"Good evening, Sara."
She rolled her eyes, willing her heart to return to its normal rate instead of the rapid pace that came with expecting some sort of tragedy to draw her out of bed.
"Nottingham, you'd better have a damned good reason for waking me up in the middle of the night."
"Have you ever heard of the Arctic Ice Core Project?"
"The Arctic Ice Core Project?"
She shook her head, blinking in an attempt to try and clear the fog. Was that a new band?
"You asking me out on a date, Nottingham?"
He gave a muffled chuckle.
"No, Sara, but I'd suggest you tap into whatever files you have and find out about it."
She sat up then, awake now.
"Is Irons doing something?"
"I cannot answer that."
"Okay, okay, tell me again what this is called."
He sighed, but repeated it and she wrote it down on the pad of paper she kept on her nightstand.
She rubbed her eyes, sleepily scrolling through the file she was able to find with her security level in the FBI's system.
She couldn't get back to sleep after Nottingham called. Big surprise there. So, she'd showered and dressed, making her way to the precinct. She saw the surprised looks on a few of the cops faces who were assigned to the nightshift. It'd been a while since Sara had to log hours on this shift. She missed it in a way. Drunk and disorderly was the biggest concern, maybe an accidental shooting here and there - thanks to the drunk and disorderly.
She sipped on the hours old coffee, trying to make sense of what she was reading. And what this had to do with Kenneth Irons.
She was pretty sure the report was watered down because it read like one that was missing pieces. She'd filed one or two of those kind herself so she knew how one of them read.
From what she could gather, two FBI agents and a team of scientists had gone up to the Polar Ice Cap in Northern Alaska to investigate a geologist's team murder-suicide situation. They'd found some sort of living organism, a parasite. Something they'd apparently brought up from the depths of the ice they'd been drilling into. The investigative team came close to losing everyone, too, it sounded like.
So, why was Nottingham telling her to look up a drilling expedition from a few years ago? In Northern Alaska no less?
As she read over the facts, that the nodules seemed to disappear once the host died, leaving behind essentially no trace she began to realize what a powerful weapon something like this would be. There'd been a dog infected and he had spread it even by biting someone. So, it was transferrable from canine to human.
Had Kenneth Irons gotten a hold of some of these worm-like things? Was he getting ready to use them? On who?
Not that THAT should matter. No one deserved to die that way, not even someone like Gallo.
She must have dozed off because the next thing she knew Jake was shaking her awake.
"Pez," he said, sliding a fresh cup of coffee under her nose. That got her attention. It wasn't station coffee either. It was the good stuff from Dunkin' Donuts.
"Mm," she murmured, moving her neck around to work the kinks from sleeping at a desk out.
"You slept here?"
"Must have fallen asleep by accident."
"Something going on?"
"No, not really," she said. He arched an eyebrow, wordlessly telling her he didn't believe her." I got a lead on something I'm trying to figure out what it means, that's all."
"Anything I can help with," he said, eyeing the now blank screen.
Shit, had she fallen asleep with that file still open? Not everyone had access to the Bureau files, not that there was anything in that particular file that was risky or potentially dangerous. But if she'd remained logged in, someone could have jumped around and accessed something they shouldn't have. She moved the mouse, relieved to see the screen was at the login page, having timed out.
"Nah, just a couple calls to make, maybe a face-to-face, but I can handle it."
"Positive," she said. Until she knew why Nottingham was sending her into the Bureau archives she wasn't going to pull Jake in on this.
She went back to her place, deciding to wait for the phone to ring. She was sure Nottingham would know she couldn't resist looking it up there and then. So, he'd have to know she was home by now. He wasn't nice enough to assume she needed rest and leave her to do that. And there wasn't anything more for her to do.
She glanced through the notebook she used to jot down her notes on. She tapped her pen against it, pondering what to do. If she called the agents in charge of that investigation and it turned out to be nothing, she'd look like a complete fool. That wasn't the way to advance around here.
Yet, Nottingham wouldn't call her and tip her off about something like this for nothing. So, it had to be something Irons had his hands dirty in. How would he have gotten a hold of the parasites though? Was it possible one of the geologists working the site had sent some out in advance?
There was one thing she had neglected to look for last night. She supposed she could blame it on fatigue. Who had funded the expedition in the first place? She wouldn't be surprised if it was Irons, even if it was through some backdoor, name-off-the books way.
She picked up her phone and dialed the number referenced in the Bureau database. For all she knew, the agents involved weren't even there anymore. It wouldn't be unfathomable.
There was a part of her that felt guilty even calling. Kenneth Irons was one of the few people out there with answers about the Witchblade. Unfortunately, he was only willing to divulge what information he deigned Sara worthy of knowing. She knew there was plenty he left out. His reasons for that she didn't know. She liked to believe it was in her best interest, but she doubted that. People like Irons didn't look out for the best interest of anyone but themselves.
She hung up when the Bureau operator answered. She wasn't sure what she was doing. The agents wouldn't take her very seriously if she called them about a years old case with nothing concrete to base her theory on. She didn't even have a flimsy hypothesis to go on. She had no idea what would appeal to Irons about some worms found deep in the ice.
She wasn't surprised when her phone rang late that night. She'd tried to sleep but couldn't. Images of the worm-like creatures were firmly planted in her brain.
"Pezzini," she said.
"Having troubles sleeping, Sara?"
"You knew I would," she said.
"I thought you might."
"So, what was the point of having me research that?"
"Are you alone?"
Her eyes widened just a bit. "I'm sorry?"
"I asked if you were alone, Sara. It's not a difficult question to answer. Either you are or you're not."
"Open your door then," he said and disconnected.
She palmed her gun, walking to the door with the phone still between her ear and shoulder held firmly in place there. She opened the door, a little surprised to see Nottingham standing there. It made sense since he'd called her, but that had to mean he was calling from a phone on her street. And that was a little creepy. How often did he do that?
"What are you doing here?"
"You have questions."
"I will answer as I can."
"As you can or as you've been directed to do?"
"My loyalties have been divided, if you ask I must answer."
She rolled her eyes. That was all she needed, a love-sick man after her. But then, if it meant he'd answer a question or two maybe it wasn't such a bad deal.
"All right. What was with the research?"
"I thought you might find it … enlightening."
"Does Irons have any of these things?"
He paused and she grew impatient. "Come on, Nottingham, you said you'd answer my questions."
"Aren't you going to offer me something to drink?"
"Sure," she said, walking to the kitchen, gesturing for him to take a seat on one of the stools at the breakfast bar. "What do you want? Beer? Coke? A martini shaken not stirred maybe?"
His lips quivered just a little into the hint of a smile.
"A beer would do."
She grabbed two out of the fridge, twisted off each top before putting his in front of him. "Want a glass? Maybe a chilled stein?"
"This is fine. You're not much of a hostess are you, Sara?"
"I didn't invite you here."
"But you let me in."
She shook her head, taking a pull. "So, now tell me does your boss have any of these things?"
"I've seen things…"
"Yes or no, Nottingham."
He bowed his head and she knew the answer was yes. He couldn't come out and say it directly. His loyalties may be twisted, but he still felt some guilt for going against Kenneth Irons. His father-figure.
"What does he plan on doing with them? And how many? How'd he get them? The report said the project was destroyed."
"Who says he didn't get samples sent to him before that happened?"
That's what she'd thought of earlier.
"What's he going to do with them?"
"I do not know. Nothing that I know of. I think he likes having them as part of his collection."
"They can't live forever, can they?"
"They survived thousands of years…"
"Yeah, buried hundreds of feet below the ground in the snow."
He bowed his head again.
"He's duplicated the environment? Man, Nottingham, how'd you get messed up with a guy like him anyway?"
He didn't answer, she didn't really expect him to. Both took pulls off their beer; Nottingham seated on one of her stools, Sara standing in her kitchen. It seemed so odd having him in her place. Not that she'd never thought about it before, but never did an actual conversation enter her mind on those occasions. There was something about him that intrigued her, but it was a between-the-sheets type of intrigue more than anything.
"They could be used as a weapon. And it would be blamed on murder-suicide type scenario. Just like in Alaska."
Nottingham's head shot up at that, eyes wide with challenge.
"That his plan for you?"
"I am disposable, Sara," he said simply.
"Like you'd need a parasitic life form in you to kill someone, Nottingham. I don't buy that for a minute."
"Think, Sara," he said, teeth clenched.
"I am thinking, Nottingham. That's what I'm doing here or can't you tell?" She sighed, turning her back on him and walked to the sink. She didn't like when he challenged her like this. She wasn't dumb, but she felt slow on the uptake with him. Probably because he had facts she didn't and never would have.
"He wants you to kill me?"
She turned to face him, seeing that she was on the right track. "But you'd die. With me gone, wouldn't you go right back to being his lackey?"
"My opinions have broadened."
"So, you're no longer useful. Then again," she said, taking another pull on the beer. "If he managed to put a second one in you, you'd live, and have to live with the knowledge you killed me." She gripped the counter, not sure why she was so calm in talking about someone potentially plotting her death. "Is that his plan, Nottingham?"
"I cannot answer that. I do know that he would find it ironic that I would be responsible for your meeting your end."
"Can't or wont," she said, waving him off. "It doesn't matter really. Because he won't get to do it. I'm going to have to call the agents that were in charge of that case. Even if they're not still there, someone's bound to have taken over their cases."
He said nothing, merely sipped on his beer. She noticed he hadn't drunk nearly as much as she had. She wasn't sure what, if anything, that indicated.
"That's what you wanted me to do all along, isn't it? Why did you have to involve me at all, Nottingham? Why not just pick up the phone and call them yourself."
"You're an officer of the law."
"And you have inside information, probably can tell them right down to which square foot the things are."
"I have to live with him, Sara, you do not."
She rolled his eyes. "Nottingham, you've proven lately you don't have to do anything when it comes to Irons. But if it helps ease your conscious then fine. I'll make the call. Next time you want an errand done, cut with games and just tell me what you need done."
"Would you have done it without knowing what exactly I was talking about?"
She gave a sharp breath, closing her eyes. He was right. She probably wouldn't have taken him at face value. He had proven he could be reliable, but she still didn't trust him entirely. She probably never would. The fact he claimed to love her made her even more hesitant. Love wasn't in her future. Everyone she cared about ended up dead. She couldn't stand to see that happen to anyone else.
"No, I suppose I wouldn't have."
He said nothing else, didn't need to. His 'told you so' look said it all.
"He's going to suspect you if they do pay him a visit."
"You were in the room, too, Sara."
"He's got a couple on display in his room of collections."
She frowned, trying to remember but couldn't. She wasn't looking for anything like that at the time. She'd been so focused on Concubar's story. Her story. She supposed it was possible, though, that she'd grow curious about the things he had in that room. Worm-like things probably would have stood out, if she'd known what to look for. And Irons might think she'd chosen to dig deep on some of those things she saw in retaliation for him not giving her the missing page from the story.
"All right, Nottingham, I'll put in the call, but I'd better not have egg on my face when this is over or so help me I won't rest until you've paid."
"I'm well aware of the consequences of crossing you, Sara, and I would never dream of doing so. Not intentionally."
She believed him. Whatever delusion he was under as far as his feelings for her went, he believed that he truly loved her. For now. She saw it not just in his eyes but the way he carried himself around her.
"Good night, Nottingham," she said then.
"I don't get to finish my beer?"
"No, this wasn't a social call. I've extended you as much hospitality as I can stand tonight."
"I've upset you."
"Well, yeah, learning someone might want me dead is a bit upsetting, but I'll get over it." She extended her arm, letting him get a look at the Witchblade. It wouldn't work against him, one of many things about it she didn't understand. "It's mine, Nottingham, and I won't give it up without a fight. I may not understand it or what my role is, but I'm going to find out with or without Irons' help."
He stood then, pushing away from the counter.
"Good night, Sara. Sleep well."
"Yeah, right," she muttered under her breath. He walked to the door, letting himself out. She walked to the windows, wondering if he'd go home at all.
It was late, her tiredness compounded by pulling an all-nighter thanks to Nottingham. She got ready for bed, opening her notebook one last time before bed. She'd by chance written down the names of the agents that had gone to Alaska to investigate the case. A few years had passed, she had no idea if Agents Mulder or Scully were even still with the Bureau.
She imagined tomorrow she'd find out. And hopefully in the process not bring the wrath of Kenneth Irons down upon her. Because, really, if he wanted her dead, he wouldn't need parasites or anything tricky. She was sure he had many means at his disposal.
Bullets to the brain worked just fine after all. She took some solace in thinking Nottingham wouldn't do it.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com