Riley waited until the video ended, then shut off the screen and turned to her client.
"As you can see, it wasn't Ms. Flores who sold your process to Airstream."
Ballard looked stricken. "My own son."
Riley nodded sympathetically. "He has a gambling problem. His debts prior to the sales were approaching seven figures." She held out the report. Paper, because analog couldn't be hacked. "I've included all the details here."
Ballard reached for the report blindly, fumbling a bit as he began to flip through it. "I don't...how did you get this? I had my security on this leak for months and everything they found pointed to Sylvia."
"I'm afraid your son did an excellent frame job. His handlers undoubted helped with that."
Riley schooled her face into careful neutrality. "Jason didn't just sell corporate secrets to Airstream. He also went international. The Russians are very interested in some of the technology your company is developing."
Ballard paled further. "Have you brought this to the authorities?"
"I thought that decision should be left up to you," Riley said quietly. There had been a time when she would have gone straight to the authorities with something like this, but she'd learned a lot since then about what kinds of consequences that decision could have.
Ballard left a half-hour later, still upset, claiming he'd hold his son accountable. Riley noticed, however, that he asked for and paid her bill himself rather than having her send it to his company.
"He took it better than I thought," she said to Gabriel when she heard him come in. He'd seen the whole thing, of course. He always watched. That was one of the reasons they had cameras in the office.
"He already knew," Gabriel said, spinning a little in one of the visitor's chair. There was only one desk in the room; they'd decided early on that Riley would be the face of the organization, while Gabriel stayed in the background. It was the only way they could safely deal with the kind of clients they were seeking.
Riley sat up straight in her own chair and leaned over the smooth, expensive desk. "He already knew?"
"Well, he knew his son had a gambling problem. Corporate security gave him that much. And obviously he suspected his son was the leak, or else why come here instead of calling you into his office?"
"You could have told me that."
Gabriel shrugged. "And then he'd wonder how you knew that he knew about the gambling."
"No, he'd just assume I was good at my job," Riley said. "Which I am."
"I've never questioned that."
"I'm serious," Riley persisted. "You find something out, you tell me about it. That's how this partnership works."
"All right, fine," Gabriel said. "In that case, it might interest you to know that Ballard is on the phone with his son right now...and he just got off the phone with a high-end therapist specializing in addiction."
"So he really is going to do something," Riley said.
"Probably a personal leave of absence," Gabriel said. "And maybe a sinecure for his son when he gets back. Or maybe he'll farm the kid out to subsidiary instead. Somewhere he can't do too much damage."
"Any chance Sylvia Flores will get her job back?"
"I'll let you know," Gabriel said, "but my money's on a large settlement contingent on her keeping her mouth shut." He straightened up, eyes suddenly distant, and then stood up. "New client on the way in."
"Anyone we know?"
"Lillian Strand." Flat tone, revealing nothing.
"Are you sure she's just here as a client?" Riley asked. She'd never met the former director of Cyber Com, but she'd heard the stories--both the gossip and rumours that had been floating around during her time with the Secret Service, and Gabriel's own personal stash of stories from his time at Cyber Command. She couldn't imagine any reason for Lillian Strand to come her.
"She's alone," Gabriel said. "If she knew I was here..."
He didn't have to finish. However competent Lillian Strand might be, she'd always been more analyst than field operative, even during her CIA days. There was no way she'd try to bring in a former Delta Force operator with anything less than a full tactical team. Especially Gabriel.
"Then I guess you'd better go," Riley said. She opened a drawer and pulled out her earpiece. Their SOP with new clients.
Gabriel shook his head. "She could be monitoring," he said. "If it's urgent, I'll text you. Otherwise, we can talk afterwards."
Riley nodded and put the earpiece away. Her phone rang--the receptionist telling her that Lillian Strand was in the office. She glanced at Gabriel, who nodded and slipped silently out the unobtrusive back door.
Riley stood up and opened the door to the woman who had made her partner what he was--and then helped him escape when the government became too afraid of their own creation to allow the project to continue. Lillian had gone done with Clockwork, a victim of her own success.
However she felt about the outcome, it didn't show. She entered the office with the confident air of a woman used to giving orders and knowing they'd be followed. Two years in the wilderness apparently hadn't softened her edges. Or maybe she'd been less of an exile than was generally presumed. "Riley Neal." Her handshake was brief and firm. Professional.
"Ms. Strand," Riley replied. "Have a seat. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea?"
"No, thank you," Lillian said, sitting down.
Riley debated an imperceptible moment, then took the seat beside her client rather than the one on the other side of the desk, choosing a shot at encouraging intimacy over a move that wasn't likely to intimidate Lillian Strand anyway. "What can I do for you, Ms. Strand?"
"I take it you know who I am," Lillian said.
"You were kind of an inspiration to me, back when I was with the Secret Service."
Lillian nodded slowly. "So it's not because Gabriel told you about me?"
Long practice and careful training kept Riley from reacting. "Who's Gabriel?"
"We don't have time for games," Lillian said. She glanced around the room, focusing her gaze upward. "I assume he's watching. You have cameras in here, don't you?" She raised her voice just a little, projecting to unseen microphones. "Gabriel, we need to talk. It's about Cassidy. He's in trouble."
"I have no idea--" Riley began, but the back door opened before she could finish.
"It's been a long time, Lillian," Gabriel said.
"Yes, it has," Lillian agreed. "It's good to see you again." She stood and turned to face him, right hand fluttering as if thinking about touching him before setting back down at her side again. It was the first break in her façade that Riley had seen.
"It's good to see you too," Gabriel said easily. He moved over to perch on the edge of Riley's desk between the two of them, ignoring the remaining chair behind the desk. "So what's going on with the doc? I thought he was retired now."
"He is." Lillian sat back down, angling herself in her chair so she was facing both of them. "Apparently some people would rather he didn't stay that way."
"I assume you don't mean he's been receiving new job offers."
"We've identified multiple surveillance attempts," Lillian said. "We've also thwarted one kidnapping."
"Excuse me, ma'am, but who's 'we'?" Riley asked.
Lillian smiled tightly. "Let's just say that I have some...friends, in high places."
CIA, maybe, Riley thought. Leland Strand presumably still had connections there. Or some tiny, top-secret agency...the kind that worked without glory or renown. Almost certainly black-ops, either way, or else she--or more likely Gabriel--would have heard about it. Everyone had gotten more careful about keeping things offline since the disaster with Mei Chen, but big organizations had to have electronic records--they couldn't help it.
"Any idea who's behind it?" Gabriel asked.
"Initially the signs pointed toward the Chinese," Lillian said. "But on further examination, we think there might be an internal element."
"What kind of internal element?" Riley asked.
"There are some people within our government who weren't happy with the way Project Clockwork turned out," Lillian said carefully. "Especially the results of the CIA's attempt to assert control."
"The result being my death," Gabriel said dryly. "Officially. Or have people started suspecting otherwise?"
Lillian sighed. "I don't know. If you'd asked me six months ago, I would have said it was impossible. We didn't even tell our own people that you survived. Only Cassidy and I knew. But now...it has occurred to me that the threats to Cassidy might be an attempt to draw you out. Confirm that you're still alive. Or they might be what they appear--an attempt to reboot Clockwork using the only person capable of doing that."
"If they are trying to draw out Gabriel, you may have led them right here," Riley said.
"I was CIA for over fifteen years," Lillian said shortly. "I promise I can spot a tail."
"There's no one watching us," Gabriel confirmed.
Riley nodded in acceptance. They'd situated their office in an area full of cameras, for exactly this reason.
"I'm not asking you to become openly involved," Lillian said. "I know how hard we all worked to hide you, and I know the risk to you if anyone finds out you're alive."
"Not just to me," Gabriel interjected. "If they get hold of this tech--"
"I know," Lillian said. "I know better than anyone besides you and Cassidy what the risks are."
"And we'll be facing the same risks if they manage to kidnap Cassidy and restart the project," Gabriel said. "So let's get to work."
This entry was originally posted at http://skieswideopen.dreamwidth.org/165