Escape The Concrete Canyons For The Starry Fields

Title: Escape The Concrete Canyons For The Starry Fields
Fandom: Sylum Clan Universe, Tallikut Clan, Oceania Clan, The Sentinel
Characters/Pairings: Meriwether Lewis/William Clark, Thomas Jefferson, Jim Ellison/Blair Sandburg
Rating: PG-15
Summary: When Meriwether Lewis heard his old boss, Thomas Jefferson had returned to the United States from Australia, he bought two tickets from Glacier Park International Airport to Los Angeles. What happens after that proves they are better off staying in the wilds of Montana.

~ Present Day ~

When he got word Thomas Jefferson had returned to the United States two years ago, the first thing Meriwether Lewis did was book a flight for himself and his Mate, William Clark from Glacier International Airport to Los Angeles. He had trouble picturing the third President of the United States living in the city of Angels. Though if any place could use a mind like Jefferson’s, it was California. The state legislature was lucky he wasn’t living in Sacramento.

He wished their present trip to Los Angeles was all pleasure, but he also was scheduled to meet with Bruce Wayne. The Sylum Spy Liaison had been reluctant to talk about whatever information he had on the phone, hence the in-person meeting.

Even though he and Will chose to mostly live on The Farm and spent a lot of their time tramping through the wilderness that makes up the Clan’s home, they also spent enough time in various cities collecting information from his network of contacts that survive in the concrete canyons as well as they survived in the rock canyons of their home.

Pulled from his thoughts by the ding of an email notification, he pulled his phone from his pocket to see who demanded his attention. As the Tallikut Spy Liaison, Meriwether had several email addresses he used to receive news on various fringe groups along with a few that were moving into the mainstream. One new group had taken a cue from a group started in the ’40s where three counties in California and four counties in Oregon would become the State of Jefferson. This new group wanted the five eastern counties of Oregon to become part of Idaho.

Meriwether was about to delete the email when a name caught his attention … James Wilkinson. Memories came forward. General James Wilkinson had been the man whose assassination attempt had ended his first life. He, along with then Vice-President, Aaron Burr, had also been in collusion with the Spanish government to take over parts of the Louisiana Purchase from the United States. After they were successful, they had their eye on taking over parts of Mexico. Thankfully, the evidence he’d collected on Wilkinson and Burr was already on its way to Washington with a trusted aide when he’d been attacked at Grinder’s Stand on the Natchez Trace. The front door slamming as Will entered their house pulled Lewis from his memories. He pushed the Forward option and typed one word before sending it to four other email addresses.

Pushing his memories back in their box, he went in search of his Mate to see what kind of mischief he managed to find while he had been preoccupied.

^*^*^

Meriwether didn’t give the email another thought until he and Will were relaxing in the extremely comfortable living room belonging to Thomas Jefferson. The former President was passing out snifters of aged brandy he’d had shipped from his warehouse in Virginia. He had stashed away all the things he didn’t want to leave at Monticello when he ‘died’. The fourth glass was handed to the Head of Wayne Studios.

“After I got your email, I took a brief look into Mr. James Wilkinson. Though separated by six generations, the apple did not fall far from the tree. I would even go as far as to wonder if the soul of the original had returned.” He breathed in the aroma of the aged liquor before taking a sip. Holding the brandy on his tongue before swallowing made him appreciate his Vampire senses.

“With Thomas back in the country, why wouldn’t one of the worst spies in the history of spies turn up again?” Lewis drawled sarcastically causing Clark to sputter as he’d started to take a drink.

“Do NOT make me spit out this exceptionally fine brandy. I might have to insist we meet on the field of honor, Sir.” A wide grin broke across his face as he gave up trying to keep a straight face.

Meriwether turned his attention back to Bruce. “Now, then, what is it that you could not tell me over the phone?”

Lewis watched as the two older Vampires tried not to squirm. There were very few things that could make a 4,500-year-old Vampire and a former President uncomfortable.

“For some unfathomable reason, there has been an upsurge in articles, documentaries, and even two reality show with ‘explorers’ talking the Montana Masonic Museum and Library into letting them take DNA samples from the bloodstains on your lambskin apron.”

Meriwether gave his Mate a questioning look.

“I’m glad Neelly was a lazy bastard and didn’t bury you too deep. I wasn’t looking forward to digging up a real grave to get you out. I couldn’t get Mrs. Griner to give me your gear, even after explaining who I was. I didn’t have time to figure out where they were keeping your stuff because we had to get you out of the area before anyone official got there.” Clark grumbled

“So, who got my gear?”

“Neelly wrote me a letter about your tragic death that included your official papers in the packet and hired sent one of his men to Washington. Of course, Nico made sure your real reports got to me. I heard later your brother Reuben got everything else.”

“The DNA thing is the least of it, they also dive into General Wilkinson’s background as a spy for the Spanish. They’re bringing in a codebreaker so they can find out what was in Wilkinson’s letters to his handler.”

“Are they bringing up Aaron Burr, the duplicitous ass?” Jefferson growled at the thought of his former Vice-President.

“Not that I’ve heard.”

“Okay. I’m the new flavor of the month and a guy related to and named after the guy who had me assassinated is contacting me to attend meetings about part of Oregon becoming part of Idaho … This is starting to sound like one of those conspiracy shows.” Meriwether scrubbed his hand through his dark hair. “Why did everything everyone wrote after I died sound like I was a complete head case when I wasn’t tramping through the wilderness looking for the Great Northwest Passage.” The others chuckled at Meriwether’s complaint. “Wait. Where did they get my DNA to do this supposed test? Shouldn’t anything left behind have deteriorated or turned to dust?”

The men exchanged looks of confusion. How, indeed?

^*^*^

While Lewis and Clark went through their memories trying to remember where and who might have Meriwether’s DNA, Bruce was firing off a group text.

“William, when you picked up Meriwether’s body had they washed and dressed him in clean clothes?” Thomas had pulled a journal and pen from somewhere in the room.

“He was cleaned up.”

“His bloody clothes?” That got him a shrug from the pair. “You think the Griner’s were part of the assassination attempt?”

“The Missus did the majority of the talking. Mister said little about anything.” Will nodded as though confirming his memory.

“What else did Neelly get besides my papers? He was one of Wilkinson’s toadies.” Lewis asked.

“We don’t know. It was more important to get you out of the area before people realized you weren’t dead.” Clark shook his head.

“It was not our best-planned operation. If you weren’t such a sneaky bastard about your papers, Wilkinson and the Spanish might have gotten your real reports. Wilkinson was nearly apoplectic when he found out, and then when Burr got arrested and charged with treason, he was too busy trying to save his own ass to worry about you besting him.” Bruce looked down at his phone. “Depending on conditions, DNA can stay viable for a very long time.” Bruce informed the men.

“I’m not liking the sound of this.” Meriwether exchanged a worried look with Will. “Why is someone trying to pull me into the public eye?”

“You are still a spy. People tell you things even when you don’t ask. Maybe someone Turned Wilkinson, and he’s looking for revenge since you outed him as Agent 13 for the Spanish.” Thomas offered.

“What I want to know is why after all the evidence I gave you, nothing happened to him. Sure he was stuck with nowhere assignments, but he was still passing information and abusing his command.”

“He was Teflon. Nothing stuck, so we just put him where he would cause the least amount of damage until we finally sent him to Mexico City as an Envoy after he retired from the military. Spain already knew what was happening with Mexico, so nobody mourned when he died after six months in Mexico City.”

Thomas sighed. He knew Lewis was constantly frustrated when politics interfered with how he thought the story should end. He was a great spy, but Thomas made sure he kept the younger man too busy to concentrate on the endgame. His attention was brought back to his living room by the heavy sigh coming from his couch.

“I’m going to have to meet this James Wilkinson, aren’t I?” Meriwether sounded resigned.

“We’re going to meet him.” Clark was determined his Mate wouldn’t be going through this alone.

“I’ll follow Wilkinson from the womb to the present.” Bruce assured them. “Shouldn’t be hard to determine if the records are genuine or implanted into the system like we do when we change identities.” Wayne had called his car and stood to leave. “I’ll keep everyone in the loop.” He shook hands with everyone before he headed for the elevator.

“Just once it would be nice if the dead would stay that way.” Lewis growled beginning to feel closed in with all this talk of the past.

“Why don’t you boys head to bed. As much as I’d like if you stayed a few more days, I can see this conversation has you longing for home.” Thomas patted Lewis on the shoulder.

Meriwether and William said their goodnights and headed to the guest room. “We’ll be where we can see the stars this time tomorrow.” Will whispered as he curled around his Mate.

After a quick breakfast with Thomas, the pair headed for the airport. While waiting for their flight they called contacts searching for any additional information that could be found on James Wilkinson. Bruce would find out everything down to the color of the man’s underwear, but Meriwether and Will wanted to know about the man … They wanted to learn the psychology of the man so they could make their own plans. If this James Wilkinson turned out to be as charming as his infamous ancestor, they needed to be prepared.

Finally settled in at home, Lewis’s computer beeped. Bruce had sent a text while they were driving home from Kalispell to warn a file would be incoming before midnight.

“Does the man ever sleep?” Will grumbled as he sat up from where he’d been leaning against his Mate.

Meriwether chuckled as he picked up his laptop from the coffee table. “That would be a question for Dick.”

“Ugh. Do not want to know.” He spun around so he could read the computer’s screen. They both scanned the file. There would be time to sift through it tomorrow for the finer details.

“That’s terribly unoriginal.” Lewis muttered as he read.

Clark snickered as he found what brought out his Mate’s snarky side. “You’re just jealous you didn’t have a son to carry on the name Meriwether.” An elbow found vulnerable ribs at his jest.

“Meriwether is a very refined name.” Lewis stuck his nose in the air with a sniff.

“It’s a good thing Sacagawea had already picked out a name for her son while we were still on the expedition. Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was a fine name. Between you and Sacagawea he grew up to be a fine man.”

“Anything would have been better than every first-born son of James being named James.”

“I’m sure old man Wilkinson had some high-minded reason for his daughter-in-law to name the child after its father. Carry on the memory and all that.”

“Back to our present-day James Wilkinson … West Point grad in legal studies and got his law degree from The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School. Did his entire career at Army JAG, retiring at the ripe old age of forty-five. He was offered a cushy job at several prestigious law firms.“

“So, how do you go from a cushy military career to working for a group of secessionists. Parts of Oregon and California have talked about seceding since 1941.”

“It was never supposed to be part of the United States.” Meriwether practically whispered.

“WHAT!” Clark’s shock propelled him off the couch to pace the room. “What do you mean?”

“The Pacific Northwest was supposed to be Cascadia, The Republic of the Pacific. Not wanting to travel east during the winter was not the only reason we built Fort Clatsop.”

“Why didn’t I know any of this?” Clark growled at his Mate.

“They weren’t my secrets.” Meriwether set the computer aside so he could interrupt Will’s pacing.

“Who else knew?”

“No one. Jefferson always played his cards close to the vest because of people like General Wilkinson. The only reason we weren’t attacked more by the Spanish on the Expedition was Wilkinson’s stupidity and the ineptitude of the people the Spanish sent after us.”

“After all these years I still don’t know Meriwether Lewis, the spy, do I?” He was stopped by Meriwether’s hands on his shoulders.

“It is my job for the Clan.” Lewis reminded Clark. “You know better than anyone else, you simply don’t know all the things I know.”

“And now, after having dealt with and been killed by one James Wilkinson, you have to deal with the man’s descendent, who may be as big a snake in the grass as his handful of greats grandfather.”

“Pretty much.” Lewis chuckled as he pulled his Mate close. “We haven’t been home from Los Angeles that long, so what really has your tail in a twist?”

“The idea of Thomas trying to set up his own country while still President of this one threw me for a loop.”

“I have great regard for Thomas, but we disagree on a great many things. He could, at times, be an inconsiderate and cruel man.” He pulled Will back to the couch. Unlike you and Thomas, I was never comfortable owning another. Do you remember John Pernia?”

“Your valet? Of course, I remember him.”

“What happened to him after I ‘died’?”

“I imagine he went about his way. He was a free man.”

“He did as I ask of him. He completed my mission. He took the documents I prepared for Thomas and delivered them to Monticello. In those days, the government had little money, and vouchers for monies owed were passed out like lollipops at a doctor’s office. John had a pocketful of vouchers for his wages while working for me at the Louisiana governor’s office. Thomas refused to honor the man’s vouchers though they came with my signature. That money would have secured his future. He probably would have returned to the West, but without that money, he had little opportunity and eventually committed suicide.”

“But … I … Thomas always …”

“His genius occasionally made him oblivious to the needs and well-being of others. It’s one of his flaws I have worked around all the years of our acquaintance. The guilt of John’s death lives near the surface of my memories.” He pulled William tight to his chest. “We are not the men we were in the early days of the Republic. Though I have no doubt Jefferson could buy an island off Washington, Alaska, or a piece of Oregon rainforest, and call it Cascadia, I know the Thomas Jefferson of today would not act so callously toward another because of their skin color or status in life.”

“Some days I’m not sure how we survive as the world evolves around us. It’s not so bad when we are home, but when we come to this huge metropolis, I am near overwhelmed by everything. Makes me wonder how the truly ancient among us handle it.” He snuggled closer with his nose smashed against Lewis’s neck, letting his Mate’s scent ease his anxiety.

“We remind ourselves to live in the present. We can’t change what we did, we can only change what we do, or will be doing.” Arms tightened around Will. “We’ll be home tomorrow. Then we find out why James Wilkinson contacted Lewis Wethers.

The men clung to each other to keep the memories at bay as they drifted to sleep.

^*^*^

During the first week after their return from Los Angeles, Meriwether work his contacts for information on James Wilkinson while Will took care of the logistics of opening their house near Hood, Oregon. That would give them a central location to Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, the states with counties in question about succeeding from one state to join another.

When William Clark joined Meriweather in Montana after his ‘death’, it became obvious that it was going to be his job to get his Mate out of the wilderness and back into civilization more than once every ten years. Having interacted with the various Spy Liaisons to other Clans, Will was always fascinated by the varying personalities that made up the spymasters. They were all a bunch of strategic-minded individuals with paranoid streaks a mile wide. Being Mates didn’t automatically make them perfectly compatible. It became quickly apparent when he joined the Expedition to explore a Northwest passage across Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase that he was going to be the person between Meriwether and the world as they gathered men and supplies. The exception to this was Sacagawea. She seemed to understand that Meriwether needed order and quiet to deal with the chaos that was the workings of his brain.

Pulled out of his thoughts by the bang of the screen door as Meriwether went through the house growling at whoever was on the other end of the phone call … Will chuckled because it was not the sexy type of growl. Turning his attention back to his ‘to do list’, he picked up his phone to call their Oregon property manager. Constance Charbonneau. They had been introduced to the young woman by Sacagawea when they began looking for someone to look after their real properties when they were heading survey teams out into the Canadian wilderness. Constance was her several times’ great-granddaughter, who had followed her partner, Darrell, to Portland hoping to take advantage of the boom of Millennials moving into the area. She would make sure the couple that maintained the house and yard knew to come by twice a week once they were in residence, and to stock the house with the basic necessities.

It didn’t take long to arrange for their house in Hood to be opened and stocked for his and Meriweather’s arrival in two weeks. They had built the spacious log house close enough for day trips to Oregon’s capital, Salem, but far enough away to not have to deal with the city. It also gave them access to an international airport at Portland. Hood River was civilized enough to handle business in the modern world while giving the explorers quick access to wide-open spaces when phones and computers began to press too close.

Done with his list for the day, Clark put away the electronics and went in search of his Mate. His enhanced hearing led him to Meriwether’s office, where he was still on the phone, but the emotions coming through their Bond was much calmer than when he’d earlier banged his way into the house.

The call ended. Meriwether tossed the phone down and scrubbed both hands through his dark hair.

“Why did I agree to this again?”

“Because you like the brain game that goes along with unraveling a plot.” Will smirked from across the desk.

“Smart mouth.” Lewis growled.

“So, what have you been thinking about that’s causing you to pull your hair out?” Will placed a cup of coffee within reach.

“Wilkinson. I have had the man checked out down to the fillings in his teeth, and there’s nothing.” Meriwether pulled a tablet out of his desk drawer and handed it to Will.

“Widowed, retired Army Colonel, no kids, lives in Bend, goes to church … How did Mister Straight and Narrow get involved with a succession movement?” Will scrolled further.

“He was Army JAG. The successionists would need a lawyer that knew his stuff. I thought maybe he was like his ancestor and had crawled into bed with foreign nationals trying to get a foothold in the US. He spent a lot of his service in the Pacific and Asia. He’s fluent in Vietnamese and Korean, passable in Mandarin, but nothing pans out in that direction.”

“You’re not painting this Colonel Wilkinson with Revolutionary War Wilkinson brush … Are you?”

Lewis glared at his Mate for a few minutes before his expression turned sheepish. “Could be. I know better than to visit the sins of the fathers on the sons.” He shook his head at his pre-judgment of the modern-day Wilkinson. “But I’m not going to rule it out. I know many of the people in the rural communities of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California don’t agree with the citified mentality of most of the politicians in Olympia, Salem, and Sacramento. Northern California and southern Oregon have talked about forming the State of Jefferson since the before World War II, but this Join Idaho movement just seem to come out of the woodwork.”

Relaxing back in his chair, Will let Meriwether’s voice wash over him. This was one of the things that made them a good team. Meriwether’s rapid-fire brain and Will’s ability to visualize random facts into a cohesive picture. He was startled out of his ruminations when Lewis darted across the office to grab a fat notebook off the shelf.

“What do you do when you can’t find the reason for something?” Meriwether started flipping through pages of notes.

“Follow the money.” He sat up on the edge of his seat. “What are you thinking?”

“Most of the counties, whether they’re in favor of the State of Jefferson or wanting to join Idaho are fighting the states over mining rights and water rights. It started in California, and after some of the environmental groups that had deep pockets had some success over the small operations gold miners, they moved on to Oregon then Washington, and on into Idaho in the past few years. Their goal is to eliminate any kind of motorized mining unless the miners jump through elaborate and expensive hoops with state’s EPA.”

“Wilkinson hasn’t lived here long enough to be involved.” Will worked on integrating the new information Meriwether was throwing out. “How would he get to be in the know so fast?”

“Lots of vets have small operation or are recreational gold miners. Out in the middle of nowhere, few people, close-knit community. Perfect place to not have to deal with the world. Most would trust a retired officer just for that reason. Farmers and ranchers would trust Wilkinson for the same reason.” He flipped several more pages, pausing to read. “Here. There have been several lawsuits against California and Oregon, in an attempt to stop the states from interfering with the Mining Law of 1872. After tying the miners up in court, the same groups started going after fishermen and rafters. They’re trying to keep anything on two feet other than Bigfoot from using the rivers and forests.”

“Damn. That’s a lot of money leaving those states.”

“That’s a lot of businesses leaving, too, but what’s happened in California is infecting a lot of the other twelve western states. I’m sure that’s one of their talking points among loss of freedoms, and the Federal Government all up in their business while the west burns due to bad forest management by climate terrorists instead of professionals.”

“The West burning these past ten years will no doubt make the top ten list. What about M&W Consulting?” He gave Meriwether a sheepish grin. “I mean … I read the reports and I’m there at the meetings with everyone else, but we haven’t been spending a lot of time discussing these types of problems.”

Drawing back from his desk in surprise, Meriwether blinked several times as though the words didn’t compute. “I know I sort of keep you neck-deep in logistics, but I thought you were paying attention when we were in the field. What is it you think we’re doing when we go on expeditions into the wilderness here, Canada, and Mexico?”

“I know we’re supplying some small tech companies raw materials, but I’m not sure what materials.”

“Rare earth metals. Most of today’s technology including electric cars takes some sort of rare earth metal. We have some claims in California and Canada with small deposits, but none big enough to make a difference in the market. China carries 80 to 90 percent of the market. I’ve been passing information to Sebastian de Rosa, the Spy Liaison for Ghost and Darkness and Lealta Clans, hoping to keep Africa from becoming a territory of China for their rare earth minerals. Sad to say I don’t think they’re being very successful.”

“Can’t T’Challa convince the other countries to boot the Chinese?”

“Money talks.” Meriwether turned his attention back to his notebooks.

“What’s that have to do with eastern Oregon, Washington, northern California?”

“Nothing.” Meriwether chuckled. “You got me going off on a tangent when you said you didn’t know what we were looking for on our expeditions. Anyway, back to James Wilkinson and his group … They’re a very tight-lipped group. No hint of anything on social media of anything other than the succession. No hint of anything else. So, Wilkinson is playing close to the vest, or there’s nothing to see here.”

“If there’s any dirt out there, I’m sure your minions will be on the trail while we’re getting settled in at the log house.”

“It’s one of my favorites of our houses. We might have to stay awhile after we clear this mess.”

“Seriously? You’re going to voluntarily leave our starry fields of Montana for longer than a weekend?”

“Smartass.” He grumbled as he placed the notebook back on the shelf. “How do you feel about dinner. I’ve got beef stew in the crockpot and a fresh loaf of bread from Carolyn at the ‘big house’.”

“Taking advantage of Benton and Ray staying in Montana while they scope out new possibilities?”

“Of course. I’m thinking they’ll go for Vancouver or Seattle.”

“I don’t know. Wonder if there’s a betting pool. I’d have to take somewhere on the East coast. Maybe New York or Boston. The big city for Vecchio and access to the Catskills or New England for Benton.”

Meriweather pulled Will close for a sloppy kiss. “You’re on. Winnings to be named later.”

“Deal.” Will leered as he followed his Mate into the kitchen.

^*^*^

A week later, the truck was loaded, and their house was set up for their extended absence. If they weren’t back by the time the weather turned to winter, Bob and Carolyn would make sure the intense Montana weather didn’t flood their house if water pipes burst.

It was only a nine-hour trip to Hood River, but they were in no hurry and planned a leisurely drive to Spokane where they would spend the night before continuing their trip. Will had taken the wheel for the first leg of the journey. After several phone calls interrupted their packing, Meriwether had been so tense that Will was concerned when he began exhibiting signs of a headache. Cursing the invention of cell phones, he’d bundled his Mate into the truck with a cup of his favorite tea and headed into the mountain passes where cell signals couldn’t reach. By the time they rolled down the ramp to the Interstate, Meriwether’s shoulders had relaxed and the tightness around his eyes had disappeared. He reached across the console to squeeze Will’s hand.

“Thanks.”

“Just doing my job.” He kissed the tanned knuckles. “In my professional logistics capacity, it was my job to get you away to a place where those nasty phones couldn’t find you.” Will snickered as he turned his attention to the road ahead.

“As the head of this expedition, I give you kudos for a job well done.” Meriwether teased.

He tilted his seat back and allowed the mountain scenery to lull him to sleep.

^*^*^

Rolling out of bed at his usual time, Meriwether stretched out muscles that had been used and abused the night before. Their VERY nice hotel room came equipped with a jacuzzi tub the size of a small pool. He hoped none of the water that had made its way out of the tub seeped out of the bathroom. He looked behind him at Will sprawled amongst the twisted sheets and covers. His Mate’s idea of relaxation techniques had met with his full approval and the marks covering the blond were signs of his own appreciation.

Starting the coffeemaker, he took a quick shower and dressed before making a cup of tea. A quick peek out the window showed a beautiful Spokane morning awaited their departure, but for now, he grabbed his computer and cup of tea, letting Will sleep a bit longer.

His inbox was soon clear of all but an email from James Wilkinson. He had started building a relationship with the man through their emails. Asking him questions about himself and his involvement with the Greater Idaho Movement. They were at the point in their tap dance where Wilkinson should start showing his cards, and why he was interested in Meriwether’s alias, Lewis Wethers.

Before he could click on the email, the rustle of bedclothes caught his attention. “Mer?” Will muttered. Not exactly a morning person, Will blinked a few times before frowning at seeing Meriwether dressed and working. “Why are you up?” He sat up in the middle of the bed, stretching his arms over his head.

“It was time.” Lewis shut down his computer and headed to the coffeemaker. “There’s coffee and an hour and a half until check out.” He handed Will a cup of coffee. He gave his Mate a sniff. “You might want to consider a shower.”

Grabbing his Mate, Will yelped as hot coffee splashed his bare thigh. He settled into a pout. “You’re no fun … Right, but no fun.” He quickly finished his coffee before heading to the shower.

Chuckling, Meriwether began gathering their gear. It was amazing how much they had scattered through the room in only a few hours. He finally had everything packed except Will’s duffle by the time the blond came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. Handing Will a mug of blood he’d heated in the microwave, Meriwether washed out his own mug and was packing it away in the insulated bag that held their supply of cloned blood. With Lewis tidying the room while Clark finished dressing, it didn’t take long before they were loading the truck and checking the restaurant signs around the motel. Seeing a family restaurant across the road, the men exchanged a grin. They were five hours from Hood River, so they were in no hurry to get on the road. Besides they’d worked up quite an appetite last night.

After a stop to pick up their preferred perishables, coffee, and tea, it was a relief to pull in the driveway and see the automatic lights coming on as the sun began to set. They took a minute to look south and appreciate the sight of Mt. Hood rising over the treetops. They grabbed up grocery bags and headed into the house. Will began putting away groceries and arranging the kitchen to their preference while Meriwether hauled the luggage to their suite and computer bags to the office. He was forever thankful they’d picked the master suite on the main level as their own. Since it was usually just them, they could close off the other levels and only heat and cool their part of the house. The housekeeper had been at the house earlier, so they wouldn’t see her again until Monday. As much as they enjoyed living on The Farm, it was nice to be in their place on their own land.

Meriwether settled at the dining room table with his computer while Will put together a light supper. It was time to find out what was in Wilkinson’s email. Since he had kept abreast of how seven of the rural counties in Oregon had voted to place the issue of becoming part of Idaho on the 2022 ballot, there was little in the way of new information until he got to the last paragraph.

‘As part of the Oregon business community, I feel this issue should be of great concern to all of us that cannot get our voice heard in Salem. Having made it over the hurdle of getting this issue on the statewide ballot, it is now time for us to equip ourselves for the campaign to garner approval from the State of Oregon and the US Congress to allow us to align ourselves with those whose values align with ours. I am currently attending meetings in Medford and Grants Pass but will be returning to my home in Bend, Monday. I would like to meet with you at the Indian Head Casino in Warm Springs, Tuesday at 2 pm.

I greatly appreciate your consideration in this matter.’

“Meri?” The concern in Will’s voice pulled Meriwether’s attention from his screen.

“Sorry. Wilkinson wants to meet Tuesday in Warm Springs. I think it’s time to call in my big gun.”

“I thought you had all your minions on the job, and they’d found everything?”

“There’s a very special minion I keep in reserve for the tricky jobs.” He picked up his phone and punched a series of numbers that seemed too long for a phone number, but too short for a text message. He laid down his phone. “Supper ready?”

Two hours later a window popped up on Meriwether’s computer. He looked around to see where Will had landed. Seeing him poking around in the garden beds, he unmuted his earbuds.

“How may I be of service, Mi Capitaine?” The perky voice instantly lifted his spirits.

“I need the Black Queen’s services. Are you able to receive a file?”

“Of course. Fire away.” Silence reigned for several minutes as she read the information. “This looks quite thorough. What do you need from the Black Queen?”

“From the womb to five minutes ago. If he jerked off on December 1, 2000, I want to know.”

“So shall it be.”

“Thank you.”

“Toodles.” With a bright smile and a wave, the call ended.

Business done, he went out to help Will dig in the dirt.

^*^*^

Monday, Meriwether received an email from Wilkinson with a picture telling him that he would meet the Clan Spy Liaison at the Tulle Grill inside the Indian Head Casino. Soon after, he received a file from the Black Queen with the detailed information he’d requested.

Not wanting to be cooped up in the house on a beautiful day, he threw a few drinks and lunch into an insulated bag. Along with his files and papers, he headed out to where Will was working on finishing the outdoor living area by their pond. He leered at his shirtless Mate, who gave him proper thanks for the drinks and food. If he was any more thankful, they would have both had dirt in uncomfortable places.

“What’s the occasion?” Will took a bite out of the sandwich he dug out of the bag.

“Tired of being cooped up inside doing paperwork, so I decided to do my paperwork out here where the scenery is much better.”

“Yeah. It’s finally starting to come together.” Will looked around the large patio area.

“That, too.” Meriwether chuckled enjoying his sandwich before diving back into the Black Queen’s Wilkinson file.

“Anything new?” He motioned at the file.

“Nothing that yells out, ‘HERE I AM!’ but there have been one or two things that could be a foot in the door. There is a friend or two that at first glance seem innocent enough, but I’m going to have a deeper dive done on them just to satisfy the paranoid devil that rides on my shoulder.”

“One of the things I love about you. That devil has saved our lives on more than one occasion.” He relaxed using Meriwether’s legs for a backrest.

“Going with me tomorrow?”

“Of course. I don’t care if this is a meet and greet, or what his file intimates. I’ll be lurking about just in case.”

“I do think we should get there early and stake out the parking lot to see if anyone travels with Wilkinson.”

Climbing to his feet, Will stole a kiss before gathering his tools to get back to work. Meriwether settled back with a notebook and the file. As the shadows lengthened over the yard so did his notes. Satisfied, he snapped pictures of his notes and sent them off to Bruce. The Sylum Spy Liaison was only peripherally involved in his investigation, but the two usually shared information. Bouncing ideas off an ancient Vampire could put some interesting ideas on the table. Putting away his work, he went to help Will finish his current project so they could call it a day.

^*^*^

Leaving behind the green of the Columbia River valley, the browns and greys of the semi-arid Warm Springs Reservation was a bit of a shock to the senses. They arrived an hour early to watch people coming and going. Being Tuesday, the traffic was light with people greeting each other, so … Regulars.

After a half-hour, Will went inside to get settled. Fifteen minutes later, Wilkinson arrived with two other men. One dark-haired, six foot muscular average looking white man. The other man was a slightly shorter handsome Asian man. Remembering the file, the white man should be Kristof Popilek, and the Asian, LiWie Chen. Both men had served the final five years of their service under Colonel Wilkinson at the Camp Casey JAG office in Dongducheon, South Korea.

The men had come to the United States with their families as toddlers. Popilek from the Russian-Poland border, and Cheng from China. They served their adopted country for twenty years in the Army before latching onto Wilkinson. He wondered if their families were some sort of sleeper agents.

He smiled as he heard Will’s voice in his head reminding him that not everything was a conspiracy and not everyone had ulterior motives. Climbing out of the mid-size SUV they kept at the house, he headed into the casino.

Seeing the three men sitting together at one of the tables, answered one of Meriwether’s questions.

“James Wilkinson?”

“At your service.” He held out his hand. “Lewis Wethers, I assume?”

“Yes.” He looked at the men on either side of Wilkinson. He also took the time to look the men over to determine if they were Vampires masquerading as Human. Thankfully, they were Human.

“Ah. My associates, Kristof Popilek and LiWie Chen. They insisted on accompanying me.”

“I’m not sure if I should be insulted or in awe that you felt you needed backup for little ‘ol me.” His humor was self-deprecating.

“No insult was meant Mr. Wethers. It’s a matter of caution. There are those in the capital not happy with our little movement to break away from Oregon.

Taking the empty seat, Meriwether got straight to the point. “Call me Lewis. So, to not waste time, let’s get to brass tacks, what do you want with me? You obviously have an organization in place for your attempt to succeed to Idaho.”

“True, and it was fine for working on the county level, but now we’re getting ready to move on to the big time. We need to move on the state and national levels. Any good campaign needs a multitude of weapons and boots on the ground.”

“And that concerns me how?”

M & W Consulting has a stellar reputation. Having you on board could smooth the way in both rural and metropolitan areas. As the General Manager, you have dealt with many state and federal officials. We could use that in our PAC.” Wilkinson leaned forward in his excitement.”

“You’ve certainly done your homework, Mr. Wilkinson …”

“Please call me James. I was a Colonel when I retired … Lewis. I work hard to be prepared for all contingencies. I am not a man that likes surprises.”

“I see.” Meriwether studied the three men across the table. “How long have you been a resident of Oregon, James?”

“I settled here after my retirement three years ago. My wife had recently died, but we had always planned to move to the Northwest. It was one of our favorite places to be stationed.”

“If you had done a little more research, you would have found that M & W Consulting has always maintained an apolitical stance wherever we do business. Business is easier if you’re not invested in the minutia of the government.”

“Another reason we wanted to meet with you today is we are looking for investment opportunities, and your name came up in several conversations as a company that always seems to know where to find the best places to sink a shovel as the old-timers say.”

“You want to get into mining?”

“We do.”

“There’s plenty of gold mining clubs for the small or recreational miners to have access to good ground.”

“We were looking for something bigger than that.” Cheng piped up for the first time.

“Seems like your bosses have tied up quite a bit of land throughout the twelve western states.”

“That’s their business.”

“We’d like to make it our business, too. We have customers who are very interested in what might be found on those tracts of land.”

“Well then.” Meriwether stood. “I should be talking with the people with the money instead of the hired mouthpiece and muscle.” A sneer accompanied his hard tone. “Personally, I think the rural counties of Oregon and California ought to make their own state instead of latching on to Idaho. By the way, the same green terrorists that invaded California then Oregon and Washington are now invading Idaho’s government. They’re infecting everyone with their hand-waving mining science and endangered species that aren’t. Contact me when I can meet the Generals of your outfit.”

“Just like that, you expect me to take you to my money person?”

“Well, you came here expecting to sucker me into convincing my bosses to turn over the culmination of years’ of work on your say so and grease the wheels for you in Salem and Olympia. Since I was born at night, but not last night, we still have to discuss what I get out of this little dog and pony show you’re putting together to get the good people of Oregon to fund your shenanigans.”

“I am truly dedicated to helping the men and women forgotten by those in the capital. There will be no shenanigans as you put it with PAC money.” Wilkinson practically growled.

“Plucking any fruit that happens to come your way on the road from Salem to D.C.”

“Always looking for ways to supplement our retirement. Inflation and all.”

“As long as your supplemental income doesn’t affect me.”

“The investors might think what you’ve got isn’t worth the aggravation.”

“Makes me no mind. I get paid either way.” Meriwether got up from the table and strode out of the casino.

He could hear the sounds of chairs scraping as Wilkinson and his men stood up, but lost track of them in the sounds of the casino floor. He didn’t stop until he was sitting in the SUV waiting for Will. Ten minutes later, Meriwether slid down in the seat as Wilkinson, Chen, and Popilek came out the door and climbed into a red crew cab pickup. They pulled out of the parking lot, and he was still waiting for Will.

After another fifteen minutes, he decided he had waited long enough. He was reaching for the door handle when Will finally came jogging across the parking lot.

“Where were you?”

“I was following Wilkinson’s crew out of the bar trying to hear their conversation, but man is that casino floor noisy. Anyway, they stopped by the great big machine near the entrance and were talking. I didn’t want them to think I was following them, so I got a twenty-dollar bill out of my pocket and stuck it in the nearest machine and pulled the handle on the max bet.”

“So?”

“So! I just won twenty-five hundred dollars on one pull. It took me so long ‘cause I had to give them my information for the tax stuff.” Will was practically bouncing in his seat.

“I swear I can’t take you anywhere.” Meriwether leaned his head against the headrest.

It was a long ride back to Hood River.

^*^*^

By the time they parked in the garage, Meriwether and William had pretty much picked apart their observations of retired Colonel James Wilkinson, Cheng, and Popilek. Meriwether began to empty the bags on the kitchen island the takeout they had picked on their way through town. They were beginning to throw out ideas on what they could do besides waiting for Wilkinson to contact them. Their ruminations and dinner were interrupted by Meriwether’s phone.

“I didn’t expect to hear from you. I thought you already sent me everything you found.”

“Oh I did my fearless leader, but I was going through phone records matching up numbers with photos. It seems the Colonel has been talking to some very naughty people that have been on the Clan watch lists. I’m sending you two files, and yes, Aaron knows I’ve been helping you. There was no way I was keeping this from my Boss … Let alone one of my Mates.”

“I understand and agree, My Queen. Thank you for your continued diligence. After our conversation today there might be a flurry of calls between the parties.”

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew my little spy vs spy.”  She cut off the call.

They had been working around the house for a week and were beginning to think Wilkinson had blown them off when Meriwether got an email with a time and place in Seattle in ten days. His spy mentality told Meriwether to play this close to the vest, but when he looked up into the blue eyes of his Mate, it reminded him he was no longer alone. The perfect backup in the area would be the Clan’s Second-In-Command, who is working as a cop in Cascade. The fact that Jim Ellison owned a magnificent estate on Puget Sound that he was more than happy to welcome Clan members to visit didn’t hurt. Will continued to watch him as he picked up his phone.

“Jim, how are you and Blair?

“We’re good. What’s going on Meriwether. You and Will usually go hermit when you’re out wandering around.”

“Good. Listen, we were doing a bit of investigating, and stumbled onto what may be a Rogue or two operating in your neighborhood. I have a meeting with them in ten days at the Four Seasons. I was wondering if Will and I could stay at the Estate while we’re in town.”

“We’d love to have you. Blair and I rattle around the place like two peas in a bucket. Now, tell me about these Rogue or two that are dirtying up my town.”

“I’ve got Penelope keeping an eye on their electronic footprint, and this is only speculation at the moment, but I’ll give you my file when we get there tomorrow.”

“We have to work tomorrow, but we should be home around six. Gerald and Nancy will be at the Estate if you get there before we get home from the station.”

“We’ll see you then. Thanks, Jim.” Meriwether smirked at Will. “See. I can ask for help.”

“It only took you how many hundred years?” Will went back to what he was reading on his computer. Meriwether stuck out his tongue as he got up to fix a new pot of tea.

^*^*^

Relaxing in the informal dining area in the Estate’s massive kitchen after the excellent dinner prepared by Jim and Blair’s housekeeper, the Clan’s Second-In-Command and Archivist Librarian were reading both the electronic and paper files.

“So, you think Ella Gaines and Frank Coutelle are in Seattle?”

“Wilkinson did call a number that’s registered to Coutelle. Rumor says he hitched his wagon to Ella Gaines but nothing’s been confirmed. She likes to marry older rich men and suck them dry literally though it’s always ruled natural causes. I know your father, William Ellison, falls into that category, so I’m wondering if he or any of his associates have taken up with a new woman recently.”

“I’ll ask. Do Coutelle or Gaines know you?”

“Not that I’m aware. Unlike Nico or James Bond, Will and I are seldom in the eye of a member of other Clans or Rogues. My spycraft is very much on the down-low.” He chuckled. “No big explosions or piles of dust and bodies left behind.”

They were interrupted by Nancy refreshing their tea and coffee pots. “Gerald and I are retiring for the evening. Did you need anything else?” She looked to Jim and Blair.

“No, thank you. Have a good evening.” Jim gave the woman a warm smile.

Fixing a fresh cup of tea, Meriwether waited until he heard the door to their suite close. “I called Daniel Boone, my counterpart in Border Clan to ask about them. He set up a call with Ray Levoi and Chris Larabee, the two people that know them best. Coutelle is greedy and has few morals. Gaines is insane and has no morals.”

“Do you want backup next week?”

“It’s a meet and greet probably with Coutelle … Maybe with Gaines, too …” Meriwether paused for a minute. They could practically see the scenarios running behind his eyes. “It would probably be a good idea. Will was in the restaurant as backup when I met Wilkinson, but against two Vampires I’d like a more level playing field.”

“Okay. I’m going to call Dad and ask about his cronies’ love lives. Make yourselves at home.”

The explorers enjoyed the quiet estate on Puget Sound and strolled the boutique shops and restaurants around the marina. They spent the weekend getting re-acquainted with Jim and Blair after being mostly out of touch since the Sentinel and Guide left Montana for Washington.

Tuesday came way too fast for Meriwether, but knowing that Will, Jim, and Blair were going to be in the restaurant settled his nerves. Following the hostess across the restaurant, he saw a tall, lanky dark-haired man and a petite brunette woman sitting with Wilkinson. Having seen Cheng and Popilek sitting in the lounge area of the lobby, Meriwether was glad to not be dealing with them.

“James.” Meriwether took a seat across from who he assumed was Ella Gaines. She had the look of fresh-faced ingenue, but there was a light in her eyes that made her the most dangerous person at the table.

“Lewis. This is Ella Gaines and Frank Coutelle.”

“Ma’am. Coutelle.”

He shook hands with both. Not wanting to give the game away, Meriwether had Dr. Carter send him a heartbeat simulator to hide his lack of a heartbeat. Coutelle gave him a shark’s smile that may have worked when he was an FBI agent but didn’t so much as cause Meriwether to turn a hair.

“Well, now that all the niceties are out of the way, why did you want to meet us. James here has our complete confidence. He understands our wants and needs.” Ella smiled and batted her eyelashes at Meriwether.

“Ah, but does he hold the purse strings. I have the complete trust of my employer and if I’m going to betray that trust, I want to make sure I’m not the one left swinging in the wind.

“Afraid to take a chance?” Coutelle leaned forward trying to intimidate the smaller man.

Rolling his eyes at Coutelle’s attempt at machismo, he turned back to Ella. “Since you’re obviously the brains of this outfit, what’s your game.”

“We have … Overseas investors who are interested in being part of the discovery and extraction of certain minerals. We facilitate that, and we all make a lot of money. You will be working closely with James to make sure we bring our plans to completion.” Gaines reached across the table to run her fingers over the back of his hand in a flirtatious manner.

“These hypothetical profits are being split four ways?” Meriweather smiled at Ella in response to her flirting.

Ignoring a growl from both Coutelle and Wilkinson, Ella focused on Meriwether. “Lewis … May I call you Lewis?” He nodded his agreement. “Some of us …” She glared at Frank and James. “Have put a great deal of work into this project, so of course, would receive a larger percentage. It will certainly be worth your while and could lead to your involvement in future projects that will continue to build your wealth.”

“I would need to discuss with my partner since I would not just be unrooting my life, but also his.” Ella snatched her hand back from him. “I will speak with him this evening and contact you tomorrow. Do you have a number where I can contact you directly to discuss percentages should I agree to help?”

“Of course. I am sure you can convince your partner that this is in the best interest of your future to join us.” She wrapped her hand around Meriwether’s wrist to place her card in his hand.” Brown eyes went wide and turned amber as her fangs dropped. “VAMPIRE!” She hissed.

He was pulling back and trying to get out of the way as he caught Coutelle going for the gun in his belt. He heard Will yelling his name, and Jim yelling for everyone to freeze, he was the police.

The tableau changed as Cheng and Popilek rushed through the door, guns out, looking for someone to shoot. Since they were behind Jim, Blair, and Will, Meriwether pulled his own weapon and aimed at Cheng while the sparse after lunch patrons tried to get out of the line of fire.

Meriwether smiled as Blair took out Popilek’s gun hand with an amazing throw of a crystal centerpiece. His contribution was a headshot that took down Cheng while Blair was tackling Popilek and handcuffing him to a metal railing.

“FRANK, LET’S GO!” Gaines headed for the closest exit not looking to see if Coutelle or Wilkinson followed.

Turning to assess the danger that might be coming from Wilkinson, Meriwether felt bullets enter his body from both James and Frank. He smiled as he saw the bullet go through Wilkinson’s hand. He felt his Mate’s anguish through their Bond as he watched Coutelle go down with Jim’s bullet in his chest.

“MER!!” Will yelled as he hit his knees next to his Mate. Meriwether smiled at him as his eyes closed.

Jim cuffed Wilkinson to Coutelle though most would have declared Coutelle dead. What a mess. Simon was going to chew through his cigar when he got here. So much for a simple meet and greet. He pulled out his phone and looked to see Blair on his phone with dispatch, so he got busy calling their Chosen Ones at the hospital.

^*^*^

He sat on the patio with his coffee watching the Edmonds-Kingston Ferry make its way across the Sound. Two weeks had passed since the shooting in the Four Seasons restaurant. Disgraced retired Colonel James Wilkinson was sitting in a Cascade jail cell awaiting his trial for attempted murder. Thanks to Blair’s major league arm, Popilek never fired a shot, and would probably get off with probation. Coulette and Cheng were dead though Coulette’s body had disappeared from the morgue. Everyone had given their statements, everything that needed to be had been glossed over, and Meriwether had recovered.

Bumped from his thoughts by the arms wrapping around him from behind, Will, tilted his head back for a kiss from his Mate. The bullets that had hit Meriwether had nicked both his heart and liver. It was touch and go for a while and bless Jim’s foresight at having Chosen Ones on the ambulance. Without them, Meriwether could have died if they had not got the bleeding stopped.

“Looking forward to going home?”

“Yeah. I love the estate but I’m ready to get away from the city.”

Will watched Meriwether as he joined him at the table. “Unless Wilkinson works a plea deal, we’ll have to come back for the trial.”

A shoulder shrug was his answer as both men turned to back to watch the ferry.

“It’s been a long time since I felt what I felt that day in the Four Seasons.” He glared at his Mate. “I expect it to be a very long time before you put me through anything like that again.” He growled.

Sitting back, Meriwether put his hands up in surrender. “I think I’ve had my fill of undercover work for a long time. I’ll leave that to the minions.”

“Good plan.”

Will grabbed Meriwether’s sweatshirt and reeled him in for a kiss.

“That seals the deal.”

~ finis ~

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