“Okay, this is nice here, right? Finally, one big happy family again," Rich said enthusiastically as the team surrounded Jane. “No more lies, no more —”
The ding of the elevator doors opening at SIOC put an abrupt end to the excited conversation. Patterson had just finished telling Jane about the results of her CT scan, MRI, psych eval, and polygraph when she developed something she could only describe as tunnel vision. She faintly heard Reade’s voice saying “Let’s go” but she was staring and couldn’t help herself.
“— Drama,” Rich finished. The enthusiasm in his voice was replaced by shock. Patterson cast a quick glance around and saw that Weller, Jane, and Rich were staring as well.
Tasha Zapata walked stiffly off the elevator. She cast a sideways glance at the team gathered in SIOC, catching Patterson’s eye, and then immediately looked away. She faced forward and continued walking, her face an emotionless mask, as Reade followed closely behind her.
Or at least that’s her goal, Patterson thought as she tracked Tasha’s movements with her eyes. She knew Tasha too well to believe that Tasha’s mind wasn’t racing. She was anything but emotionless, no matter what she tried to convey with the defiant look she’d plastered on her face.
As Tasha turned the corner, Patterson caught a glimpse of the handcuffs that bound her friend’s hands behind her back, and she felt her heart stop for several beats before starting again.
“So much for the one big happy family,” Weller said as he spotted the cuffs.
The group watched as Reade and Tasha disappeared down the corridor, and they stood staring even after they were out of sight.
“I guess those rumors about Zapata were true,” Jane mused as she finally looked away and turned her attention back to Weller, Patterson, and Rich.
“We don’t know that they are true,” Patterson said sharply, pulling her stare away from where she’d last seen Tasha.
Jane looked at Patterson in surprise. She threw a glance in the direction Tasha and Reade had been. “Reade wouldn’t have her in cuffs if they weren’t true.”
Patterson didn’t respond. That was fair. Reade wasn’t in the habit of arresting people with no cause. If he was bringing Tasha to the FBI in handcuffs, he had a reason for it. Whatever reason he might have, Patterson felt sick about it. She stared at the closed elevator doors for a long moment before pulling herself out of her thoughts.
“I have to get back to the lab,” she said uncertainly and then put on a friendly smile. “Welcome back, Jane.”
Patterson turned and quickly left the group, walking on autopilot towards her desk in the lab. She saw Briana approaching her but waved her away as she sat down in her chair. She entered a string of commands into her computer, bringing up a log in screen. She typed in an access code and pressed enter. Within seconds Patterson was staring at Tasha’s face as the brunette sat stone-faced and handcuffed to the table in one of the NYO's interrogation rooms.
It’d been months since the last time Patterson had seen Tasha. She’d been very publicly fired from the CIA, returned to the NYO the next day to sign her paperwork, and then she was gone. In the midst of all that was happening with Jane and Roman’s data caches, Patterson had spent hours upon hours trying to track Tasha’s whereabouts. She’d taken the work home and it was her pet project. Whiteboards and bulletin boards were set up around her apartment and notes, photos, and print-outs filled them. If she thought too much about it, Patterson felt her research was taking a turn from pet project into obsession.
She wasn’t obsessed with Tasha. They were friends and her friend’s mysterious disappearance had sparked her curiosity. It was a puzzle and Patterson loved puzzles. Now the object of her curiosity had reemerged and was sitting just a few hundred feet away in Interrogation Room A. Patterson stared at her monitor at Tasha’s unflinching face. She’d half expected Tasha to drop the act as soon as Reade left her alone but Tasha remained expressionless.
That’s not true, Patterson thought as she watched Tasha carefully. She’s not expressionless. She’s mad.
Patterson squinted thoughtfully at the monitor and studied the captured woman’s unflinching expression. Tasha’s face wasn’t expressionless at all. Patterson had spent many nights sitting across a table or desk from Tasha. She’d seen just about every emotion and expression the brunette could dish out. This look was a mix of anger, frustration, and …
Why does she look so hot? Patterson wondered and then blinked hard. Where did that thought come from? She looks like Tasha. A little tired, a little angry, frustrated, and gorgeous.
Patterson shook her head and looked away from the screen. She had no idea where those thoughts were coming from. She’d seen Tasha in jeans with her hair pulled back hundreds of times. She’d seen her wearing much less clothing dozens of times but now this thought just kept intruding: Tasha looked beautiful.
Stop! Patterson screamed in her head. Stop thinking about Tasha like that! You’re only thinking she looks beautiful because you haven’t seen her in months and you missed her.
Patterson bit her lip and thought about the last time she’d seen Tasha. Keaton had just fired her and Tasha looked as if she might cry. She looked a little lost and a little vulnerable...
And a little sexy, her brain suggested before another part of her brain could reprimand her. SHUT UP!
She shook her head again and bit her lip harder as if that could force her to focus more. If Patterson could go back in time, she would have done more than just stand there with that ridiculous confused expression on her face. She would have gone to Tasha and wrapped her up in a big hug. She would have stroked her hair and assured her that she was there for her no matter what. But Patterson hadn’t done that. She’d stood there and frowned and watched while her best friend walked out of her life. And now Tasha was sitting handcuffed to a table in Interrogation Room A. She couldn’t help but feel like she’d failed her.
When Reade ushered her off the elevator — yes, “usher” was the word she was choosing to use — Tasha made the mistake of looking around SIOC. Part of her hoped she wouldn’t see anyone she knew. She couldn’t bear the thought of her friends seeing her being led into the FBI in handcuffs. The other part of her desperately hoped she’d see Patterson. Handcuffs be damned, it’d been a long time since Tasha had seen a friendly face and she couldn’t think of a better face to see than Patterson’s.
For a brief moment, they made eye contact but Tasha had looked quickly away. She’d transformed her face into a brick wall in an attempt to let nothing slip. If she stared at Patterson too long, she was afraid she’d forget the gravity of the situation she now found herself in. Now, as she sat on the uncomfortable metal chair in interrogation with her hands chained to the table, Tasha’s mind flashed back on the brief moment as she walked off the elevator and spotted Patterson.
The scientist was even more beautiful than the last time Tasha had seen her. She wasn’t sure how that was possible. It’d only been a few short months but Patterson was gorgeous. There was just something about her, almost a glow.
She must be happy, Tasha thought. Probably has a new boyfriend. I bet she’s never even wondered where I’ve been. She probably never thinks about me.
Tasha knew Reade was going to be the next person through the doors into Interrogation, but she wished it was Patterson. She felt like she could spend an eternity in that room if Patterson were there with her. Somehow, whenever she was with her, Tasha always felt good. She felt safe and loved and like she knew what direction she was heading in. If there was a problem, Patterson would help her work through it. They were a great team.
Stop thinking about Patterson, Tasha scolded herself. She fixed her face into a neutral expression and tried to think about her situation. More than anything, she needed to find a way out of FBI custody and make it to Toronto before anything could happen.
If I’m not there to meet Del Toro... she let the thought trail off as her mind raced ahead, weighing one horrible scenario after the next. It wasn’t like she could just break out of custody and go on the run. I need Keaton.
Patterson sat at her desk with her hands over her eyes. She used her thumbs to rub at her temples. She’d been watching Tasha stare blankly at the door to the interrogation room for nearly 15 minutes. Tasha hadn’t moved; she hadn’t even reacted. Her expression was exactly the same as it was when Reade first walked her into the room and cuffed her to the table: angry, frustrated, and confused. Patterson had been waiting for something, anything, that would give her a hint about what was going on but the longer she stared at Tasha, the more she wanted to get up from her desk, walk down the hallway, uncuff Tasha, and take her home with her. Ridiculous thoughts. Instead, she’d logged out of the surveillance system and killed her monitor’s display. Her eyes were closed when Reade walked into the lab and stepped up to her desk.
“Everything okay, Patterson?” he asked.
Patterson snapped her head up and pulled her hands away from her face to look at Reade. She blinked hard against the sudden brightness that filled her vision.
“Yeah,” she lied. “I just have a headache that I can’t get rid of. I think I’m gonna get out of here for a little bit.”
Reade furrowed his brow in concern and studied her face. He finally nodded.
“Good idea. You’ve been going non-stop trying to help Jane. You should take a break. Get out. Take a walk or something. Clear your head.”
Patterson nodded and ran a hand across her forehead.
“Thanks. I’ll do that.”
Reade paced slowly in Interrogation Room A. He’d expected Tasha to react when the doors to the room slid open but she looked exactly the same as she did when he’d left her earlier.
“Lying to the FBI and the CIA. Sabotaging an active investigation. Aiding and abetting a suspected felon in her operations of a known criminal organization,” Reade began, listing off all the ways Tasha had broken the law as he sat down in a chair across the table from her. “Home invasion. My home, by the way. Assaulting an officer of the law in said home. Stealing official documents. Am I forgetting anything?”
Tasha stared at him but said nothing. It was only a matter of time before Keaton caught wind of the situation and came to her rescue. Reade held her stare. When it became obvious she wasn’t going to say anything, he leaned back in his chair.
“Look, we both know how this goes,” he said. His tone softened slightly. “I come in hot. You stonewall. I empathize a little bit, offer you something. You counter, maybe let too much slip, and we’re off to the races. But you have absolutely no room to maneuver here and eventually I’ll get what I want. So why don’t we just cut to the part where you tell me everything?”
Tasha didn’t respond but held eye contact. She wanted to look away but knew that if she did, Reade would take it as a sign of guilt. She was guilty of nothing except following orders. She needed Keaton to step in.
What if he doesn’t know you’re here? Tasha thought. Keaton may have no idea that you’ve been arrested.
“All right, well, I got a stack of paperwork to get to, so I’ll see you in a few hours,” Reade said and got out of his chair. He started to the door.
“I want to talk to Keaton,” Tasha said firmly.
Reade stopped in his tracks and turned back to face Tasha. He sat back down.
“I thought he fired you,” he said. When Tasha didn’t respond he pressed on. “You saying he didn’t?”
He waited for a response but was greeted with silence.
“If you think somehow he’s your ticket out of this, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re wrong,” Reade said.
“He’s in a coma,” Reade replied.
"You’re lying,” Tasha scoffed, shaking her head in annoyance. “I want to speak to him.”
Reade shook his head and got out of his chair again. “Believe what you want. He’s not coming,” he said. “You want to talk to somebody, talk to me. Or you could sit here and say nothing. That’s fine. I got all day.”
Tasha didn’t reply right away. She didn’t have all day. She needed to meet with Del Toro in Toronto or else her op was done and people could die. She needed to speak with Keaton. There was no time to play Reade’s game, but she was convinced that if she insisted on seeing Keaton, Reade would stop the game and contact him.
When the door to the interrogation room closed again and Tasha was alone, she finally let her emotions take control of her face. If Reade was telling her the truth and Keaton was in a coma, she had a serious problem on her hands. With Keaton out of the picture, no one else knew she was even an active agent, and there certainly wasn’t anyone with enough pull to get her out of her predicament. Her mind raced as she tried to think of what to do next.
I wish Patterson was here, she thought suddenly. She’d know what to do. She’d be able to help.
Then her thoughts soured.
Why would she? I’ve done nothing but lie to her lately. I’ve always tried to protect her and keep her safe but she doesn’t need me anymore. She probably never did, Tasha thought. She thought about the quick glimpse she’d caught of the scientist when she’d exited the elevator. She looks incredible, though. She’s probably busy with her new boyfriend. She’d have no time to help me.
Patterson sat on the couch in her living room and stared at the assembled whiteboards and bulletin boards. They looked exactly the same as they did when she’d left for work earlier that morning with one notable addition: Patterson had tacked up a photo of Tasha she’d taken from a screen capture of the security camera in Interrogation Room A. She stared at this new photo. In the photo Tasha stared straight ahead, her dark eyes piercing nothing as her face remained neutral.
What have you been doing, Tasha? Where have you been? Patterson wondered.
She got to her feet and went to the first board. She read the information there and then took a step backwards, running a hand through her hair as she thought. The board started with the day Tasha had been fired. Keaton had accused her of stealing a dignitary’s phone and then they’d left the room. When Tasha returned, she told them she’d been fired. Patterson looked at the next item in her Tasha Timeline: The last time she’d seen Tasha.
It’d only been a glimpse from across the room but Patterson had spotted Tasha leaving Reade’s office. She assumed she’d been there to sign her exit paperwork but Patterson hadn’t mistaken the look on Tasha’s face. She’d been upset and had done a terrible job of masking her pain. Patterson didn’t know if Tasha was upset because her future was now uncertain, if she’d had an argument with Reade, or if there was something else, but she did know that something was wrong. She’d tried to catch her before she boarded the elevator but the Latina was gone before Patterson had even made it out of the lab and into SIOC. She still wished she’d run after her.
Patterson scanned the rest of the boards. Tasha had been all over the world: Paris, Amsterdam, London, Mexico.
The pieces still weren't coming together for her. There was only one explanation for everything that Tasha had done but it still didn’t make complete sense: Tasha had never been fired from the CIA. She was working deep cover and her firing was just theater for their benefit.
The idea that she’d just been part of some pageantry orchestrated by the CIA was infuriating. Patterson had been searching for Tasha for months. When she wasn’t looking for a way to save Jane’s life, Patterson was sitting in her living room putting together the Tasha Timeline, The Big Board of Zapata. More than anything else, Patterson wanted to find Tasha. They’d just come back on friendly terms and Patterson wanted to find Tasha and confess all the things she felt for her. But there’d been no time. In an instant, Tasha was gone.
She should have come to me, Patterson thought as she took another step away from the boards to take in the big picture. If Tasha was in trouble or she needed help, she should have come to me. If she was undercover, she could have trusted me. She should have trusted me. I’d do anything for her.
Tasha stood next to Jake Keaton’s hospital bed and looked down at the unconscious CIA agent. Reade had been telling her the truth. And now she was screwed. With her handler out of the picture, she had no one left to turn to. Her get-out-of-jail-free card was as useful as the old Blockbuster membership card she kept meaning to throw away.
“What happened?” Tasha asked quietly.
“He took a bullet covering Jane, doing the job you were supposed to be doing,” Reade replied, annoyance thick in his voice. “And now he’s hanging on by a thread. I don’t know what you thought he could do for you or what lies you thought he could help you shore up, but he can’t save you. You might not like it, but I’m the only thing standing between you and the CIA, and they wanna put you in a hole someplace no one’s ever even heard of.”
Reade paused and let his words sink in for a minute.
“It’s time to talk, Zapata.”
A dull thud had taken up residency behind Patterson’s left eye. The longer she stared at the Tasha Timeline, the worse the pain became until she forced herself to look away.
At least I didn’t lie to Reade, she thought sullenly as she dug a bottle of aspirin out of her bathroom’s medicine cabinet. She worked the child-proof cap and tossed back two tablets, chasing it with a glass of water.
Patterson shuffled back into the living room and stood among the boards. She focused her attention on the new photo of Tasha. At this exact moment her best friend was sitting in an interrogation room at the FBI. Knowing Tasha, Patterson wagered she was still sitting silently, refusing to give Reade an inch when telling him anything would be the key to getting herself out of this mess. Patterson's eyes flicked over the police reports and bulletins from Interpol. Wanted for murder. Patterson refused to believe that Tasha would have murdered someone.
But Reade... Patterson thought as her mind flashed back to Reade relaying the story of Tasha breaking into his home with another woman. She pistol-whipped him and knocked him unconscious. She might have done that but Tasha isn’t a murderer.
It was hard to compartmentalize all the things Patterson had learned about Tasha in the time since she’d last seen her. Most of it made no sense. Patterson knew Tasha better than anyone and the Tasha Zapata she knew didn’t do anything without a plan and reasons. Lots of reasons. With Tasha, there was no black and white but plenty of shades of gray. Tasha was a force of nature, strong-willed, determined, smart, and stubborn but she was no murderer.
She’s working for someone, Patterson insisted. But who?
When Reade uncuffed her from the table and told her they were on their way to see Keaton, Tasha thought he was finally being reasonable. He’d heard her repeated requests for Keaton and was obliging her. She hadn’t expected to actually find Keaton unconscious in a hospital bed. Any hope she had that there was light at the end of the very long, very dark tunnel she’d found herself in was gone. She shouldn’t have been surprised that she was now once again shackled to the interrogation room table. If she wasn’t so desperate to get out of custody, she would have been indignant that he thought so little of her.
I loved you, Reade, Tasha thought as she glared at him while he secured the lock on her handcuffs. Why can’t you believe what I’m telling you?
Reade sat down in the chair opposite her. He looked tired and exasperated.
“You’ve had some time to think through it,” he said. “Now, talk. Back at the hospital, you had no idea Keaton was in a coma, did you?”
Tasha didn’t respond immediately. All she could think about was meeting Del Toro in Toronto. She needed to be there by 6 a.m. the next day. At this rate, she’d never get there. Talking to Reade was getting her nowhere. She wanted someone else. Patterson would understand. Patterson would sit across the table from her and take her hand and tell her everything would be okay. She’d listen and then help her formulate a plan. Together, she and Patterson would be able to get her out of this whole mess. And it had rapidly turned into a giant mess.
“I have somewhere I need to be, and if I don’t get there, something terrible is going to happen,” Tasha confessed quietly.
Reade shook his head and narrowed his eyes.
“Something worse than what you’ve already been doing?” he asked incredulously. “Tasha, you want me to give, I gotta get —”
“—Reade, please —.” She heard the pleading tone of her voice and it sickened her, but she saw no other way out than to try to appeal to Reade’s feelings for her.
Tasha hesitated and took a deep breath. She was out of options. Unless Keaton was going to magically awaken from his coma or Patterson was going to burst through the door having solved the mystery that was Tasha Zapata’s disappearance, Reade was right. She was out of moves.
“I’ve been deep cover with the CIA,” she said. “The whole time.”
“What do you mean, ‘the whole time’?” Reade asked. “What kind of job?”
“Above top secret,” Tasha said, leaning towards him. She adopted her most serious, time-is-wasting tone as she recalled her conversation with Keaton when he originally pitched the job to her. “Off-book, deep-cover, and dangerous as hell.”
Tasha spoke quickly and quietly as she relayed Keaton’s plan to Reade. He sat silently and listened to every word she said but there was something about it that Tasha didn’t like. She didn’t think he believed her. He wanted to, Tasha was sure of that, but he didn’t. She continued telling him about how she’d gotten on Blake Crawford’s good side, warning her about Roman and Hank’s impending arrest, and then how she’d earned Blake’s trust.
“I know how it sounds,” Tasha said finally. “But it’s true. Every word.”
“Even if it is, and that’s a big ‘if’, you still should have told the team,” Reade replied. “Lie or not, you still betrayed us.”
Tasha broke eye contact with Reade for the first time since launching into her story. She looked down at her handcuffed hands. She thought about everything — everyone— she’d lied to and left behind. All this time she’d been doing Madeline’s bidding and traveling the world, dealing with one criminal after the next, she could have been at the FBI, eating glass noodles with Patterson, and chasing after regular, garden-variety terrorists. When Keaton had pitched the op, it sounded great. The longer she was embedded, however, the more Tasha wanted out. It had rapidly turned into something she’d never expected.
“i wanted to tell you so many times,” Tasha said, looking back into Reade’s face. “I just, I couldn’t. After Madeline murdered Blake and the board at HCI Global, I knew I was in over my head.”
“So, you wanted out and Keaton said no?” Reade asked.
“I wanted your help and he said no.”
“But he was cool with you and Claudia tying me up, beating the hell out of me, and stealing documents from a secure FBI server?” Reade asked. Sarcasm had crept back into his voice and Tasha was afraid she was losing him again.
“I thought Claudia was going to kill you,” Tasha said. “I knocked you out to keep you alive. Later that night, I found out she wasn’t who she said she was. She’s MI6.”
“How do you know that?” Reade asked.
Tasha shook her head as if she was exasperated from dealing with a child. “something didn’t add up, so I did some digging and found out she was British Intelligence. I told Claudia I was CIA. Madeline was getting suspicious of both of us, so we decided one of us would sacrifice ourselves to help the other appear loyal to Madeline.”
Reade snorted derisively.
“What, you guys flip a coin to figure out which one of you got shot?”
Tasha leaned back in her chair as far as she could. It felt like she was arguing a no-win situation. It didn’t matter what she had to say. She doubted Reade was buying it.
Why was it Reade who found me? Tasha inwardly groaned. Anyone else... Patterson would believe me. No matter what else has happened between us, Patterson would believe me. We should have gone to Patterson. She could have gotten the files we needed and we wouldn’t have endangered Reade, and none of this would be happening.
“Everything I am telling you is true, but I can’t give you anything else,” Tasha said hotly. “This mission is too sensitive. If I’m not somewhere by 6 a.m. tomorrow morning, everything falls apart.”
“Where? We’ll bring the entire team.”
“I can’t tell you,” Tasha insisted. “I need to go in alone.”
Reade started to get up. This was just a waste of time.
“So, now you don’t want to tell the team. I’m a little confused here.”
Tasha shook her head. “It’s not the team I don’t trust. Madeline has ears everywhere.”
Reade stared at her and said nothing. Tasha leaned forward dramatically.
“Contact MI6,” she said. “Claudia will verify my story.”
Tasha was left alone in the room again and she could feel the minutes melting away. She was in real danger of not making her meeting. Reade said he’d reach out to MI6 but she seriously doubted that he believed anything she’d told him. She shifted uncomfortably at the table, the cuffs rubbing against the sensitive skin of her wrists. She’d never wanted to find out what it was like on this side of the table, but here she was. Her mind was racing, full of thoughts of finding a way out of custody and making it to Toronto on time. At the same time, she kept thinking about that half-second eye contact she’d shared with Patterson when she first walked off the elevator. She wondered if Patterson thought about her at all or if the eye contact she thought they’d made had actually been eye contact.
Stop thinking about Patterson, Tasha scolded herself. You need to start thinking about convincing Reade and getting out of here.
She was about to refocus her thoughts on what else she could say or do to convince Reade that she was telling the truth when the door to interrogation slid open and Reade stepped back in.
“MI6 isn’t exactly racing to verify your story,” he said, pulling out a chair and sitting down again. “Neither one of us has time to wait. You have exactly one more chance to come clean. What happens tomorrow at 6 a.m.?”
There was nothing left to do. Tasha had to trust Reade and tell him everything. She started talking, explaining her planned meeting with Del Toro and Madeline’s plan to crash a plane. When she finished her explanation, they were interrupted by the vibration of Reade’s cellphone.
“What is it?” Tasha asked when she saw Reade’s expression change again.
“It’s MI6,” Reade said, looking up from his phone’s display. “They haven’t heard from Claudia in weeks. She’s been labeled missing and presumed dead. They’re saying you’re lying.”
“Of course, MI6 would say they haven’t heard from Claudia. We are both deep cover on a compartmented op. They cannot risk anyone knowing she’s alive. Not you, not the FBI,” Tasha said. She was growing anxious and exasperated. Of all people, she’d hoped she’d able to rationalize with Reade, explain her side of things, and get him on her side. Instead, it felt like she was dealing with someone she’d never met, let alone slept with, before. She ached for a familiar face and would have paid good money for Patterson to walk through that door with corroborating evidence. While Tasha wasn’t sure if any of her friends were on her side, she had a hard time believing that Patterson had simply given up on her and never thought about her.
Maybe she hasn’t, Tasha thought but pushed the thought from her mind. After the fiasco with Borden and the dragonfly tattoo, Patterson had little reason to give Tasha much thought. They were friends again, but it was tentative. Tasha was being naïve if she thought Patterson was using her free time to track her down.
“Reade, I have told you everything, even thought that defies a direct order from my boss,” Tasha said, trying one more time to get through to Reade. “And I know how crazy this sounds, but this, right here? This is me. I am so sorry for what I put you through. I can’t imagine what you must have thought of me.”
“Who says I’ve stopped?” Reade interrupted bitterly.
Tasha continued on as if she hadn’t heard his comment.
“Just know that whatever terrible things you wished on me, I wish something a million times worse,” she said. “Yes, I kept things from you. I hurt you. But I swear to you, I am telling you the truth right now. Every word. Reade, if you don’t let me walk out of here, everything I worked for will be destroyed. People will die. And all of the horrible things I did to you, to us, it will have been for nothing. Reade, please, listen to your gut. Let me go.”
Reade shook his head and stood up. Tasha’s heart sank. That was her last chance. She’d tried to convince Reade, but he wasn’t hearing any of the things she had to say. She wondered if she were in his place if she would react the same way.
“My answer is no. I’m not gonna let you go,” Reade said as he shoved his chair back in. “I’m sending you back out. I’m your handler now. But get something straight. Me and you? We’re done. Finished. Whatever relationship, friendship, whatever this was we had, it’s over. I will never forgive you for this.”
“Reade, listen —”
“No, you listen,” Reade interrupted, the anger rising in his voice. “You will never get close to me again. But if you’re telling the truth, then you’re our best shot at taking down Madeline, so you’re going back out. You have a function, and you will serve it until that function is over. All you had to do was tell me. I could’ve helped you, but instead, here we are. And if I find out you’ve been lying about an inch of any of this, I swear I’ll put you in a hole myself.”
Patterson flopped onto the couch with a bottle of water and closed her eyes. She’d been staring at the boards since coming home several hours earlier and she was feeling a little cross-eyed. She was missing something. Her research was solid but she had missed something. If she wanted to go with the only theory that made any sense, she was missing a piece.
Tasha is back. Reade has her in custody and won’t let her out. The CIA wants her. Patterson recited the facts of the “case” over and over in her head until it was just a jumbled mess. Tasha is back. Who is she working for?
The first logical guess was Madeline and HCI Global. After all, nearly every shred of evidence Patterson had been able to gather, involved Madeline Burke in some way. What bothered Patterson most about this, however, was all of the things that Tasha had been involved in. It was hard to believe that Tasha had thrown away an entire lifetime of law enforcement, joined the ranks of what she considered to be a terrorist organization, and started running around committing crimes. If Tasha was responsible for half of the things the CIA wanted them to believe, then Patterson doubted that Tasha was making decisions for herself. Someone else was calling the shots. And it most likely was not Madeline Burke.
Who would Tasha listen to?
Patterson got back up and stared at the boards again, her eyes darting back and forth as she searched for the missing piece.
“Tasha was fired. She signed exit paperwork with Reade. She disappeared and then reappeared in Paris with Blake Crawford. Then Blake dies...” Patterson said to the empty room. “And then Tasha starts working for Madeline? Why?”
And then it hit her.
“Keaton!” Patterson yelled, surprising herself and nearly dropping her water bottle. “She’s working for Keaton!”
Her face fell then and she took a stumbling step back to her couch. She dropped heavily into it. If Tasha was working for Keaton, there was no one to corroborate this. Keaton had been shot while out with the team. He’d been in a coma for weeks.
“Tasha needs someone,” Patterson mumbled and took a swallow of her water. “She needs proof. If she’s in there with Reade right now, trying to plead her case, she’s doing it without backup.”
The thought of Tasha alone was all Patterson needed. She got back to her feet and grabbed her laptop from her desk. She booted it up and began typing up a report, using all the information from the Big Board of Zapata.
Reade was sitting at his desk when Patterson burst through the glass doors. She thrust a thick folder into his hands and sat down uninvited in one of the chairs opposite him. He raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“Zapata’s innocent,” Patterson said, not waiting for a response. “She didn’t do all those things. I mean, okay, yeah technically speaking, she did, but she’s working for Keaton. It’s all there. Proof. Lots of it. You have to let her go.”
“What is this?” he asked, glancing down at the folder and then back at Patterson.
Patterson shifted uncomfortably in her seat before continuing.
“Okay, so you won’t like this but I’m sorry. Remember that you like me,” she began quickly. “I’ve been conducting a little side research into Tasha.”
“You’ve been doing your own investigation, you mean,” Reade replied.
“No,” Patterson said. “I’ve just been gathering some information about where she’s been, what she’s been doing... Okay, yes, it’s an investigation. But if she tells you she’s working for Keaton and she’s deep cover with the CIA, she’s telling you the truth.”
Reade shook his head and glanced out through the glass walls of his office.
“And you know this all how?”
Patterson cocked her head to the side and just stared at Reade. She was a little hurt that he had to ask that. “Alright, fine. I didn’t exactly have a headache,” she admitted. “I do now, but I went home to try to figure this all out. And I’m convinced that Tasha is working for the CIA, even if the CIA says she’s not.”
Reade picked up the folder Patterson had handed him and flipped through it quickly. There were at least 20 pages of what appeared to be a report. He sighed and set it back down.
“I know,” he said. “She told me. I got MI6 to verify part of her story.”
“Claudia! She was British Intelligence,” Patterson said, jumping out of her chair and slapping a hand to her forehead. “I should have known! I couldn’t figure out where she fit into all of this, but the CIA was so adamant that they didn’t know who she was. I should have known.”
She paced the room for a minute as she put more pieces of the puzzle together in her mind and then turned back to Reade.
“You have to let her go,” she said abruptly. “Or let me go talk to her. I’ll get her to verify my report.”
Reade stood up and crossed the room to where Patterson was now pacing again. He reached out a hand and stopped her.
Patterson froze. She felt herself go cold.
“What? What happened?”
“I sent her back out. I’m her handler now,” Reade explained calmly.
“Oh,” Patterson said and then adopted a false brightness. “Good! Okay then, I’m just gonna... I'll leave you with that and I’m gonna get back to work. Jane’s ZIP poisoning and all. Rich and I... we’re, uh, I’ll go work on that.”
Before Reade could respond, Patterson was gone. She moved quickly through SIOC until she reached her desk. She sat down in her chair and stared at the darkened monitors. Tasha was gone. After spending months trying to solve the mystery and then racing to help exonerate her from any wrong-doing, Patterson couldn't believe it. She thought she’d at least have another chance to see her, but she was gone. She’d been too late.
Patterson felt empty. The one person she wanted to see more than anyone else had been just down the hall but she’d only caught a brief glimpse of her. Who knew the next time she’d see her let alone get to talk to her? There were so many things she wanted to tell Tasha and now Patterson didn’t know when she’d get the chance.
She closed her eyes to gather her thoughts before calling Rich in so they could continue working to find a cure for Jane’s ZIP poisoning. Instead, Tasha’s face flashed in her mind and Patterson let out an involuntary sigh.
I miss you, she thought sadly. Be safe. Come back soon.
I hadn't planned a second chapter but it seemed like you all wanted one. This is it. Enjoy.
It’s dark, Tasha thought as she opened her eyes and looked around the cramped space. Her wrists were duct taped together, and she tried to stretch her legs. There wasn’t enough room. She squinted into the darkness just as light flooded down on her. Two men in suits peered in at her with their guns drawn.
CIA, she remembered and felt her pulse started to race.
“Rise and shine, sweetheart,” one of the men said.
“Look, I'm telling you, you got this all wrong,” Tasha protested, raising her hands. Before the two CIA agents could respond, they dropped to the ground and another man approached her rapidly, tucking a stun gun into the waist of his pants. He set to work cutting Tasha’s wrists apart.
“We need to hurry. There are more CIA operatives on the way,” he said. I’m a friend of Madeline’s.”
It was a mistake to let Tasha go back to her alleged op. If Claudia hadn’t called, Reade would have further doubted the story Tasha spoon-fed him and he’d been naïve enough to swallow. It’d been hours since he’d last heard from her and he’d called. Twice. She wasn’t answering and Reade’s mind jumped to the obvious: she’d played him.
Doubts had begun to eat away at him, and he dialed her number for the second time in less than 30 minutes. Voicemail.
Reade drummed his fingers on his desk for a minute before getting up and heading out into SIOC. He found Patterson standing over a microscope in the lab, her back to him.
“Patterson, I need you to track a phone for me,” he said, not waiting for her to acknowledge him.
The scientist jumped at his voice and looked away from the slide she’d been studying. She looked around and clapped a hand over her heart.
“Jesus, Reade! You scared me,” she admitted. “Make a noise next time. God. What’s up?”
“Sorry,” Reade apologized. “I need you to track a phone for me.”
Patterson crossed her arms and furrowed her brow. She leaned back against the bench she’d been working at.
“Track a phone like geolocate or track a phone like trace a number?”
“Sure, as long as it’s turned on. Gimme the number. Whose phone is it?”
Reade hesitated. Patterson knew what Tasha was up to; she’d figured it all out without his help so it wasn’t a surprise that he’d be trying to get in touch with her. He worried, however, that Patterson would accuse him of not trusting Tasha and she’d be right. He didn’t trust her. Reade wondered how Patterson could trust Tasha so implicitly despite everything she’d done. If anyone should be distrustful of Zapata, it should be Patterson.
“It’s Tasha’s. I've been trying to reach her but she’s not picking up,” he said quickly. Reade glanced around the lab. Patterson’s techs were all busy with individual tasks but he spotted Briana standing nearby and she looked less than interested in the project in front of her. “C'mon to my office. If you can do this, I’ll tell you whatever you wanna know.”
“If you’re gonna be Zapata’s handler, you have to trust her, Reade,” Patterson said with exasperation as she crossed her legs in the chair across from Reade’s desk. “You sent her back out. You must have believed her.”
“I did,” Reade insisted. “But she won’t answer her phone.”
“Did you ever think maybe she can’t answer the phone? She’s in the middle of an op. I doubt she can just tell the nice hacker she’s meeting with to wait while she takes a call from the assistant director of the FBI.”
Reade pushed back in his chair and came around to the front of his desk. He leaned against it, his hands gripping the edge.
“Can you track her phone or not, Patterson?”
Patterson shook her head. “I’m a little insulted you have to even ask me that,” she pouted. “But you really need to start trusting her. Give me 10 minutes.”
Patterson returned to Reade’s office in less than five minutes carrying a tablet and wearing a grin. She turned the tablet around so Reade could see the screen and set it down on top of the paperwork he was working on.
“Toronto,” she said smugly.
Reade picked up the device and studied the information silently. Tasha had gone to Toronto like she insisted she was going to.
“What’s this?” he asked, turning the tablet back to show Patterson.
“Okay, yeah, that,” she said and pushed her hair back over her shoulder. “So, this is her recent activity. She went to Toronto, like you see there, but not long after she got to wherever she was going, she left. And then her signal disappears. I can’t track her.”
Reade turned the tablet back around.
“Where’d she go? Why’d she leave? Why she’d she turn her phone off?”
“No idea. Maybe she didn’t turn it off.”
“If it was on, you’d still be able to track her,” Reade said. “Something happened. Something’s wrong. I’m getting us a helicopter and we can be in Toronto in two hours. Zapata might need our help.”
He moved back around his desk and grabbed for his desk phone. He started to punch in a few numbers when Patterson’s cell phone rang. She fumbled it out of her pocket and glanced at the caller ID: Tasha. She turned the screen around to show Reade before accepting the call. He stopped dialing and returned the receive to its cradle.
“Tash?” Patterson asked and then immediately fell into stunned silence.
Tasha sat in the car beside Dominic Masters, a security consultant working for Madeline Burke, as they drove over the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn. She pressed the phone to her ear and gazed out the window.
“Hola cariño,” Tasha said when Patterson answered. She forced a musical, light-hearted quality into her voice and continued quickly. “I just got back from my business trip but I have to head out again. I missed you so much. Any chance you can sneak out with me for a few minutes?”
She waited for Patterson’s response and then nodded.
“How about Underwood Park? An hour and a half?” She paused again. “Ok, baby. I can’t wait to get you alone! It’s been too long.”
Patterson disconnected the call and stared at her phone for a long moment. Reade saw the look on her face.
“What’s the matter?”
She shook her head.
“Something’s up. Tasha used my first name,” she said and then relayed the conversation. She cocked her head to the side as she finished telling Reade what Tasha said. “She called me ‘baby.’ That’s weird, right?”
“I’ll go with you,” Reade said, getting up from his chair again.
“No,” Patterson said. “She said ‘I can’t wait to get you alone.’ I think I’m supposed to come alone.”
“That’s not an option, Patterson,” he said.
“It has to be,” Patterson replied. “Tasha called me for a reason. She said – or didn’t say - what she did for a reason. I have to go.”
Reade shook his head. He crossed the room quickly and stood in front of the door, blocking Patterson’s way.
“I’m going with you,” he insisted. “I’m her handler. If she’s in trouble, my ass is on the line too.”
“No, Reade. You can’t,” Patterson said. “If she’s in trouble, she probably can’t reach out to you. Let me go. I’ll meet with Tash, see what’s happening, and come right back here.”
Reade didn’t respond but he dropped his defensive posture. He ran a hand over his face.
“You have to trust me, Reade,” Patterson said quietly. “And you have to trust Tasha again, too.”
Patterson was early to arrive at Underwood Park. She climbed out of the cab and headed towards a bench facing a row of swings. The bench would give her a nearly complete view of the park and she’d be able to see Tasha arrive. She couldn’t stop thinking about their brief phone call.
Tasha called me ‘baby’, she thought and smiled to herself. She could get used to that. She thought what it might be like to wake up next to Tasha and see that smile on her face. It was the smile she reserved just for Patterson. Good morning, baby. Patterson felt weak at the thought of it.
“Hey there,” Tasha’s voice came, interrupting Patterson’s borderline inappropriate thoughts. “You’re early, cariño.”
Patterson turned her head and saw Tasha hurrying towards her, a huge smile on her face. She got up from the bench and started in her friend’s direction. Patterson grinned at her.
“Hey Tash,” she began but the rest of her sentence was muffled by the giant hug Tasha enveloped her in. Patterson tried to remember the last time she’d been hugged like this by Tasha and couldn’t think of a single time. Then she felt Tasha’s lips on her cheek as the brunette kissed her lightly. “Tash?”
“Shhh,” Tasha husked into her ear. “I’m being watched by one of Madeline’s guys. I told him I wanted to see my girlfriend while I was in the city. Play along?”
Patterson nodded into Tasha’s shoulder as they broke the hug. She started to step backwards when Tasha took a step forward and kissed her long and hard on the lips. Patterson didn’t return the kiss immediately, she was in complete shock at what was happening. She’d had a crush on her friend for so long but she never thought this would be happening. She relaxed slightly and reached for Tasha’s waist to pull her closer when the brunette broke the kiss and grabbed for Patterson’s hand.
“Come on,” she said and led Patterson towards the edge of the park. They walked silently hand in hand as they walked the park’s perimeter.
When she was sure it was just them, Patterson stopped walking and turned to face Tasha.
“What’s going on, Tash? That was some greeting,” she said. Her lips still tingled from their unexpected kiss.
Tasha released Patterson’s hand and looked down at the ground.
“I’m sorry,” she said, glancing over her shoulder to where she’d left Dominic in the car. “I just wanted to really sell it. I didn’t mean to — Dominic Masters is one of Madeline’s goons. He saved my ass in Toronto when things went sideways. I’m not sure he trusts me.”
“Okay...” Patterson began.
Tasha turned back to look at Patterson. “I don’t have a lot of time,” she said, her voice still low. She looked around and spotted another bench and sat on it, gesturing for Patterson to sit next to her. “I’m sorry to drag you into this. I’m probably the last person you want to deal with. Reade’s barely speaking to me.”
Patterson held up a hand to stop Tasha’s ramble.
“No, stop,” she said. “I’m not mad at you. I missed you. You’re my best friend.”
Tasha felt her smile stretching wider than she was used to. She’d always considered Patterson her best friend as well, but with the way that things had gone between them, Tasha was certain their friendship was just fragments of what it had been.
“You’re not mad?”
Patterson shook her head and smiled. “No. I was upset. You left without saying goodbye,” she said.
Tasha began to apologize and Patterson cut her off.
“Don’t. I get it. You’re working for the CIA. I didn’t know where you went so I started digging in.”
“I was worried,” Patterson said quietly. She looked away from Tasha and out towards the group of kids playing on the nearby playscape equipment.
“You worried about me?” Tasha asked. The smile fell away and she frowned.
“Every day,” Patterson admitted. “So, now, tell me what’s going on. What do you need?”
Tasha launched into the whole story, speaking quietly, and telling Patterson everything that had happened since the day Keaton fired her at the NYO. She detailed Madeline’s murder of the entire board of HCI Global and how she was now trying to orchestrate a plane crash.
“The problem is, Madeline wants Del Toro,” Tasha said finally.
“Del Toro?” Patterson asked, interrupting. “You don’t mean the hacker who breached the Department of Defense’s firewall a year ago? Hacked a Russian sub? Not Del Toro Del Toro?”
“That guy is a major dark web player,” Patterson said. She couldn't keep the awe out of her voice. "He's a legend. There’s no way you’re gonna find him and guys like that... I don’t know Tash.”
Tasha shook her head and cast another wary glance back to where Dominic was still in the car. He was scrolling idly on his phone and didn’t seem to even be aware of the conversation happening a few hundred feet away.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said finally. “The CIA jumped me when I got to Toronto. I was late to the meeting and now Del Toro won’t work with us.”
Patterson didn’t respond and waited for Tasha to continue. The brunette was looking down at the ground, biting her lip. It seemed like she was working up her courage and then finally turned back to Patterson.
“I need a hacker,” she said. “A really, really good hacker. And it can’t be someone that Madeline can tie to you, me, or the FBI because she will look. And if she finds something? Game over.”
Patterson licked her lips and she thought. Obviously, she couldn’t be the hacker. Her next thought was Rich but it wasn’t like he’d been keeping much of a low profile. He was almost as well known in the dark web circles for being arrested by the FBi as he was for working for the FBI. There was only one other person she could think of but it was a longshot.
“You need to talk to Reade,” Patterson said. “I have an idea but I can’t authorize it. He has to.”
“I can’t just walk into the FBI, Patterson,” Tasha said, gesturing back towards Dominic. “I’m pretty sure Madeline sent her security to make sure I wasn’t double crossing her.”
Patterson hmmed for a minute and looked back towards Dominic. Another idea entered her mind. It might be a little risky but she thought they might be able to pull it off.
“Do you trust me?” she asked.
Tasha nodded. “Of course. That’s why I called you.”
Patterson got back to her feet and reached a hand out to help Tasha up. She squeezed her hand lightly and smiled.
“It’s your turn to play along now,” she said, pulling Tasha close to her. They were face to face now, so close that Patterson could have kissed her. “I think I can get you away from him but...”
“Play along,” Patterson said. She started towards the car and Tasha fell in step alongside her. “You told him I was your girlfriend?”
Tasha nodded. She grinned sheepisly. “Yeah.”
“Okay then, let’s sell it.”
When they got within a few feet of the car, Patterson stopped walking. She turned back to face Tasha and wrapped her arms around the other woman’s waist, pulling her as close as possible. She looked into her eyes, gave a smile, and then kissed Tasha hungrily. This was more than the cover she was going to use to get Tasha some free time away from Dominic. This was the kiss she’d wanted to give her for so long.
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Patterson said just a little too loudly when they finally separated. “Are you sure we don’t have time to go back to my place?”
Tasha kissed Patterson again, nipping her lower lip lightly as she let her hands fall down the blonde’s body.
“I’d have to talk to Dominic.”
“Hmm,” Patterson replied and looked back to Dominic. He was watching them now, with a slight grin on his face. She broke free from Tasha’s grip and walked quickly to the car. She leaned down to the open driver’s side window. “Hi. Dominic? Is there any chance you can let me borrow Tasha for a little bit? Like an hour?”
“An hour?” Tasha replied surprised. She moved quickly to Patterson’s side and nuzzled into her neck. “Really? An hour?”
Patterson turned her face away from Dominic’s spreading smile and faced Tasha again. She placed another light kiss on her lips.
“Maybe two hours?” She winked at Dominic. “It’s been a while. You know how it is...”
Dominic glanced at his watch. Madeline would be expecting him soon.
“What about your meeting?” he asked. “Isn’t your friend going to meet us?”
“Tomorrow,” Tasha said. “I’ll meet him tomorrow and bring him to Madeline’s office.”
He looked back at Patterson. The two women were holding hands and the blonde woman was running her thumb back and forth over Tasha’s knuckles.
“Take the night,” he said. He gave Patterson a slightly lecherous look. “If it were me, I’d want more than two hours with this wild cat.”
Dominic rolled the window up and started the engine before pulling the rental car out into traffic. Patterson and Tasha watched him leave.
“Let’s get to the office,” Patterson said and stepped off the curb to flag down a cab. Tasha didn’t follow her. “What’s wrong?”
“Two hours?” Tasha asked incredulously. “That’s, um, that’s...something.”
Patterson shrugged. “He thought we were a couple. I just let him believe what he wanted to.”
A cab pulled up in front of them and Patterson opened the rear door, allowing Tasha to slide onto the seat before her. She gave the driver their destination and sat back in her seat.
Tasha watched her as Patterson looked out the window. She grabbed her friend’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
“I know we were just making a play but maybe, sometime when this is all over...” she trailed off and took a deep breath. “Maybe when this is done we can go out sometime for dinner or something.”
Patterson looked away from the window to face Tasha.
“Yeah, we can grab Thai or something. It’s been a long time,” she said and smiled. There was no way that Tasha Zapata had just asked her on a date. That was wishful thinking.
Tasha nodded and gave Patterson a small smile. “Yeah, something like that.”