Home > Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3)(5)

Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3)(5)
Author: Patricia Briggs

Adam knew all the players and he was an Alpha; he'd understand without Bran having to explain everything.

Adam listened without comment - except a snort when he heard how neatly Asil had turned the tables on Bran.

"You need to keep Asil around," he said. "The rest of them are too intimidated to play games with you - and you need that now and again to keep you sharp."

"Yes," said Bran. "And the rest?"

"You have to back off on the death sentences," Adam said with certainty. "I heard about Minnesota. Three wolves took out a pedophile stalking a third grader with a rope in his hand and a stun gun in his pocket."

Bran growled. "I wouldn't have objected except they got carried away and then left his half-eaten body to be discovered the next day before they told their Alpha what happened. If they'd just snapped his neck, I could have let it go." He pinched his nose again. "As it is, the coroner is speculating all over the papers."

"If you backed off, Charles wouldn't have to go out and kill so often, because you wouldn't have so many Alphas refusing to take care of discipline."

"I can't," Bran said tiredly. "Have you seen the new commercials Bright Future has sponsored? The endangered species hearings are beginning next month. If they classify us as animals, it won't be just the problem wolves being hunted."

"We are what we are, Bran. We're not civilized or tame, and if you force that upon us, it won't be only Charles who loses it." Adam let out a breath and in a less passionate voice he said, "In any case, maybe giving Charles a break on other fronts will give him more rest."

"I've freed him entirely from his business obligations," said Bran. "It hasn't worked."

There was a pause. "What?" said Adam carefully. "The business? You've turned pack finances over to someone else?"

"He'd already backed away from most of the daily chores of running the corporation, put it in the hands of five or six different people, only one of whom knows that it's owned by Charles's family. He does that every twenty years or so, to keep people from noticing that he doesn't age. I brought in a finance firm to take over the pack's other holdings, and what they aren't handling, Leah is."

"So Charles is doing nothing at all except going out and killing? Nothing to distract him, nothing to dilute the impact. I know I just said he might need a break, but that's almost the opposite. Do you really think that's a good idea? He enjoys making money - it's like an infinitely complicated game of chess for him. He told me once it was even better than hunting because no one dies."

He'd told Bran that, too. Maybe he should have listened more carefully.

"I can't give him the finances back," Bran said. "He's not...I can't give him the finances back." Not until Charles was functioning better, because the money the pack controlled was enough to mean power. His reluctance to trust Charles, who had engendered it, made Bran admit, at least to himself, that he'd noticed that Charles was in trouble a while ago.

"I have an idea," said Adam slowly. "About that task you had for me - "

"I'm not sending him to deal with the FBI," said Bran, appalled. "Even before...this, Charles would not be the right person to send."

"He's not a people person," agreed Adam, sounding amused. "I imagine the last year and more hasn't helped that any. No. Send Anna. Those FBI agents won't know what hit them - and with Anna as a cushion, Charles may actually do them some good. Send them in to help as well as consult. One of us can tell the cops a lot about a crime scene that forensics can't. Give Charles something to do where he can be the good guy instead of the executioner."

Let him be a hero, thought Bran, his eyes on the Ivanhoe in his bookshelf as he hung up the phone. Asil had been right to point out that there was nothing wrong with a little bit of romance to cushion the harsh realities of life. Adam might have given him the Band-Aid he needed to help his youngest son. He devoutly hoped so.

Chapter 2

Special Agent Leslie Fisher stared out of the window that looked out over downtown Boston. From her vantage point she had a lovely, veryearly-morning view. Traffic was still light, and though it would get a lot heavier as people came to work, lack of parking kept the streets from being as crazy as Los Angeles, the last place she'd been assigned. In the FBI, she got to move every few years whether she wanted to or not, but she'd always thought of Boston as home.

The hotel was old and expensively elegant. Tasteful, striped, satiny paper covered the walls of the meeting room in authentic Victorian style. The smallish room was dominated by the large mahogany table with padded chairs that looked more like they belonged in a dining room than a boardroom. It was a hotel, though, no matter how well decorated, and it lacked even the hint of personalization that managed to break through the government drab in her own office cubicle.

She was here to meet a consultant. Though there was the occasional perfectly innocent computer geek or accountant, in her experience, consultants were quite often bad guys who had made deals so that the good guys could catch bigger bad guys: rewarding the smaller evil so that the big monsters got stopped.

Five people dead in the last month: an old woman, two tourists, a businessman, and an eight-year-old boy. A serial killer was hunting. She'd seen the boy's body, and to catch his killer, she'd have met with Satan himself.

In her time in the FBI, she'd dealt with former drug dealers, an assassin already serving a life sentence in jail, and any number of politicians (some of whom should have been serving life sentences in jail). Once, she'd even consulted a self-proclaimed witch. In retrospect, Leslie hadn't been nearly as afraid of the witch as she should have been.

Today she was talking to werewolves. To her knowledge, she'd never met a werewolf before, so it should be interesting.

She considered the table they'd all be sitting around. The FBI offices or a police station would have given her side the home advantage - her side being those who fought for law and order. Meeting with people on their own turf, in their offices or homes, lost her that advantage, but sometimes she'd used it to get information she wouldn't have gotten if the people she was interviewing hadn't felt comfortable and safe. Prisons, oddly enough, gave the home-court advantage to the prisoner, especially if she brought a nervous greenie along with her.

Hotels were neutral territory - which was why they were meeting here instead of the office.

"Why me?" she'd asked her boss yesterday when he told her she was going alone. "I thought the whole team was going to talk to him?"

Nick Salvador had grimaced and stretched his large self uncomfortably behind his desk - a space where he spent as little time as possible. He preferred being in the field. "FUBAR ahead," he said, which was his code for politics. When Leslie had come into the Boston office, the previous person who'd had her desk had taped a list of Nick-speak to the bottom of her drawer with a note that said he'd had it faxed from Denver, where Nick had last been posted. There was a full page of swearwords, and "FUBAR ahead" had been first on the list. It wasn't that Nick couldn't dance gracefully with the powers that be if necessary; it was that he didn't like doing it.

"I put in the request and word was we were going to talk to Adam Hauptman. He's done a lot of consults - been guest speaker at Quantico a couple of times. Thought we could get information to help us with the case and pick up a bit besides." He twisted his chair around and his knee hit the canvas side of one of his go-bags. He had a number of them stashed around his office. Leslie had three herself - each packed for different jobs. Hers were color-coded; Nick's were numbered. Which made sense - there were more numbers than guy colors (his bags were khaki, khaki, and that other khaki) and he needed more go-bags than she did because his job was broader reaching. She didn't have to keep a suit on hand, for instance, because she was unlikely to get called upon for television interviews or congressional hearings.

"Hauptman has a good rep," Leslie said. "I have a friend who sat in on one of his lectures, said it was informative and pretty entertaining. So what happened to that plan?"

"Got a call yesterday morning. Hauptman's not available - you remember that monster they found in the Columbia River last month? Turns out it was Hauptman and his wife who killed it, mostly his wife - that's for our information only." Not classified, but not to be advertised, either. "She apparently got busted up pretty badly and he can't fly out. Hauptman found us a replacement, someone higher up. But no more than five people can come to the meet - and we have to hold it in neutral territory. No name, no further official information." He pursed his mouth unhappily.

Nick Salvador could play poker with the best of them, but with people he trusted, every last thing he thought bloomed on his face. Leslie liked that, liked working with him because he was smart - and never, ever treated her like the token black female.

"That's not FUBAR," she said.

"FUBAR is hearing that the werewolf consultant is 'higher up' - makes it all sorts of interesting to a lot of people other than the FBI," he said.

"Hauptman is Alpha of some pack in Washington, right?" Leslie pursed her lips. "I didn't know there was a higher-up than an Alpha."

"Neither did anyone else," agreed Nick. "I don't know what the deal is, but I've been informed that two Trippers are coming to the party."

Trippers, in Nick-speak, were agents from CNTRP. The acronym stood for Combined Nonhuman and Transhuman Relations Provisors, the new agency formed specifically to deal with the various preternaturals. They pronounced it "Cantrip." Nick called them Trippers because whenever they involved themselves in an investigation he was in, he tripped all over them.

"They wanted to send two Homeland Security agents, too, but I put my foot down." Nick scowled at the phone as if it were to blame for annoying him. "Special Agent Craig Goldstein, who was involved in three earlier cases with this same killer, finished the most urgent of his cases and so is breaking loose from Tennessee to come help us." She'd never met Goldstein, but knew that Nick had, and that he liked him - which was enough of a recommendation for her. "I want him to talk to our werewolf. I wanted two of my agents in there with him - but I got outvoted. Two Trippers, one Homeland Security agent" - his voice dropped coldly - "who has no business whatsoever in this case. And Craig and you."

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