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Ainsley stepped out onto the roof and let his better judgement try and talk him out of dialing the number on his phone. His better judgment failed, as it was wont to do where Wes was concerned, and he dialed.
Without preamble, Ainsley said, “I believe your people in Chicago may have someone too important for them in custody.”
There was a pause on the other end, and then, “Who the hell is this?”
“Robert Ainsley. We’ve met once or twice. I work for Claire Chandler.”
“Oh. Is Claire in Chicago? I thought I saw her last week at a society thing.”
Digging. Always digging. But Ainsley had to count on the hope that Jim McCullough, despite his position with a particularly meddlesome United Nations organization, wouldn’t cross Claire Chandler. “No. Her son is.”
“Is…” McCullough paused. When he spoke again, his tone was carefully neutral. “Is he causing trouble?”
“I’m given to understand that he was helping put a stop to trouble, though your people were already there.”
“I see. So he’s the one my people have and shouldn’t?”
Ainsley considered his words, but the obvious ones leapt to mind immediately. He paused to give his words weight, and then said, “He would prefer that his father did not know where he was.”
“You work for Claire.”
“She would prefer her son’s wishes in this matter be honored.”
“That’s not what-” McCullough broke off mid-sentence, making a noise of frustration. “I’m not going to say anything to Braedon. He hasn’t given me any reason to.”
“Braedon definitely wouldn’t find out if your people quietly released Wes.”
“What makes you think I can get a message to them right now? Last communication I had from my bureau chief was that she was headed down to the tunnels with her second and a pair of go teams to deal with whatever took down half the power in Chicago.”
“I have no doubt you have your ways.”
McCullough snorted humorlessly.
“Wes is slightly more reasonable than his father,” Ainsley said, dangling what he knew must be on McCullough’s wish list. “It would be good for you to maintain a decent relationship with him.”
“Slightly or a lot more reasonable?"
“It depends on how fond of you he is,” Ainsley said candidly.
“Well, we’d better hope that O’Connell or McConaway are particularly charming tonight. He’s straight, right?”
“I beg your pardon?”
There was the quietest note of laughter in McCullough’s voice. “I- never mind. I’ll assume he is, which means my brother will be of zero help.”
Ainsley could not restrain the grunt of impatience that escaped him. “Please see to it that he is released at once if he does not manage to elude your people.”
“I’ll see what I can do. If he’s home in the next few hours, you’ll know the outcome of that. Either way, his father stays in the dark.”
“Right. You know, you might want to make contact with my bureau chief, too.”
“I’ll do as ordered.”
A pause, then, “Right.”
“Thank you for your time. I will let Mrs. Chandler know how helpful you’ve been,” Ainsley said briskly.
“Take care.” Ainsley hung up on any remaining small talk. As soon as Wes returned, he would have them all pack up. Angel, too, if she would go. They were done with Chicago.
Jim stared out the window of his study, out at the water that rippled in the breeze. Dying sunlight sparkled on the surface and he frowned. He’d remembered why Ainsley’s name was familiar--it had just taken a few minutes.
His phone was heavy in his hand. He shook his head. They’re not idiots. You have to trust them to do the right thing. They’ve got good instincts.
Intellectually, he knew that. At the same time, he’d known Brigid O’Connell for long enough to know she had a stubborn streak. If the Chandler boy had annoyed her enough, she’d dig her heels and drag him in whether he liked it or not.
Hopefully it didn’t come to that.
He hit send.
Brigid answered on the second ring.
“I going to call you when we got back to HQ.”
“Well, I saved you the effort,” Jim said. “Crisis averted?”
“For the moment,” Brigid confirmed. “Though it didn’t go according to plan.”
“It never does,” Jim said, smiling wryly to himself. “You didn’t happen to take prisoners, did you?”
“Now that you mention it, I almost did, though not in the way you’re probably thinking.”
Jim’s stomach lurched. “Try me,” he said, fighting to keep his voice dead even.
“Well, long story short, there was a monster down there. Tim and John were keeping it busy and Ridley was getting a shot lined up, but someone else blew the thing’s brains out before Ridley could.”
“And none of you saw him come in?”
“Maggie and your brother couldn’t sense him.”
That’d be the son. Jim grimaced. “Tell me you didn’t bring him in.”
“Well, I was going to.”
“But you didn’t?” Damn, he sounded a little too eager for the no he’d hoped to get.
“No...are you okay, Jim?” He could hear the frown in her voice, picture the way her brow furrowed as she continued. “Usually you’d be asking me what the hell I was thinking, letting an unknown just walk away.”
“Let’s just say that I’m at least passingly familiar with this particular unknown.”
“What? Wait a second--”
“Stop.” Jim took a slow, deep breath. “Just hold up and let me think for a second.”
“He’s going to make contact with AJ and she’ll get him to me.”
Jim blinked. “What?”
“The kid. Well, not a kid. He’s twenty-something, I think, college aged. Like I said, John and Maggie couldn’t sense him. Said his name was Wes. I gave him AJ’s information. He’s going to make contact with me again through her because we let him go.”
“We?” Jim echoed. “Who talked you into it?”
Brigid snorted. “You know me too well.”
“It was Tim, wasn’t it?”
“His is the only gut I trust more than mine.”
“His and his sister’s. And Hadrian Bridger’s.”
“AJ and Hadrian are clairvoyant. There’s a reason I trust their guts.”
Jim couldn’t help but smile. “So you let him go.”
“Yeah. I didn’t have anyone follow him, either. My gut said that it’d damage whatever fragile alliance is starting there.” She sighed, her voice getting quiet. “He saved Tim’s life, Jim. That thing was going to suck the life right out of him and this kid shot the thing before it could do whatever it was going to do.”
I’ll have to relay that to Claire at some point once this is all over. “Did you thank him?”
“I think so.”
“Shit happened fast, okay?”
Jim laughed. “But you let him go.”
“Yes. Why is it so important that I let him go?” She stopped. “Wait a second. Jim, what’s a Hunter?”
“I’ll look forward to your report, Brigid.”
Jim was still smiling as he disconnected the call. Brigid would probably try to call him back later, once she’d had time to think and dig around in the UNSETIC archives. She might even have the bright idea to call his wife. Something might tug at her memory, a story about a guy who’d once asked Bryn to marry him once upon a time back in England, one she’d turned down flat. David Tierney hadn’t liked that answer and didn’t like losing. Jim had stayed out of the UK for two years after that to let England’s young General settle down.
There was a little part of him that felt guilty for making Brigid figure it out on her own.
Then again, if she was going to do the job he was hoping she’d do for him, she’d make short work of that particular mystery.
And maybe, just maybe, she’ll make Braedon’s son into the ally that Braedon’s never going to be.