The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse closed in October, and even though the visitor center was still open, the place was deserted. Hunter was 90 percent sure he’d been tailed after leaving the motel, but he’d lost them when he’d doubled back toward the lighthouse.
His boots crunched over the gravel and leaves near the picnic area. After a brief reconnaissance of the surrounding area, he took a seat on one of the picnic benches. Normally he didn’t like to have his back exposed, but the chance of someone waiting down the nature trail to attack him was almost nonexistent.
Hunter checked his watch again. Exactly ten minutes had passed. And he wasn’t waiting a minute longer. He rose to leave when the sound of someone walking over foliage and underbrush alerted him. Staying immobile, he kept his hand fisted around the SIG in his lap. Seconds later, when the red-haired man from his past walked into view, his finger instinctively tightened on the trigger.
Connor jerked to a halt when he stood about ten feet away and for a second, Hunter’s heart rate slowed. The other man stopping could be a signal to others. When Connor opened his jacket and slowly turned around once, Hunter realized he was showing him he wasn’t armed. His grip loosened, but not by much. The man could have a weapon hidden anywhere.
“Changing the meeting point at the last minute? I see some things never change.” Connor took a seat across from him.
Hunter ignored the underlying sarcasm. “Are you alone?”
“What do you think?” Connor lifted one eyebrow.
Hunter gritted his teeth and reminded himself for the hundredth time that if Connor had wanted him dead he would be. It was the only reason he was even sitting across from him. Hell, Hunter didn’t blame the man for bringing some sort of backup.
As Hunter watched the man he’d once considered not only a damn fine boss, but a friend, he pushed down the bile in his throat.
“I’m going to pull something out of my jacket, so don’t get trigger-happy,” Connor said, breaking the silence.
He slid a thick stack of stapled papers stamped CONFIDENTIAL in bright red toward him. The wind flipped the first few pages over, but the weight of the rest of the document held it in place.
“What the hell is this?” Hunter glanced at it, but didn’t touch it.
Keeping both his hands on the table, he nodded at it. “Read the first page.”
To: Carl Connor, Deputy Director DEA, Washington, DC
CC: Glen Sheldon, Office of Professional Responsibility
From: Ari Shaheen, Wiretap Unit
Date: November 25, 2010
Re: Operation Red Tie
As discussed in August of this year, I am providing you with concrete evidence of interagency corruption. These allegations are not made lightly and should not be taken as such. CIA Agents Thomas J. Davis and Marcus L. Foster did knowingly reveal the names of five DEA agents to known Panamanian informants, all whom have subsequently been murdered. It should be noted that the murder of each agent was preceded by a request for their identity from above stated agents. The Department of Justice cannot and will not stand by and…
Hunter scanned the first and second page, but he’d seen enough by the first paragraph. He’d known Davis was dirty, but this was lower than even he’d imagined. The scandal and backlash of a CIA agent intentionally leaking information like this was unthinkable. Not only would there be an interagency war, the public would probably lose what little faith they had left in the system. Looking at this, he couldn’t blame them. “Holy shit.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself.” Connor rubbed a hand over his face and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Do you mind?” he asked, even though he was already lighting up.
Hunter shook his head as he tried to wrap his mind around what he’d just read. If these allegations were true, then Davis probably planned to disappear soon. He flipped back to the first page and frowned. The date stood out like a neon sign. “You just got this today?”
“Two hours ago to be exact.” He nodded and took a drag of his cigarette. The smoke intermingled with their cold breath.
“Interesting timing,” he murmured.
“We’ve been after this bastard for a while. Only recently have we uncovered concrete connections between Davis and informants he has no business talking to.”
“Who have you shown this to?” Hunter’s heart pounded wildly against his rib cage.
Connor lifted an eyebrow and gave him a look that said he was stupid for even asking.
Hunter hadn’t really expected him to answer but thought he’d give it a shot. “Fine. Answer this. Why did you hang me out to dry six years ago?”
The other man slammed his fist on the wooden table, the first visible reaction from him so far. “I did no such thing, and if you’d come to me first—”
Hunter snorted. “Yeah, and end up like these agents?” He motioned to the stack on the table and shoved it back toward Connor.
“Are you even going to listen to what I have to say or should I just walk away right now?” Face mottled with anger, Connor tossed his cigarette and started to rise.
“Sit, I’m listening.” What choice did he really have?
“Alan forwarded all those papers you gave him.” Connor’s jaw clenched once.
“And I might have done the same thing if I’d been in your shoes,” he muttered.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“The memos and orders you got from Davis were real, so I can’t blame you for going into hiding.” His shoulders lifted slightly.
Hunter’s fist tightened around the gun in his lap. Instead of reining in his emotions like he’d been trained, he jumped to his feet. Connor was admitting he’d screwed him? That took balls to admit. Especially when Connor had to know Hunter was armed.
Before Hunter could move, Connor waved his hand in the air as if he were a gnat bothering him. “Will you sit down and let me finish? I said they were real. The time stamps and coding on the paperwork is real, which means it came from our system.”
“But you’re saying those memos didn’t come from you?” He didn’t bother to mask his sarcasm.
“Hell yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, but I would never have sent you on unsanctioned missions. If I take a risk, it’s with my own life, not the lives of any of my men.” Connor’s eyes narrowed and he pulled out another cigarette.
“What about the letters from your private email address?” Hunter knew for a fact that he couldn’t access that email account from anywhere but his office. Not from his home, not from his laptop. Only at work. The system had been specifically set up that way.
“Someone must have hacked into our system from the outside…or someone got access to my personal computer. I honestly don’t know.”
“So you’re not denying those emails are real?”
Connor shook his head. “Unfortunately, no.”
Hunter decided to play along. He still wasn’t sure if he believed him, but if he was telling the truth, then this thing went deeper than he thought. “Okay, what do you think happened?”
“I hate to think anyone in my office is capable of that, but nothing surprises me anymore.” Connor’s eyes strayed to the papers on the table and he shook his head.
Hunter mirrored the sentiment. Signing up to defend one’s country, then turning on your core beliefs for money? Incomprehensible.
The current line of questioning was getting him nowhere, so he changed tactics. “Why didn’t you kill me a year ago or attempt to bring me in?”
“I don’t know.”
His answer surprised Hunter. “You don’t know?”
He shook his head. “When I saw those photos of you and Calero I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. When you disappeared I’d assumed you were dead…then to see those pictures. I didn’t know what to think, but my gut told me things aren’t always what they seem, so I watched you as best I could.”
“Yeah, and what did you see?”
Connor shook his head. “Not much. You were hard to track—though I did manage to keep sporadic tabs on you—and Calero kept his compound locked down tighter than Quantico. Getting those photographs was a rare opportunity.”
Hunter nodded in agreement. To say Calero had been paranoid would be an understatement. The man had been a virtual ghost. He’d rarely left his compound and on the infrequent occasion he had, Calero had been guarded by a small army. And Hunter had never slept in the same place two nights in a row. In hindsight, he’d been just as paranoid as Calero.
“Did you kill Calero?” Connor’s question wasn’t judgmental or accusing. Simply curious.
Hunter narrowed his eyes. There was only one person he’d answer that question for. And she already knew the truth. Ignoring Connor’s question, he asked, “So what are you going to do about Davis?”
Connor lifted an eyebrow. “What else, bring him and Foster down. Privately, if we can help it.”
“When?” If Connor planned to take Davis and Foster to trial then that solved Hunter’s problems. Well, as far as Alexis and Jonathan’s safety was concerned.
Connor sighed and slipped the papers back in the manila packet. “Gathering the proof will likely take longer than I’d like. Both agencies have to work together, and keeping this thing quiet is damn near impossible.”
“So he knows he’s being watched?”
“I can’t say for sure, but it’s more probable than not he knows. The man is a snake. He’s been abusing the system and we’re lucky someone figured out what’s he’s been up to and had the balls to say something about it.”
“What if you had proof of other crimes? Not just those.” Hunter kept his expression passive and tried to gauge Connor’s reaction.
“Why? What exactly do you have?” His eyebrows knitted together.