(To read from the beginning go Here.)
“Absolutely.” Anne perked up a bit. “Just let me brew some coffee first.”
Erik glanced over at her and grinned. “If anyone deserves some rest, it’s you.”
“I warn you once the tale is told I intend to sleep for at least a week.”
“Then you’ll be happy to know that one of the fellas rousted your super and a carpenter and your door is fixed.”
Anne’s hand flew to her mouth. “Would you believe I completely forgot about the break-in?” She shook her head at herself.
“Well you’ve had other things on your mind.”
“Oh, just Communists and counterfeiters. I can’t imagine how that would have been enough to make me forget that my apartment was ransacked. I’ll be glad to go back to just writing about crooks rather than dealing with them in real life.”
Erik pulled into a prize parking spot and pulled the keys from the ignition, but didn’t climb out right away. He leaned toward her ever so slightly, turning his torso so that he faced her. “If it’s any consolation. I think you’re a way better heroine than Lacey Carew.” He turned away abruptly, and flung open his door.
Heat bloomed in her cheeks, arcing down to a place in the middle of her chest and setting it aglow too. An irresistible grin lifted the corners of her mouth. Suddenly she didn’t feel nearly so sleepy.
He swung open the doo for her with a flourish and offered his arm. She accepted his assistance from the car, and didn’t pull away after she’d emerged.
Perhaps she’d been too forward. She sought frantically for something to fill the air between them. Something nonchalant. Breezy. Fun. Nothing came to mind. “So what did Armstrong and you boss tell you?”
He ushered her inside their apartment building. “I thought your curiosity might be stronger than your need for caffeine.” His gaze held a mixture of pride and humor. “You were right. They were communists. And the scheme was pretty much what we thought. They meant to take the plates that Tom made and set up a press in major cities all over the country. With counterfeits that good, and coming from every angle, we’d have been at a loss. Even if we shut down one operation, it wouldn’t have led to another, because the individuals in each cell were kept separate from one another and had no information about the others.”
Anne fumbled for her keys, but Erik handed her a different set. “New door.”
The only thing to do was laugh at herself. He might as well know up front what a goof she was. “That coffee won’t come a minute too soon.”
Anne led the way to the kitchen, flicking on the lights but ignoring the awful mess in the living room. She found the percolator unscathed but had to rummage before she found the coffee in the midst of pile of jumbled boxes and cans that had been flung on the floor.
She glanced over her shoulder. “Hope you don’t mind it black.”
“The blacker the better.”
“So why did they kill Carol, and what was it about those papers that made them so desperate to get them back?”
“Well that was part of what made this operation such a threat. Seems they have a guy inside the national mint. He figured out a way to smuggle out the special paper that’s used for real currency.”
“Wow, so the fakes would have been almost impossible to tell from the real thing.”
Erik nodded. “Exactly. The panic would deepen as word of spread and no one could be sure whether the money they had in their pocket was the real thing or some forgery. As the concern spread, the dollar would be devalued and, worst case scenario, the markets would crash and spawn a countrywide economic collapse.”
“Then the papers Carol gave me were the real deal from the mint. That was why they were so desperate to get them back. If anyone got a hold of them it might mean the discovery of their inside man.”
“Right again. I was scheduled to meet with Carol on the day she was killed. Her call came in while my boss, Mercer, was at my desk. I just transferred from California, so I’m the low man on the totem pole here, and I get all of the loons. He told me to ignore it. That it was an obvious crank. I was going to, but then I thought it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. She sounded pretty scared and I figured that if I could catch a counterfeiting ring I’d start establishing myself here. So I called her back and set up a meet.
“I played the cards close to my chest since Merecer told me to ignore it in the first place. Turns out to have been a good thing that he didn’t know what I was up to, or he’d have squashed the investigation and us with it. In fact, he tried. When he learned about the support I’d drawn for the operation tonight, he pulled our backup. That was why all the agents disappeared on us.”
Anne poured him a steaming mug of coffee and another for herself. The rich aroma filled the kitchen making his words feel foreign, not a part of the real world at all. “I can hardly believe it’s over.”
“Mostly over. We’ll need you to testify.”
Anne set her coffee down with a plunk. “Wait. If your investigation was under the table, how did you get the money to take the apartment downstairs?”
“I was there that day. The day Carol was killed. We were supposed to meet at a café near the train station. When I saw you hovering nearby after the crash, I thought maybe you were a part of the gang so I followed you home.” He shrugged, looking sheepishly into his coffee mug. “The apartment downstairs was for rent, and I needed a place anyway, so I leased it. I thought I could better keep an eye on you.”
Anne shook her head and took a hefty swig from her mug. “So that day when you came up asking for tools was what? A reconnaissance mission?”
“Sort of.” His voice came out in a croak.
“You were looking through my stuff weren’t you? I distinctly remember thinking things had been moved around.”
He spread his hands. “It didn’t take long to mark you off my suspects list.”
Anne’s heart had pooled somewhere around her ankle socks. So the only list she’d ever been on was his suspect list. Ergh! It was all so humiliating.