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Cameron Branson had been telling the lies so long he was afraid they were becoming truth to him.
"Look, Tom, I don't have a lot of time," Cameron barked quietly into his cell phone as he sat on a bench and looked out at Washington, DC's Potomac River. Joggers ran by in front of him and a mother chased a squealing toddler, but Cameron paid them no mind.
He especially paid no attention to the man sitting on the other side of the bench next to him who was also on his cell phone while glancing at a newspaper.
Except neither man was actually talking on his cell phone. They were talking to each other.
"Protocol dictates that we meet twice a week unless circumstances prove it impossible," Cameron was reminded by "Tom."
"Yeah, well, I don't have a whole lot of concern about protocol right at this moment. What I care about is bringing down the SOB who killed Jason."
Tom sighed and turned the page on his newspaper, without ever looking at Cameron. "You've been under a long time, Cam. And you missed our last two scheduled meetings. I can only cover for you so much before higher-ups start noticing."
"Well, it's not always easy getting away from the bad guys so we can have our chats," Cameron all but sneered. He knew his anger at Tom was misplaced, but couldn't seem to keep his irritation under control. He just wanted to get back to work.
"Everybody knows your undercover work in DS-13 is critical for us and for you personally. But it's important for us to do things by the book."
Cameron sighed but didn't say what was on his mind: doing things by the book was probably what had gotten Cameron's previous partner killed.
"All right. I'm sorry. I'll try to do better." Cameron almost believed it as he said it.
"Is everything still on for tomorrow's buy?"
"Yeah. It should go without a hiccup. Just make sure the warehouse stays clear."
"Cameron, I needed to meet with you about something else." Tom closed his newspaper and then reopened it. He seemed to be hesitating. Cameron knew this was bad. He'd never known his handler to be at a loss for words. "The parameters of your mission have changed."
Damn. "How so?"
"Taking the members and leader of DS-13 into custody is no longer your primary objective. For neither their black market activities nor their presumed part in your partner's death."
"I know, Cameron. But recent intel notified us that DS-13 has obtained new encoding-transmitting technologies that they'll be selling to terrorists."
Cameron sighed and waited for Tom to continue.
"It's called Ghost Shell. This technology is like nothing we've ever seenit could cripple communication within government agencies. It would give multiple terrorist groups the edge they've been looking for, and open us up to attacks all over the country. It's critical that this technology doesn't make it to the black market."
"Why isn't the cyberterrorism unit on this?" Cameron murmured with a sigh.
"It's beyond cyberterrorism now. Straight into terrorism. Besides, it's already out in the open. And since you're already neck-deep in DS-13
Cameron just shook his head. He knew what Tom said was true. Technology like this in DS-13's handsthe group was solely focused on financial gainwas bad, but in the hands of terrorist groups who were intent on destruction and loss of life, it would mean disaster.
"Roger that, Tom. Change of primary objective confirmed. I'll be in touch when I know something." Cameron got up from the bench and walked away. Tom stayed, as Cameron knew he would, pretending to talk on his cell phone a while longer as he looked at the paper.
Yeah, Cameron's primary objective had changed. But he'd be damned if he'd let justice for his partner's memory suffer because of it.
The next day, sitting in the back of the extended SUV with windows tinted just a bit darker than what was probably legal, Cam Cameron, as he was known to DS-13, pretended to chuckle at a filthy joke told by one of the other riders. When a second rider chimed in with another jokesomething about a blonde, a redhead and a brunetteCameron just tuned them out. He stretched his long legs out in front of him. At least there was room to do that in this vehicle.
One thing he had to give DS-13: they may be an organized crime ring with ties to almost every criminal activity imaginableweapons, drugs, human trafficking, to name a fewbut they knew how to travel in style.
Cameron had been undercover with them for eight months. Eight months pretending to be a midlevel weapons dealer. Eight months of trying to move up in the ranks of DS-13, so he could meet the boss.
The man who had ordered the execution of Cameron's partner over a year ago.
Cameron had made very little progress in the meeting-the-boss area of his work. Instead he'd been stuck with lower-level minions, who evidently thought a punch line about high heels and a sugar daddy downright hilarious, given the guffawing coming from all corners of the vehicle. Cameron chuckled again, just so it wouldn't be obvious that he wasn't laughing.
Blending in was key. Cameron's looksblack hair just a little too long, dark brown eyes, a perpetual five o'clock shadowmade him particularly suited for blending in with bad guys. Cameron had specifically cultivated the dark and unapproachable look. His six-foot frame was muscularmade even more so over the past few months since a favorite activity of the DS-13 minions was lifting weightsand he was light on his feet.
All in all, Cameron knew he came across as someone not to be messed with. Someone who could take care of himself. Someone menacing. It had helped him in undercover work for years, this ability to blend in physically.
The problem was, he felt his soul starting to blend in, too.
"Cam, don't you know any good jokes, man?" the driver called back to Cameron.
The best joke I know will be on you guys when I arrest all you bastards.
"No, Fin. I don't know any jokes. I can't be this beautiful, able to outlift all you princesses and be able to tell jokes. Wouldn't be fair to the rest of the world." Cameron smirked.
This led to an immediate argument over which of the four people in the SUV could bench the most weight, as Cameron knew it would.
Cameron was tired. He was tired of the lies, tired of keeping one step ahead of everyone else, tired of spending every day with these morons. And yesterday's meeting with Tom had confirmed what Cameron had already known: he wasn't checking in with his handler at Omega Sector as often as he should.
But since Cameron worked for Omegaan elite inter-agency task forcethere was a little more leeway about check-ins and staying undercover longer. Omega agents had more training, more experience and the distinct mental acuity needed for long-term undercover work, or they never were sent out in the first place.
They were the best of the best.
God, it sounded so Top Gun. And Cameron certainly didn't feel best of anything right now.
"Two-ninety clean and jerk, two-seventy bench," Cameron responded to one of the guys asking about his top weight-lifting ability.
A round of obscenities flew through the vehicle. Nobody believed him.
"I'll take any of you pansies on, at any time." Cameron looked down at his fingernails in boredom. "But you better call your mommies first."
Another round of obscenities about what they would do to his mother, then arguments resumed about lifting, leg weights this time. Cameron zoned out again.
Cameron had promised Tom he would check in with the handler more often. He wasn't particularly worried about what Tom or the agency would do if he didn't. But he was worried his brothers, one older, one younger, both with ties to Omega Sector, might decide to storm the castle if they thought Cameron was in trouble. Not to mention his sister.
He wasn't in trouble, at least not the type that required help from his siblings.
He knew he was starting to make some progress in the case; there were talks of taking Cameron to the DS-13 main base, wherever that was. That's what Cameron wanted. That's where he would meet the man who ordered his partner's death. And as soon as Cameron could link him with that or any other felony, that bastard was going down.
Oh, yeah, and Cameron would recover Ghost Shell, as ordered.
Cameron didn't take the orders about the technology acquirement lightly. He would get it. But he would bring down the bad guys while he was at it.
And then Cameron could get out of undercover work for a while and try to find himself. Get away from lies and filth for an extended period. Try to remember why he started this job in the first place.
As the SUV pulled up to an abandoned warehouse in a suburb far outside of Washington, Cameron got his head back in the game. No point whining about how hard this job was; he'd known that for a while now. Five years to be exact. Cameron immediately pushed that thought out of his head. This wasn't the time or place to think about her. Or any of the disasters that had happened since.
Opening his car door, Cameron stepped out. "All right, ladies, everything should be in the back office, upstairs. Use the east entrance since it's least visible."
The driver, Fin, was the leader of the group. Cameron walked around the car to him. "How do you want to set up security, Fin?" Cameron knew it was important to make Fin feel as if he was in charge.
"Yeah, let's leave someone at the back door outside and someone walking around inside, just in case."
Cameron nodded. "Great." He knew there would be no raids by authorities or attacks by a rival organizationthanks to Omega Sectorbut nobody else knew it. As a matter of fact, nobody but them should be around this area at all. "You're coming in with me, right? So we can get it all counted and tested?"
Cameron was the one who had set up this sale, in an attempt to prove his usefulness, again, to DS-13. The men inside the warehousebad guys in their own rightwere business associates of Cameron's. They were going to buy the weapons, ones Cameron had gotten for DS-13 at a hugely reduced price, thanks to them actually coming from the Omega Sector armory. All in all, DS-13 would make a nice little profit for very little work. Cameron would come out looking like the golden boy and would hopefully be one step closer to meeting the man in charge.
Nobody in DS-13 would ever know that the scumbags buying the weapons would be picked up by local law enforcement a few miles down the road after leaving here. The weapons would go back into government lockdown.
Fin barked orders to the rest of the men then walked with Cameron up the outdoor stairs to the second floor of the building. Inside was an office that looked down on the expanse of the warehouse, except seeing through the windows was nearly impossible due to years of cleaning neglect.
Cameron introduced the buyers to Fin and then stepped aside to let Fin talk to them so the guy could feel as if he was in charge. Cameron walked over to stand by a window that looked out onto the road. He rubbed a tiny bit of the filthy pane with his finger so he could see out, all the while keeping his ear on the conversation between the buyers and Fin, making sure Fin didn't screw things up.
Looking out his tiny hole, Cameron noticed a car moving slowly from the warehouse next door toward them. He cursed silently. Nobody was supposed to be in this area at all except for them. Omega Sector should've seen to that.
When the car got out of his line of sight from that window, Cameron casually moved to another window. He leaned back against the wall for a few moments before turning nonchalantly to the window and once again creating a little peephole in the dirt. Cameron was careful not to make it look as if he was studying anything. The last thing he wanted to do was draw attention to that car.
Sure enough the vehicle stopped right in front of the warehouse. Cameron cursed under his breath again. He hoped Marco, the man Fin had left as guard, didn't see the car. Maybe he wouldn't. The minions tended to be a little slack when Fin wasn't watching. Marco may be out smoking by the SUV or something. Cameron desperately hoped so. The last thing he needed was some civilian caught up in this mess.
"Isn't that right, Cam?" Fin called out to Cameron.
Cameron racked his brain trying to figure out what they were talking about. He needed to be paying more attention to this sale. Cameron wasn't sure how to respond. He didn't want to let on that he hadn't been listening to the conversation when he was the one who had set the whole thing up in the first place. Cameron decided to take a chance.
"If you say it, then it must be true, Fin."
Both the buyers and Fin burst out laughing, so Cameron figured he had said the right thing. He watched as Fin began showing the weapons to the buyers.
When he turned to the window again, the driver had gotten out of the car. He couldn't see much, but it looked as if it was a lone woman.
Cameron knew he had to get down there and try to divert disaster before it hit full force.
"Fin, I've got to take a leak. I'm sure there's a can downstairs somewhere. I'll be back in a sec."
Fin and the buyers barely looked up from their exchange. Fin shooed in Cameron's general direction with his hand. Normally this lack of regard would've irritated Cameron, but now he was thankful for it. He headed out the door leading into the main section of the warehouse.
He hoped whoever was in the car was just some poor idiot who had gotten lost and would soon be on her way.
Sophia Reardon was lost and felt like some poor idiot. She rolled her window down farther and took a few deep breaths of air, trying to refocus.
Was this warehouse really the place? All of them looked the same. If she could read her own handwriting that would help. Of course, if people would do their jobs correctly in the first place she wouldn't have to be here at the corner of Serial-Killers-R-Us Street and Shouldn't-Be-Here-Alone Avenue.
Sophia looked down at the napkin where she'd scribbled the address. Yeah, that was definitely an 8 not a 3. Which meant it was this warehouse she was supposed to be at, not the just-as-scary first one she'd gone to.
All Sophia needed were a few pictures of the interior ceiling frame and doorway of the warehouse to help finish a computer rendering of the building. This warehouse was identical to one that had burned down in an arson case two weeks agothe work of a serial arsonist who had hit buildings in four different states. The FBI had been called in to help local law enforcement.
Sophia muttered under her breath again as she grabbed her camera gear and purse. She put her FBI credentials in her pocket, in case some poor security guard needed to see them. She pushed open the door to the warehouse and walked in slowly, giving her eyes time to adjust. She cursed her office mate, Bruce, who had begged Sophia to take these pictures.
"'The new girl at the coffee shop said yes to lunch, Sophia,'" Sophia said in her best mimicry of Bruce's voice. "'But today's our only chance this week. Please, please, please go take pictures at the horror-film warehouse for me. I'm worth getting mutilated for.'"
Sophia sighed. Bruce owed her. Big-time. Sophia hated this cloak-and-dagger stuff.
Sure, she worked for the FBI, but would be the first to tell you she wasn't an agent. She didn't even do CSI stuff usually, although she was part of the forensic team. She was a graphic designer, for goodness' sake. She designed brochures and fliers and posters. Safe in the comfort of her office in DC, not in some warehouse in Scaryville.