my knife out of him, I simply released him and brought that hand over to support my gun hand. I'd already aimed and fired at one of the men around Swordsman, Surgeon, and Carpenter. I vaguely noted that I was referring to them by their Service names as my left hand made it to the gun. My fifth target's reactions were quicker than his friends'. He jumped sideways and sprayed bullets toward me. My first shot missed him completely due to his dodge, but my second and third bullets were on target. Unfortunately for my abused body, his aim was only slightly worse. Three more bullets came slamming into my upper chest and right shoulder.
I gasped at the pain and leaned forward over the bar for a moment. When I looked up, Swordsman had already picked up one of the Uzis and was training it on the door. He'd pulled Surgeon behind him. Carpenter was simply sitting at the table, staring at me with his jaw hanging slightly open.
Surgeon visibly pulled herself together, got up, and walked toward me.
"Attention inside! This is Special Agent Kessler of the Secret Service. Drop your weapons and come out with your hands up!" Kessler's voice came from outside the splintered door that had rebounded to half open. He was probably using a bullhorn to produce that kind of volume.
"About goddamn time," I commented, straightening up. Raising my voice, I shouted, "This is Allen. Five targets down. Swordsman, Surgeon, and Carpenter are all unhurt!"
"Say again," came from outside the room.
Cathy had stopped when I stood under my own power. Now she was staring at me in blank disbelief. I turned to Jack and said quietly, "Put down the gun, Jack. I don't want you shot by accident now." I turned back toward the door and raised my voice again as slowly put down the Uzi. "Five bad guys down. Come on in and join the party."
Six Service agents were almost instantly through the door.
Van Damm finally tore his gaze away from me as the six new agents swept through the room. He took in the five bodies, two red spray patterns on the one wall, and the rapidly spreading crimson pool under the man I'd knifed. Quickly turning his face, he bolted toward the door to the bathroom.
Cathy had been staring at me the whole time. "What . . .?" she trailed off.
"Later," Jack and I said. He was being helped to his feet from where he'd been kneeling with one of the guns. Once he was standing, he crossed to Cathy and pulled her into his arms. After he'd satisfied himself that she was unhurt, he turned to Agent Kessler. "What the hell happened?!"
Kessler pulled his quizzical expression away from me and turned toward his Commander in Chief. Hanging his head slightly, he said, "We were ordered to the lobby, sir."
"By who?" Jack asked in a dangerously quiet voice. I was in such an all- consuming rage myself that I forced my hand to holster my gun before I tried to kill someone else.
Kessler's jaw twitched once before he answered. "I don't know."
Jack and I stared at him. "YOU DON'T KNOW?!?" shouted Jack.
None of the other agents were looking any of us or each other in the eye. Kessler's head fell further. "No, sir. A man came up to me and just told me to take my Detail to the lobby and wait there." He frowned. "Why would I obey that?" he didn't appear to be asking us, rather talking to himself.
"Oh, shit," I muttered, as one possible explanation coming to the forefront. All the facts fit, and it also meant that none of the agents was to be blamed. I realized I was suddenly the center of attention of everyone in the room, including van Damm who was emerging from the bathroom looking decidedly pale. Shaking my head, I started giving orders. With my special status, I actually was in charge now. "Lock down the building right now. There're at least two more terrorists running around. Everyone moves in pairs until we get out of here. Call me the instant anybody spots one of the perps. Assume they're both wearing vests, no matter what you see. Get transportation ready to get us back to Air Force One. Make it ground, not helicopter. We're going home tonight. The White House is easier to defend than this is. Move!"
Kessler nodded to the other agents in the room and it cleared rapidly. I hoped the vampire was already gone. One of these agents trying to stop him would only get themselves killed. If the Immortal was still in the building, though, that would be one we could stop. I doubted he'd still be here, but giving the agents something to do that they understood would definitely work to my advantage right now.
Kessler was still looking at me. More to the point, he was close enough to see the bullet holes in my shirt and jacket. And the unbroken skin underneath. Quietly, he asked, "What are you?"
I glared. "I'm not an enemy. Right now, I'm also your boss. That's the only thing you need to know, got it?" I snarled.
He damn near saluted me. "Yes, sir. Any other orders, sir?"
"Yes, the press stays out of the building. You'll need to stay and liaison with the Chicago PD. We need to know who these clowns were. We're heading straight back to DC. By the time you have any useful information, you'll be able to reach us there." I took a breath. "I'll be taking the five other agents who were here with us. I promise you that Deputy Director Price or I will give you an explanation eventually. For right now, do your job. Any questions?"
He nodded. "How do I explain this to the Chicago cops?" He waved at the bullet ridden bar and knife sticking out of one of the terrorists.
I was silently thankful that he was following orders. I thought about it for a second before answering. "An unnamed Service agent was in here. I shot the first two as they came in the door. My Kevlar vest stopped the bullets that knocked me unconscious. When I came to, I knifed that one and shot those two." I'd pointed first at the body with my knife still embedded in him and then to my last two targets. "Do NOT use my name or position," I reiterated. "I'm just an unnamed Service agent. You and the rest of the Detail were lured to the lobby by a false report."
"You would have made a good spook, Ryan," commented Jack.
I spared him a quick smile. Kessler moved off and began implementing my orders while I went into the bedroom and pulled a spare shirt out of my overnight bag. Quickly changing, I stuffed my bullet ridden shirt and jacket into my bag and carried everything to the front room.
"Building is clear. Negative on apprehending the last two suspects, Agent Allen. Transport's out front with the five agents you requested to accompany you. Chicago PD's arriving. Press and the public is being held at a one block perimeter. Any further orders?" Agent Kessler was doing his job consummately well and treating me like his boss. For the moment, President Ryan was content to let me handle things.
I shook my head at Agent Kessler. "No, no more orders. If you think of anything else that needs to be taken care of, don't hesitate. Questions?" He shook his head. I took a half step closer. In a low voice, I said, "Thank you, Kevin. You WILL get an explanation eventually. I just don't have time for it right now."
He nodded to me and led the way out the door, sweeping Chicago police and the extra newly arriving agents out of the way.
Once we were safely in the air in Air Force One, I flopped into a seat in the area used by the Service. All five of the agents who had been the first into the room with Kessler were looking at me in frank curiosity.
Fortunately, none of them had seen all that much. A creative lie would probably work. "You're all aware that Deputy Director Price put me into this position as a hedge against emergencies. Well, we definitely had one tonight. I dropped the first two guys in the door before someone shot me. I was wearing a new, super thin Kevlar III vest, so it threw me backwards into the wall, and I must have been knocked out. By the time I recovered, one of them was coming over. I knifed him and shot the last two. That guy I knifed managed to bleed all over me." Which explained why several bullets would no doubt turn up missing, why there was a time lag between two and three, and why I was covered in blood when they all came rushing in.
Silence fell for a few moments while they all compared those facts with what they'd seen. Finally, one of them asked, "Why'd Kessler order us to the lobby?"
I shook my head. "Not his fault. He was subjected to a form of enforced hypnosis. Nothing he could have done to stop it, and none of you are to blame for following his orders."
"Your shoulder okay?"
At the apparent non sequitor, I looked over at the other agent who had spoken. "Huh?" I asked with a frown.
"You were holding it when we entered."
I was? Oh, yeah. I'd been shot by number five. I must have been holding a hand over my shoulder. "Yeah, must have banged it when I hit the wall. Just bruised."
Slowly, all of them nodded. They all probably realized I wasn't telling the whole truth, but I'd given them a plausible explanation. And we weren't called the SECRET Service for nothing. None of these men would question what I'd said.
I just wished Cathy Ryan and Arnold van Damm would be as easy to convince.
"I'm going to talk to Swordsman, Surgeon, and Carpenter for a few minutes," I continued. "Once we're done, you guys had better interview us for the investigation. I'll let you know." Pulling myself wearily up, I made my way to the front of the plane. All the way forward at this level was the room that the President used, complete with folding bed. Just aft of that was a larger open space that could seat up to six in stately comfort. That's where I found both Ryans and van Damm.
Cathy began studying me the instant I sat down. Fortunately, she seemed to be calm. Perhaps this wouldn't be nearly as difficult as I had worried. Swiveling idly in her chair, she asked me, "Okay, are you going to explain to me what I saw today?"
"What did you see?" I asked, trying to get a feel for how much I would need to explain.
"A dozen bullet holes in your chest," was the flat answer.
"Kevlar vest," I returned, trying for an easy answer.
Both she and Arnie shook their heads. He said, "You had blood all over your chest BEFORE you knifed that third one."
I sighed and stood up, moving to the bar. "Anybody want anything to drink?"
"You aren't getting out of it so easy, Agent Allen," commented the First Lady.
"I know. But I lost a lot of blood an hour ago. I'm thirsty. Now, does anyone want anything to drink?" When they shook their heads, I just poured myself a tall glass of orange juice and returned to my seat, taking a deep draught of the drink. Leaning back in my chair, I rubbed a hand over my face and said, "I'm a member of a group that has remarkably fast healing powers. What would kill most people only slows us down."
"Where do you come from?" asked van Damm in curiosity. Amazingly enough, neither him or Cathy seemed frightened at my revelation.
"None of us has come up with a reasonable explanation for what we are. We were all orphans, so we don't know who our parents are."
"How'd you get here?"
I assumed she meant here as part of the Detail instead of a more metaphysical 'here'. "Deputy Director Price recruited me and made me Jack's personal aide. She wanted someone close without being a part of the visible protective Detail. She wanted an ace up her sleeve, so to speak."
"You know, if I could run some tests . . ." Unsurprisingly, Cathy was reverting to Doctor Ryan.
I shook my head at her. "Several of us have been doctors. Every one of them has tried to figure us out. None of them have been successful. We're an enigma, even to ourselves."
"There's a whole lot more to this story than you're telling," observed van Damm.
I nodded. "Yes, there is. However, there isn't any need to tell you more. My cover is blown, so I'll be leaving you soon. I just wanted you two to know enough that you wouldn't start asking questions. Widespread exposure would only cause us to be hunted for any of a dozen different reasons, from fear of the different to looking for a cure for cancer. For the most part, we tend to keep away from high profile positions, quietly living our lives and trying not to be noticed. Speaking of which, please don't tell anyone else about us." Arnie and Cathy nodded agreement.
"Backtrack a second. You're leaving?" asked Jack.
"You aren't surprised by this story," observed Cathy.
Jack shook his head. "I've known since I met him."
I nodded to answer his question. "Like I said, my cover is blown. Now that you three plus your Detail has seen me for what I really am, I'm useless as a hidden level of protection. For the reasons I already mentioned, I can't be a more high profile member of the Detail. So I have to disappear."
The rest of the flight passed in relative peace. For a while, Cathy kept trying to quiz me on my body's medical properties, and van Damm was more interested in Immortal society. I managed to avoid using the term "Immortal" since Cathy would probably realize that we couldn't age. In fact, I gave them as few facts as possible all around.
I spent an hour being interviewed by one of the Service agents, while each of the others was also interviewed. Fortunately, Cathy and Arnie didn't say anything that would expose my nature.
I even managed to call Jennifer and tell her I was alright. The story of a botched assassination attempt on President Ryan had already broken on the news scene, but a lot of the facts were skewed and a few were wildly off base.
Once we landed in Andrews, we were met by Deputy Director Price, even though it was well after midnight by this point. The group of us headed to the White House. Arnie sacked out in his office while Cathy went to the Residence to be with her kids. Jack, Andrea, and I went to the Oval Office.
He sat and asked, "What do we know about the shooters?" Kessler and Price had had hours to dig up information. With the resources of the Secret Service and FBI behind them, they'd at least have identities by now.
Andrea shook her head. "Not much. All five are former special forces. Three Force Recon Marines and two Army Rangers. All were dishonorably discharged for disciplinary reasons. Only two of the guns had been fired. Based on the number of bullet holes compared to the number of fired rounds, we're missing just over a dozen bullets." She flicked a glance at me but didn't comment further on that. "None of the physical evidence contradicts Agent Allen's testimony: One was knifed under the chin, two with single shots to the head, the other two had double shots to the chest."
She took a breath. "As for the rest of the Detail, Agent Kessler freely admits that a man he cannot describe simply told him to order the Detail to the lobby. He has no explanation as to why he followed those orders. I'm trying to decide what to do with him."
Here goes. "I think I may know what happened."
Thundering silence. Andrea and Jack were staring at me. "Care to enlighten us, Agent Allen?" the President eventually asked mildly.
I swallowed. "There are people running around this world that can force cooperation through something akin to hypnosis. This would explain why Agent Kessler can't identify whoever gave him the orders, not to mention WHY he followed those orders in the first place."
"What are you talking about, Ryan?" asked Andrea.
I shook my head. "It has nothing to do with us. Something else."
"More secrets," grumbled Jack.
I almost smiled. "This one isn't mine to give." I turned to Andrea. "It also means that Agent Kessler's actions cannot be held against him."
She frowned but didn't argue the point.
"What's the drill?" Jack asked his highest ranking agent.
"Service and Bureau investigators find out everything possible about those five attackers. Find out who sent them, what they wanted, who financed them, how they got your itinerary, and so on. It's basically a normal criminal investigation, but since it was an attack against you, then it calls in more resources."
He nodded. "Keep me updated, but it sounds like I can't do anything to help. So, unless there's something else I'm needed for, I'm going to bed. It's been a very long day and tomorrow is looking worse by the moment."
I held out my hand to him and said, "Well, Mister President, it's been an honor to serve you. Good luck in your future endeavors."
He'd automatically started to shake my hand before his mind processed what I'd said. "You're leaving so soon?"
I nodded, but Andrea responded, "His cover is blown. If he wants, he can still be part of the Service but not part of your Detail."
He sighed. "I'll miss you, Agent Allen. Even with your sense of humor."
I smiled back before Andrea and I turned around and headed out. Silently walking out of the White House was depressing. I'd actually enjoyed this identity and job. Once we'd made it to the parking area, Andrea asked me, "Where's your car?"
"Probably still at Andrews," I replied, tallying a mental list of things to do before I moved again.
She nodded and waved at her car before offering me a ride. I gladly accepted. Besides, there was another few things we needed to hash out before I rode off into the sunset.
She steered toward Secret Service headquarters. "You need to drop off your weapon for ballistics. I'll figure out something about how to explain the lack of a Kevlar vest. There're no questions about what happened, but it's just for the records. You can requisition another Beretta immediately."
"Assuming I'm going to be an agent tomorrow, yeah."
"Why not? I just got you broke in."
I almost smiled at her attempt at humor. "You know better. My identity as Immortal is probably known. I sure can't stay here. My head would be targeted by every hunter who heard this story and wondered." I sighed. "One other thing. I Sensed someone just before we were invaded."
"Shit," observed Price quietly, staring out at the traffic. After a few seconds of contemplation, she glanced at me. "Your cover as an 'undercover' Service agent is blown, that's true, but your identity is secure. You COULD investigate this. You can stay away from Service headquarters, and I've already taken steps to keep your name out of the press. Your head is safe for the time being."
You say so. I frowned to myself as I thought about investigating it. I DID have a better chance of tracking this guy down since I'd Sensed him. And I knew about the vampire angle, too. The only problem is . . . "I don't know how to do an investigation."
"I know. I'd do it, but I'm too high profile. Not to mention swamped with paperwork. So that leaves us any other investigators, preferably Secret Service since it was an attack on the President."
I didn't have to mention that we were the only two Immortals in the Secret Service. Which left us choosing among any other investigators we knew. It has to be someone who knows about Immortals . . . Pat O'Day would work, but he'd be more useful here running down information and helping keeping Andrea alive. Nick Wolfe would work, but he's been Canadian all his life. Nick Knight would be a good investigator, and he'd be an ace in the hole regarding the vampire attacker, but his daylight limited schedule would screw things up royally. After thinking about it for a few seconds, one more possibility came to me like a thunderbolt out of the clear sky.
"A couple years ago, I met a pair of FBI agents who may be able to help."