When i found you, p.20
When I Found You, p.20Kate James
“We’ve put a stop to her improvements for now and are reassessing the ones she’s already made,” Calvin interrupted. “With George’s assistance, we want to determine that they haven’t, in fact, undermined the security of the airport. It seems too much for coincidence for us to all of a sudden experience the problems we have been since she came to us. There has to be an explanation.”
“And there is.” Logan clasped his hands, trying to contain his anger. He thought that it was a good thing that ATF and DEA hadn’t shared information about their investigation of the smuggling ring with anyone at the airport, as that would surely have added fuel to the fire.
“You have someone wanting to cause harm and injuries at your facility. We intend to stop him from continuing to do so. You’re fortunate to have Ariana in the role that you do.” He wanted to say that her predecessor should have been making the improvements Ariana had been well before he retired, but again exercised discretion and held his tongue.
“If she were to take a leave of absence, or otherwise not be here...” Logan said the latter part as a way to test the waters for a reaction to determine what they might have been thinking about her longer-term prospects. He glanced around the table. He thought about the alleged smuggling and someone from the managerial level being involved. If Ariana was moved out of her role, he wondered how that would impact the feds’ investigation. He wanted to make sure she was cleared of any involvement. For that it was best to leave her in place. He wasn’t at liberty to mention any of that, but he could make reference to it in a circumspect way. “There are aspects of the investigation that would be negatively impacted by her absence. For the foreseeable future, your best course of action is to keep Ariana in place.”
“C’mon,” Stewart objected. “She’s good—however, the current situation is getting to her. I’m not the only one who’s seeing chinks in her demeanor and leadership.”
Logan glared at him. Being confrontational was not his style, but this guy was really getting on his nerves, and he wouldn’t let him slight Ariana. “What about the scrutiny you’ve been facing since the Inspector General’s covert testing results were leaked? If I recall correctly, your region was at the bottom of the list, wasn’t it?”
Logan took some satisfaction watching Stewart’s face flush a bright red. Logan had reached his boiling point and he couldn’t resist poking at Stewart some more. “Now, let me see if I remember this correctly...” There was no problem with his memory. Federal undercover investigators were able to penetrate security checkpoints at US airports while carrying illegal weapons or simulated bombs almost every time they attempted it. He knew the stats; he’d checked them. “Wasn’t it sixty-seven out of seventy tests that failed? That’s a 95 percent failure rate. Oh, and one instance in which your staff failed to find a fake bomb, even after the magnetometer went off and a pat-down was conducted? The Homeland Security agent was passed through with the fake bomb taped to his back, wasn’t he?”
Logan noted the deepening of the color staining Stewart’s face. “By comparison?” He smiled humorlessly. “My dog, Boomer? He has a 99.7 percent success rate.”
“Well...there were extenuating circumstances involv—” Angus stammered.
“Extenuating circumstances be damned,” Ralph interjected. “We are aware of the stats and welcome the government’s actions to resolve the shocking issues with TSA. The test failure rate is a huge concern, especially with what we’re facing here. What are we going to do about it, is what I want to know?” Ralph shifted his gaze from Stewart to Logan and back again. Stewart’s phone vibrated and he suddenly seemed preoccupied with the device. Logan felt a small sense of accomplishment at being able to effectively redirect the conversation away from Ariana.
“Hard to say without your chief of security and asset protection here.” Logan filled the silence. “As a starter, more explosives detection dogs should be deployed at all security checkpoints and patrolling passenger areas, as was recommended by the Inspector General. But our response needs to be comprehensive and coordinated, and for that we need to work with the airport’s security personnel. So why isn’t Ariana here?”
Ralph and Calvin both turned to Angus.
Confrontational or not, Logan felt good about having scored a point in Ariana’s defense, but he knew neither he nor Ariana had a friend in Stewart. He’d heard that Stewart’s job was on the line. With the results of the covert testing, if he lost this job, his chances of getting another one in his field and at his level were questionable.
Logan glanced at Stewart. Was it possible that the FSD was conducting his own sting and wanted to place the blame on someone other than himself and the TSA?
That might explain the direct attacks on Ariana. But why show more weaknesses in TSA’s procedures? Then again, Stewart didn’t strike him as the smartest of people.
And how did Dennison fit into the picture? He hadn’t said anything during the entire meeting, but his presence would be a huge hit to Ariana when she found out.
Logan had some things to ponder and hoped he’d have answers soon.
* * *
“HOW DID THE meeting go?” Max asked Ariana as she walked by where he was standing at the desk of one of their security analysts.
Ariana stopped and turned. “What meeting?” She’d only been in the multiagency meeting that day, and Max had been there, too. In fact, she’d just finished an inspection of the new baggage handling system, including state-of-the-art screening technology, another important security improvement at the airport that she’d spearheaded with the TSA.
“The one with Calvin, Ralph, O’Connor and FSD Stewart.”
She stepped to the side and Max followed. “I didn’t know there was a meeting. If there was, I wasn’t part of it.”
“Oh.” Max cleared his throat. “Maybe I was wrong. I thought I’d seen George there, too. I thought I saw them leaving the boardroom, but I could’ve been mistaken. I don’t know. I’m probably wrong.”
Ariana could feel her heart pounding. Max was observant and didn’t make mistakes often. Why would George be at the airport without her knowledge?
“I bet it was just a matter of crossed wires. Or they were unable to reach you.”
She hurriedly pulled out her iPhone and checked to see if any meeting invitations had come in while she’d been on the inspection. No, none.
Trying to stay calm, she said, “Yeah. I’m sure it was.”
Ariana walked to her office, forcing a leisurely pace. Once inside, she closed the door and reached for the phone. She punched in Calvin’s number. She’d get to the bottom of this. It wasn’t right or respectful of her position for the CEO and chairman to have a meeting with the police and TSA without including her. And if they’d included George, what did that mean?
Before the phone had a chance to ring, she slammed down the receiver. She needed to do this in person. She wanted to understand what was going on, and it would be too easy for Calvin to sidestep it over the telephone. She had to see his reaction.
She took the stairs to the executive suite. “Hi, Marlene,” she greeted Calvin’s executive assistant. As always, Marlene was elegantly dressed, her hair and makeup model-perfect. “Is he in?”
“Good to see you, Ariana. Yes, he just got back from a meeting. Go on in.”
So there definitely had been a meeting, she acknowledged as she walked toward her boss’s office.
“Calvin, do you have a minute?” Ariana asked from his doorway.
Irritation flashed across his face. It was so quick she wondered if she’d imagined it. He gestured for her to come in and be seated. She perched stiffly on the edge of a chair, her back straight, hands folded in her lap.
“What is it?” he asked without raising his eyes from the papers in front of him.
“Did you and Ralph have a meeting about airport security without me?”
“Yes, we did.”
She’d expected him to deny, evade or seek to rationalize it, but he’d done none of those things. She realized that she’d hoped there was a mistake or at least a rational explanation for her not being invited. Calvin’s admission threw her off. “Can...can you tell me why you chose to have a meeting with respect to my area of responsibility and not include me?”
Calvin compressed his lips, making his annoyance clear. “The last time I checked, I was the CEO around here, and that gives me the right to make decisions about who I want in a meeting,” he said sarcastically. “However, if you must know, Ralph called the meeting. It seems some of our law enforcement partners have concerns about our operations here, and we wanted to give them the opportunity to speak freely.”
Ariana felt queasy. She clasped her hands tightly together. “And what are the concerns?”
Calvin tossed down the pen he’d been holding. “Leave it with me for now. If I wanted to talk to you about it, I would have called you in. I’ll get back to you.”
“If there are any vulnerabilities that’ve been discovered and that I should be dealing with, I need to know.”
“I said let it be. The authorities are not the only ones with concerns. George Dennison has also raised some with me. When and if you need to know, I’ll tell you. Are we clear?”
Ariana felt again as if the rug had been yanked out from under her feet. She was inclined to argue, but she could read the expression on Calvin’s face. She wanted to ask about George but was afraid to. She rose slowly, gave Calvin a slow nod and left.
“Have a nice day,” Marlene called to Ariana when she walked by the EA’s desk.
“Thanks. You, too,” she mumbled. She took the back corridors, hoping to avoid anyone she knew. She stopped to grab a can of Coke from the fridge in her department’s break room, since she stocked only water in hers and wanted the kick of caffeine. Once in her office, she closed the door behind her and dropped heavily in her chair. Opening the can, she gulped down the drink.
When her iPhone pinged, she checked the text message that had come in.
She emitted a harsh snorting sound and deleted the message without responding.
“Now Logan wants to talk to me?” she grumbled under her breath. “He couldn’t do it before he attended a meeting with my CEO and chair?”
It hurt more than she would have expected. Just when she’d begun to believe that there might be a future for them.
She booted up her computer and started scrolling through the daily security reports. She did it to occupy her mind as much as to see if there was anything glaring that might’ve prompted the meeting that had excluded her.
Generally, she’d flip through them quickly, focusing on incidents that hadn’t already been closed by her team. Now she took more time. She was searching for anything that might signify a weakness. Anything she might have missed.
Her iPhone pinged several more times and rang once while she worked. She ignored it all. She didn’t want to break her concentration. She read report after report, until she finished. Closing the document folder, she leaned back in her chair.
There was nothing out of the ordinary, or indicative of a vulnerability in policies or protocols. The standing orders had just been reviewed and updated not more than six months ago. Everything was—or at least, had been—working well.
But there was something...something she had to be missing...
Using her mouse, she flipped through a number of screens until she got to the video footage of the suspect in the hoodie carrying the concealing pipe. She watched it through until he tossed what was obviously an empty pipe in a waste receptacle by the door to the international departure lounge and entered. He knew exactly where he was going. So confident...
Hearing a knock on her door, Ariana glanced at her watch. She’d been reviewing the reports and then the video files for forty-five minutes.
She smoothed back her hair and rose to open the door.
“Why haven’t you answered my texts or my call?” Logan demanded.
She glanced down to see if Boomer was with him. Not seeing the dog, she rested a hand on the door frame and blocked his entry. She wasn’t in the frame of mind to face him. Logan was the last person she wanted to see. Well, maybe Calvin was.
“I do have a job,” she replied coolly.
“It’s your job I want to talk to you about.” He grabbed the arm that was blocking his way and lowered it.
What the heck did that mean? She stood her ground. “I’ve got a lot to do. Say what you came to say, but I have to get back to work.”
Two of her guards passed by and she greeted them.
Logan gave her a steely-eyed stare. “You want to have this conversation right here? In a corridor, with people walking by?”
She threw up her hands and stepped to the side. “Come in, then, but understand I’m not in the best of moods.”
Logan took two steps in and closed the door behind him. “Then we’re well matched. Neither am I.”
When Ariana remained standing where she was, Logan walked over to her desk and leaned against it.
“So what is it about my job that you wanted to discuss?” Ariana was tempted to ask about the meeting he’d had with Calvin and Ralph...and George, but doubted she’d get a straight answer. That would just have annoyed her even more.
“Can you sit down, please?” Logan asked.
She was feeling belligerent, and she had every right to be. “I don’t want to sit.”
“Ariana...” Logan rose and went to her. He grasped her shoulders gently. “Whatever’s bothering you, can you put it aside for a minute?”
His touch on her arms nearly caused her to capitulate. The urge to step closer to him and into his embrace was almost irresistible. To counteract the temptation, she shrugged his hands off and took a bad-tempered step back.
What kind of a fool was she? Today he’d almost certainly criticized her to her bosses—possibly put her job at risk. Now he came and pretended like it didn’t happen? His look of exasperation, maybe with some disappointment tossed in, didn’t appease her. If he could go behind her back the way he just had, he obviously didn’t care about her. More than likely, Jagger had just been angling to make her one of his conquests. Maybe that last thought wasn’t fair, but she was feeling far from magnanimous at that moment.
Ariana crossed her arms. She had to, to keep herself from shaking, as the realization struck her that she’d been falling in love with Logan. Her mouth dropped open before she clamped it shut again. “Just say whatever you came to say and get out,” she hissed. Her eyes stung. She needed him to go and go fast, before she shamed herself with tears.
Logan’s irises turned a frosty blue. He was about to say something then his phone rang and he checked the display. Holstering it again without answering, he looked at Ariana once more. “I can’t figure you out,” he said.
“Then don’t waste your time trying,” she retorted, and was relieved that her voice remained steady, although she felt impossibly cold and each breath was a strain. “Get to the point, please.”
He gave his head one slow shake. “Never mind,” he said softly and moved to the door. Opening it, he glanced back at her over his shoulder. “Watch your back,” he said before walking out and closing the door none too gently behind him.
Ariana exhaled, sank down into her chair and rubbed a finger between her brows where a headache was brewing.
Had he just threatened her? To what end?
How could he be so sweet and funny and apparently caring a few short hours ago when he’d escorted her to the airport, and be so ruthless and cutthroat now?
Turning back to her computer, she had trouble seeing the screen through the sheen of tears.
* * *
HOW WAS IT possible for the w
He knew the discussion he’d heard at the meeting he’d been in was intended to be confidential, but he hadn’t felt any remorse when he’d decided to tell Ariana about it. It had been obvious to him that the guy from the TSA was trying to deflect blame from his organization and onto Ariana. They weren’t acting in good faith, so what was the point of him keeping it from Ariana? They should have had her in the meeting, to at least give her a chance to defend herself.
He now had to consider if the TSA federal security director had anything to do with planting the bills of lading in Ariana’s office. But how would he have gotten in there? He certainly didn’t strike Logan as someone smart enough and skilled enough to override the access control and video management systems.
Ariana was probably the most capable and competent woman Logan had ever met, but she brought something out in him that made him want to protect her. To stand for her.
He wouldn’t believe that she had anything to do with the smuggling ring. The person responsible had been able to get into her office twice now. In the first instance, to leave the initial note, and most recently to rig the bomb on her door, probably to draw them in there so they’d find the planted bills of lading. That explained the timer on the bomb, too. Again, he doubted that the intention was to harm Ariana. He was fairly certain that it was to lead them to the bills of lading. And someone going to all that trouble had to be doing it for a good reason. He believed Ariana had no idea why it was happening, and he was at a loss for ideas, too.
But then a thought occurred to him. He and everyone else had been operating under the assumption that the threats to Ariana and the smuggling ring weren’t connected. But this most recent incident raised two possibilities. First that it was a coincidence Ariana’s door had been rigged, and searching her office had led them to the bills of lading. They were unrelated to the bombs but happened to have explosives dust on them from smuggled explosive material in one of the shipments. The conclusion would be that Ariana was involved in the smuggling ring. A stretch on all counts.
When I Found You by Kate James / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes