When i found you, p.17
When I Found You, p.17Kate James
He could read people well, and Ariana was a straight arrow. She was dedicated, lawful and ethical. He was certain he wasn’t wrong about her.
Then Tom Brody came to mind. Brody had been with the SDPD, part of his unit and under his command the entire time Logan had been captain. He hadn’t liked Brody on a personal level. That wasn’t a requisite for an effective working relationship. But he’d never suspected him of collusion and double-crossing.
He’d been wrong about Brody, and the guilt he felt over the resultant consequences cut deep. Was it possible he was wrong about Ariana, too? Was it possible that his professional judgment was being clouded by his personal feelings?
WITH THE LATEST INCIDENT, the multiagency security meetings were now taking place every day, generally first thing in the morning. TSA, SDPD and Ariana’s own team each had more than the usual number of representatives attending. The meetings had grown to a size that required Ariana to start using the airport’s main boardroom, generally reserved for director meetings, instead of the smaller ones in her own department. The FBI had not been present since the initial investigation, but Ariana knew that they were monitoring any new developments and risks.
She recognized that the meetings were necessary and beneficial, but they took their toll on her. She had to be on her game. Even her CEO attended every once in a while. That unnerved her, as she suspected he did it to check up on her rather than to stay current, since she briefed him thoroughly after each meeting.
They tried to keep the meetings short to get the participants back to their responsibilities as quickly as possible. Today’s meeting was scheduled for the afternoon because of preexisting conflicts and ran longer than usual. It surprised her when a federal agent she hadn’t met before showed up. He introduced himself as Hansen and declined to take a lead role. He stated he was simply there to observe.
Although they were certain that the explosives had been smuggled into the airport in the printer cartridge, the office supply shipment came up as a dead end. The supplier had no idea how a box could have been switched or a bag buried in the shipment. The company didn’t have a video camera system in its warehouse.
The injured passengers had also been eliminated as potential targets. Time was passing and they had no viable leads. All they knew was that they were dealing with someone who had strong IT skills or easy access to an expert, and that wasn’t much to go on.
Special Agent Hansen sat at the opposite end of the table from her. He hadn’t contributed much, nor did he show any particular interest in the discussions. During most of the meeting, she felt her skin prickle as if his eyes were on her. Whenever she glanced over, his gaze had been averted.
Ariana shook hands in parting with all the attendees. Her team members left along with everyone else, and it was only her, the federal agent and Logan. The two men had a brief conversation, and they both stepped out of the room.
She was organizing the papers in her file folder when Logan reentered. He sat in a chair and watched her finish.
“You got the splint off your finger,” he observed as she closed the file folder.
“Yes, this morning.” Ariana glanced down and cautiously flexed the finger that had been fractured.
“That was a tough one,” he said.
She gave him a tired smile. She felt a warmth spread through her watching him. The muscular arms, broad shoulders, inky-black hair slightly longer than a brush cut. Her heart lurched then did one steady, slow roll as it fell.
“Yeah, it was,” she murmured in response to his comment.
“Are you done for the day?”
“Then I’ll go with you to get your things from your office and walk with you to the parking garage.”
“I appreciate the offer, but you don’t have to do that. I probably have some calls to return before I can leave.”
He held the boardroom door open for her. “No problem. I’ll wait. There’s something I’d like to get your take on. Let’s swing by and get Boomer from the SDPD site office and then we’ll go to yours to get whatever you need to take home.”
It was late enough in the afternoon that the office staff had left. Although Ariana kept a respectful distance from the dog, she was amused at the excited, enthusiastic greeting Boomer gave Logan despite the fact that they’d been apart for only a couple of hours. Logan snapped the dog’s leash to his collar. Ariana appreciated that, although she was a little less nervous around Boomer as she got more used to him, Logan positioned the dog on the opposite side from her and kept him on a short leash.
“I hadn’t met FBI Special Agent Hansen before. What did you talk about when you stepped outside?”
Logan’s expression became guarded. “He’s not FBI, and nothing specific. He wanted an update and to bounce some ideas off me.”
Ariana wanted to ask him to elaborate, but she could see that it was unlikely he would.
“Okay. What was it you wanted to talk to me about, then?” she asked when they were in the main terminal building, heading toward the administration area.
“It just isn’t making sense for me. TSA continues to operate on the assumption it’s someone external to the organization. If that’s the case, how do they know so much about your protocols? We still don’t know how they got access to your security card?”
“No. Wayne—that’s the IT specialist who’s been investigating it—said he has no idea.”
Logan stopped and so did Ariana. “He has no idea?”
“Is he still working on it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“That’s not helpful for us, but I’ve said this before—in my opinion, it’s not because of any potential weaknesses in your operations.”
It had hurt to hear that point kicked around again during the meeting. She was encouraged by the fact that Logan had expressed his confidence in her. “I keep coming back to that, too.”
“I want to—” They had just entered the security and asset protection department when Logan stopped abruptly and blocked Ariana’s forward progress with his arm.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Stay here,” Logan instructed, his tone all business. “Boomer picked up a scent.”
Ariana glanced down at the dog and noted that his stance was no longer relaxed. His ears were pricked, his posture taut.
“Wait here,” Logan repeated as he moved forward with Boomer, letting the dog lead. They skirted the reception desk. Boomer alternatively sniffed the air or the ground as he went. He stopped by the entrance to Ariana’s office. He sniffed the gap beneath the door, its edge and the handle and sat, intently staring at it. Logan pulled a small flashlight from his pouch. Lowering to one knee, he shined it under the door and into the keyhole.
He rose abruptly and pulled out his phone as he and Boomer ran back to where Ariana stood. “Dispatch, this is O’Connor. I need an EOD team at San Diego International. What’s their ETA? Okay. Thanks. I’ll meet them at the entrance to the administrative offices in Terminal 1.”
Ariana didn’t need him to tell her that he’d found an explosive device. He turned to her as he holstered his radio. “Your door’s been rigged. I need you to get clear of this area and make sure there’s no one else in the vicinity.
“I’m betting it’s set to blow when the door is opened, but I don’t want to take any chances that it’s on a timer. I don’t want anyone near here until EOD clears it.”
Ariana felt a cold chill snake up her spine. She’d been rejecting the suggestion that she was being targeted, primarily because she had no idea why that would be the case. Now it seemed improbable that it was anything else. She knew Max was on duty this evening and called his cell phone. He promised he’d secure the area r
Ariana called Calvin, too. He needed to know what was going on, although she didn’t relish the discussion they were going to have. It turned out to be a quicker call than she’d anticipated, as he was late for a business dinner.
“Keep me apprised,” Calvin stated curtly. There was a moment of silence. “Ariana, I’m going to have to rethink bringing someone in to review things. George or someone else.” There was another pause as Ariana could hear her heartbeat thunder in her ears. “I’m also freezing the budget allocation for your security improvements for the time being, and that includes the so-called upgrade to the video management system. I don’t want any further changes to security systems or protocols until I satisfy myself we’re doing the right things. I’m sorry, Ariana, but this is too much for me not to take action.”
After Calvin had hung up, she found herself almost gasping for air. Calvin had just pulled the rug out from under her, and she didn’t know what to do about it. Or if she should even try. What if she had been messing up that badly somehow?
From where she stood at the far end of the corridor, she watched Logan greet the technicians Max brought over. She felt disconnected from what was happening, as if it was a movie flickering across a screen.
She thought of the last call she’d had with George. George had told her, maybe not in so many words, that she was wrong about upgrading the video management system. New-to-the-market systems could have glitches and could fail. If they were software-driven, they could be hacked. Sometimes the tried-and-true were the best way to go, he’d said.
In her eagerness to improve things, had she inadvertently weakened them instead? Was she too driven by not wanting to risk having another failure on her watch, as she had with Bryan Carpenter?
As much as Ariana wanted to stay, there was no point arguing with Logan. There was nothing she could do to help. It was in the hands of the EOD techs now. Besides, if she was the target, her being present might create another level of risk if the person responsible was somewhere in the vicinity and watching. And right now—after her conversation with Calvin—she didn’t think she could face Logan, Max or anyone.
She thought she heard a noise behind her and spun around quickly, but she didn’t see anyone.
She had to keep it together. She couldn’t fall apart now. She’d go to the emergency operations center and wait for the others to arrive, once they were done.
Alone in the EOC, she paced like a caged animal, periodically pausing to look at the computer screen where she’d called up the camera aimed at the corridor outside her office.
Max was the first to join her after he’d cleared the EOD team through and ensured that the area was unoccupied.
Ariana kept an eye on the computer screen while she moved around restlessly. When she saw the men removing an object, she stopped, and she and Max watched the screen intently. The techs placed the object in a large metal container with thick walls. They continued to watch as those present had a short discussion, then everyone, except one officer who remained outside her door, walked out of camera range.
Ariana knew they’d be heading to the EOC.
Max went to the small coffee station and poured two cups, adding milk to one before handing it to her. “Ariana, what’s going on here?” he asked as they sat down. “This isn’t a general threat. Can you think of who’d be doing this?”
“Someone who’s already injured people and wants to do me harm?” She glanced down at her finger where she’d had the splint up until that morning. “I can’t think of anyone. No,” she said flatly.
“You might want to think harder. I expect the cops will have that question, too.”
“Oh, Logan has already gone there,” Ariana told Max. The questions would be asked all over again. Since Bryan Carpenter had been on her mind lately, she considered once more whether it could be someone connected to him. Wanting revenge against her. No. It wasn’t likely. His friends and family had been distraught, understandably, but she’d always felt that she blamed herself for Bryan’s death more than any of them did. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t come up with anyone who could be doing this. She’d have to mention Bryan to Logan, to err on the side of caution. Under the circumstances, he’d want to know.
While they waited, they took the time to review the footage from the camera outside Ariana’s office—and found the man responsible. Not surprisingly, he appeared to be the same one who’d been caught on camera when the explosives had been set in the Terminal 1 concourse.
He’d walked into the frame with a backpack slung over his shoulder, dropped down in front of her office door, almost appearing to tie a shoelace. There was a brief period of snow. When it cleared, he was gone. No one had been in the office area at the time. Similar to the previous incident, there were no distinguishing characteristics. Average height and weight. Dark clothing, a hoodie over his head. The one element that was new was that he was white. His hands and a partial glimpse of his face attested to it.
Logan took longer to get to the emergency operations center than she’d expected. When he entered, his face was grim, his eyes angry.
“Where’s Boomer?” Ariana asked as she glanced down and around.
“I left him with one of the techs, let him do a complete sweep. Max, could you give us a minute, please?”
Max glanced at Ariana. At her nod, he rose and walked out of the room.
As Logan turned to close the door behind Max, Ariana noticed that the sleeve of his shirt was torn and bloodied. “Oh, my God! What happened?”
She rushed over to him to see for herself. He grabbed her by her upper arms. “Don’t worry about that. It’s just a scrape I got on the sharp edge of the device housing when I was helping the EOD tech.”
“But, but...” She struggled to break loose from him so she could at least get a first aid kit, and clean and bandage his cut. All of it was getting to be too much for her. She was the target. If Logan hadn’t been with her... But he and Boomer had been. He’d probably saved her life, but he was injured because of that. All these thoughts tumbled over each other. “Oh, God,” she whispered and stepped into Logan’s comforting arms. When they enfolded her, she broke down sobbing. Of all her concerns, she voiced the one that made sense to her troubled mind. “You’re hurt. You got hurt because of me,” she said with a quavering voice.
* * *
LOGAN HELD ARIANA as she cried. He never would have imagined this strong, determined woman capable of tears, let alone falling apart as she just had. Knowing that others would be joining them soon, he encouraged her to pull herself together. He recognized how fragile she was—and that caused a whole maelstrom of emotions to break loose inside him, not the least of which was a reminder of why he’d avoided relationships his entire life.
He’d sustained a minor injury and she’d broken down.
It had been a hell of a day. Even before they’d found the bomb, his chat with the ATF agent who’d attended the multiagency meeting had put him in a bad mood. The agent had attended the meeting not because he cared about their investigation but to unobtrusively observe Ariana and Max. Based on what they had so far, he believed someone in a leadership position in security was involved in the smuggling ring. And he’d fixated on Ariana and Max.
Apart from having to reconcile himself with what, if anything, he planned to do about his personal feelings for Ariana, Logan needed to find out what had kept her from joining the police force, and if that might be a sign of whether she could be involved. He had to tread very cautiously, because she was very close to being a suspect of an investigation. If that happened, he’d have to distance himself for the duration. And after? When the dust settled, it was doubtful that she’d want him back.
He still believed that she wasn’t involved, but here was another incident targeting her directly, and they had no viable leads.
Logan had to get to the bottom of what was going on.
In deference to Ariana’s fragile state, he took over as much of the discussion as he could.
“The IED was live. The EOD techs were able to disarm it without incident. It was connected to Ariana’s office door, set to detonate two minutes after the door was opened. I don’t know why there’d be a delay, other than to give the person entering—in all likelihood Ariana—the opportunity to leave the area once she saw the bomb inside the door.
“It also didn’t have a lot of power. It would have caused some damage and possible injury to anyone in close proximity to it. However, it wouldn’t have had much impact beyond a radius of a few feet,” Logan explained.
He glanced at Ariana. If she’d been on her own and opened her office door, she would have seen the IED. Would she have gotten out of range quick enough? He had to believe she would have been smart enough to do that. But if she hadn’t...
She was pale as a ghost. He was certain she’d been grappling with the same thoughts.
He moved over to the mini-fridge and drew out two bottles of water. “Here.” He unobtrusively pushed one of them into Ariana’s hands. He hoped the water would help. By getting a bottle for himself, too, he figured he wouldn’t be drawing too much attention to her state.
He wrapped up the meeting as quickly as possible and sent the participants on their way.
“I need to make a phone call. I’ll be right back,” he said when he and Ariana were on their own.
He stepped out of the room. In less than five minutes he walked back in.
“You’re getting protective detail. Whenever you’re at the airport, one of the SDPD officers on duty will be with you...” He raised a hand to silence her when she was about to object.
When I Found You by Kate James / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes