Parris L'Engle jumped as the phone on her desk rang, then laughed slightly at her own deep focus in searching for a man who'd been lost to her for twenty-five years. She realized when she looked away from the computer screen that her office had become dark in the hours since her partner had left for the night. She should have been long gone herself. Her eyes felt dry, and her stomach reminded her how late it was with a hollow rumble.
Taking a deep breath, she lifted her phone, murmuring, "Agent L'Engle."
"Hi, Mom," came the sound of her son's long-time girlfriend Aimee. "I knew I'd find you there."
Perry laughed a little sheepishly at how predictable she was to those who knew her best. She tucked back a strand of sleek mahogany hair that'd fallen out of the twist at the back of her neck. "You caught me." Reluctantly, she pushed away from her desk, turning her back on her computer. "What's up, sweetie?"
"Actually, I was hoping you could do me a favor."
Perry could hear the affectionate frustration in Aimee's voice when she said, "I haven't been able to get that son of yours out of his office. He's five minutes late for our date tonight. I know nothing short of the old Mom-Oust will get him away from there anytime soon. I'm going through withdrawal, I miss him so much."
Chuckling at the reminder of young love, Perry was glad to have an excuse to push herself away from her desk. She reached beneath it to get her discarded pumps. "I'd be happy to help. I'll drop by the college on my way home and make sure he heads out to you pronto."
"You're the best, Mom! We'll see you tomorrow for lunch, right?"
"I'm counting on it. You have a good night."
Perry smiled, straightening after slipping her shoes on. "Love you, too, Aimee. 'Night."
Replacing the receiver, Perry glanced back at her computer screen. In twenty-five years of searching, she'd found nothing to prove conclusively that Daniel might still be alive. Tonight surely wouldn't see a change in that. She closed out the browser on her screen, then shut down the machine.
Once she slung her purse over her shoulder, she walked through the empty halls and out of the Minneapolis FBI field office to her car. The drive to the university, where her son was up for tenure, was short and refreshing. Perry looked forward to seeing him. Though either Danny or Aimee called her every day and she saw them several times a week, she suffered from empty-nest syndrome. Living alone hadn't been easy for her. She missed having a houseful of people. More than once, she'd considered asking Danny and Aimee to move into the house with her. She could present it as a way for them to save on rent, but knowing they both liked their independence too much kept her quiet. She was the one who could use a little less of it.
In the habit of an experienced FBI agent, she walked lightly on her feet. Barely an echo sounded as she strolled down to the basement office Danny occupied. Her son taught microbiology at the university, but his real love was his research into strengthening the human immune system to resist multiple diseases. Danny had become interested in the massive body of work his father left behind early on, and it'd never been any surprise to Perry when he'd taken over Daniel's much touted work in the academic field.
At this time of night, the halls were dark and shadowed. An overwhelming sense of deja vu washed over Perry. The halls she'd walked to meet Daniel twenty-five years ago were similar to these. It seemed like yesterday. Relating to Aimee's agony in wanting to be with the man she loved made it only too easy for Perry to remember. More than two decades ago, she'd been in the role of the girlfriend, desperately trying to get her workaholic, genius fiancÚ to come out and play for the night. Daniel had usually put up something of a fight before he could be coaxed into it, too.
Perry recalled walking a hall similar to this one, knowing no one else but Daniel remained in the building. She remembered carrying a cassette player into the office adjoined to his laboratory, slipping out of her shoes so she wore only a thin, gauzy slip of a dress. She remembered pouring wine for them before turning on the sensual Latin music they both loved. She hadn't actually gotten Daniel out of his office that night, of course...
Her body alive with the memories, Perry felt tears behind her eyes even as her face burned. She shook her head as if to cool it, angry with herself for dwelling on the past, on bittersweet memories that only made her lonelier. Daniel was gone. She should move on. Had to. How to get herself to do that was the question she'd never been able to answer.
As she neared Danny's office, a strange male voice floated out to her. It didn't belong to Danny. There was something familiar about it anyway. Some instinct--no doubt borne out of her years in the FBI and from growing up with parents who were both agents--made her stop short. She put her back against the wall outside her son's office, listening intently.
Danny said something in a soft, suspicious tone that had Perry reaching instinctively for her gun. Only uncertainty made her hesitate.
The other man spoke authoritatively: "You have the skills we're looking for, Daniel."
The very breath in Perry's lungs halted. That deep voice. Now she knew where she'd heard it before. Outside of Daniel's office at the college, a day before he disappeared. The day before he died. She'd overheard it then just as she was overhearing it now.
Her heart thumping wildly, Perry silently eased herself closer to the door. The pebbled glass with gold writing showed her the blurred yet recognizable form of her son with his dark hair and tanned skin. He stood six foot two inches tall with a lean, muscular frame. The man with him was an inch or two taller. Blondish-brown hair, she guessed. Wide shoulders. Wearing a suit.
No, he wasn't someone she knew. Yet Perry didn't second-guess herself. She needed to know about him--to use him to find out what happened to the man she loved. It was possible he was the only person alive who knew something about Daniel's death, something more than vague answers that made no sense.
She well remembered the details Daniel had confided to her about this man. Specifically, she remembered that he'd refused to give his name or the organization he worked for. He'd also insisted Daniel not tell anyone about their clandestine meeting--a meeting during which Daniel had been asked to join a covert government organization. Daniel had been promised the moon for his acceptance. The price? His life. This man had told him he would have to give up his life as he knew it voluntarily, even his family. Everyone he loved.
Daniel had turned him down flat. He'd told Perry everything afterward. He'd even provided her with a detailed physical description of the man, much more than the vague glimpses she'd caught outside Daniel's closed office door twenty-five years ago.
Though Perry had only just completed her FBI training at that time and accepted a position at the Minneapolis Field Office, she'd spent a lifetime with two FBI agents. At the time, she'd assumed the fact that she came up with absolutely nothing on this supposed government recruiter the day Daniel was killed came down to her lack of skill, let alone clearance. Now, twenty-five years later, she'd discovered that the man was a cipher, a complete enigma. She had no idea who he was or how to locate him. Until this moment.
Could there be some connection between this man and the car accident that'd supposedly killed Daniel? Perry had considered it numerous times before, in every possible scenario. If she approached him, would there be consequences similar to Daniel's disappearance? Why was he approaching her son now?
No, she knew she had to be careful. She couldn't come up against this man face to face. She would have to follow him, investigate him. Until she found out something concrete about who he was, she'd have to trail him from a distance.
"You're saying you don't know anything about my father's death twenty-five years ago?" Perry heard her son demand. His tone sounded angry, and Perry tensed at it.
The recruiter's voice, on the other hand, flowed smooth and convincing when he said, "This has nothing to do with your father. Our interest is in you."
Danny sounded a little confused when he said he'd think about the recruitment offer only because the man insisted he think it over carefully--just as he had with Daniel.
"I'll contact you early tomorrow for your answer."
Perry ducked quickly back the opposite way she'd come, into a restroom. From there, she was able to peer out and see the man going out the way she'd come in. Her shoes in hand, she hurried after him. At the exit, she scanned the parking lot and the surrounding areas until she saw he'd parked on the street. He was getting into his car.
Perry waited. Only after he pulled out did she run to her own car. She started it and pursued, staying just far enough away so as not to alert him to her presence.
He stopped at a restaurant. A moment after he disappeared inside, she slipped out of her car, circumspectly coming up behind his rental vehicle to attach a tracer. Then she quickly returned to her car. While waiting for him to come out again, she called up the rental agreement for his vehicle on the laptop in her car. It'd been leased to a man named Samuel Crawford. His address was in New York City.
When she'd entered what little data she had to call up more information on him, she used her cell phone to dial Danny's phone at the college. She got his answering machine. Since Aimee's machine also picked up a moment later, she knew the two of them were on their way to be together.
Perry glanced over at the recruiter's empty car, then past it into the restaurant. The scenario that stood out as the catalyst to her greatest loss was happening all over again. This time with her son.
The thought of losing him the way she had lost Daniel filled her with terror, and caused a cold sweat to break out under her tweed suit. She couldn't bear it. Dear God, she couldn't even handle the thought of it. What could she do to prevent the tragedy that'd almost destroyed her two and a half decades ago?
She would find out who this man was. If he'd had anything to do with Daniel's death. And she'd discover how far he was willing to go to recruit her son.
I'll destroy him if he was responsible for Daniel's death or disappearance. Without a thought, I'd kill him if he tried to take Danny. Somehow, I'll make him pay for the misery he's caused me.