Title: The Defector
Summary: Final part of the trilogy with "The Enforcer" and "The Deserter." Nate knows one man stands between him and Moreau. Eliot knows he can't go back. Neither knows how he has affected the other. (Minor supernatural themes.)
Disclaimer: I do not own Leverage or any of its characters; I'm just borrowing them for fun and no profit.
Nate paced back and forth through his apartment's main room, incredulous. "He went where, Hardison?"
The hacker shrugged helplessly and stared pointedly at his computer. "I'm telling you, man. Same alias he used on Sophie took a plane flight from San Lorenzo to Oklahoma, USA, less than a week after the Farrell job. That was two days ago. I haven't found anything indicating he left, so as far as I can tell, Spencer's in some tiny little town an hour outside of Oklahoma City."
Nate couldn't make sense of it. Why would Moreau's top enforcer travel so far away from Moreau, and to such an insignificant place, when he knew Leverage was still going after his boss? Nate gave a frustrated sigh, and finally said, "Well, sounds like we are going to have to follow him, then."
Sophie choked just a little on her tea, and Parker's head appeared behind the kitchen counter. Hardison gave a rather unmanly squeak. "Are you kidding me, Nate? A backwoods town in Oklahoma? Don't you remember what I said after that job in Nebraska - you know, the one we had to abandon because we got in over our heads with that ring of fighters? No more small towns! We ain't equipped to handle 'em."
Nate gave a dry, humorless laugh. "It's not like we can ask him to go somewhere else so we can con him more easily."
"And that's another thing! How are we supposed to con this guy, hmm? He knew our faces before we even got the last one underway!"
"So we get someone new."
Hardison stared in disbelief, dumbfounded. "You do realize this guy ate our lunches in our own area of expertise, and now you want to go after him on his home turf. C'mon, man, seriously?"
"Do you want to take down Moreau or not?"
Nate's deadpan did nothing to calm Hardison down. If anything, it seemed to exasperate him more. "Spencer's in a tiny town in Oklahoma. I bet they don't even have wifi. He cain't get to us quickly from there. Just leave him and get Moreau while he's vulnerable."
"That's not going to work. Come on — we'll get someone he doesn't know, wire the places he frequents, you know, run surveillance. We don't even have to confront him yet."
"I do not like this."
A glance around the room told Nate that the rest of the team agreed with Hardison. But ever since Nate had run into Spencer again — thereby identifying the subject of his visions — the visions hadn't let up. He had them almost every night as he slept, and often while he was awake. He knew they were directing him to the hitter again, but he didn't know what that was supposed to look like. For now, he was determined to bring the man down. If circumstances changed and allowed him another course of action, he might reconsider, but for now, that was the plan he was going to stick to. He gave his determined, I've-made-a-decision-and-you're-going-to-have-to-live-with-it-smile and said, "Let's go steal a deadly enforcer."
Sophie simply stared at Nate from her place at the dinner table. He was getting more reckless by the minute, and every step she took reminded her how dangerous that was. Wincing at the lingering burns on her feet, she hobbled over to intercept Nate before he could head back up to his room. After glancing over her shoulder to make sure the other two were occupied, she hissed, "You can't keep going like this, you know. After what happened last time we ran into Spencer, I can't believe you are sending this team after him again."
Nate just gave his fake, irritated smile — the one that said he was about to completely disregard everything that came out of her mouth. "Last time, we didn't know what we were up against. This time, we have the advantage, and we can build our con for him specifically." He added under his breath, "Just like he did for us."
Sophie rolled her eyes. "Nate, are you drunk? In what world do we have the advantage over him in some tiny town in the middle of nowhere? Did you not hear a word Hardison said, or was 'I can't accept defeat' too loud in your ears?" She sighed and shook her head. "Listen, as powerful as you are — as we are — there are some things we just can't handle. If you keep recklessly endangering us, someday, your luck is going to run out." She put a hand on his face, because she could tell she was losing his attention. "It almost did, less than a week ago."
"We made it out just fine—"
"You call what he did to me just fine?" Her voice suddenly jumped higher and louder, breaking through her facade of calm and revealing her true feelings. She didn't like to admit when a job had shaken her, but she liked the actual experience of it even less. And if she were honest with herself, she would have to admit she was afraid of Eliot Spencer. Afraid for herself, sure, but just as afraid for Hardison, for Parker, and, more than anything, for Nate. Nate was going to get himself killed, and she didn't even want to think about where that would leave the team. Where it would leave her.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Hardison and Parker staring at her. She hated emotional slips, but this time, it might work to her advantage. "Nate, please. Don't go after him." She took his hands and gazed into his eyes. "For me."
Nate stared at her for a long moment before he dropped her hands and sighed. "I'm sorry, Sophie, but we have to get Moreau, and that means getting Spencer."
Hardison seemed to sense the end of their conversation, because at that moment, he called over, "There ain't much to hack where he is, but I do have several charges to his debit card from a country bar in town, a couple of scattered ATM withdrawals, and some groceries here and there. Not much else, unfortunately."
Avoiding eye contact with Sophie, Nate made his way back over to the main screens. "So we send someone to the bar."
"Hate to break it to you, man, but we still don't have anyone he hasn't seen yet. Nothin' I can do until we get a grifter on the ground."
Sophie knew she wasn't going to be able to talk Nate out of this at this point, so the best she could do would be to call in someone who could handle herself, and who would be smart enough to pull out if Nate put her in too much danger. With a sigh, she said, "I know someone…"
Tara's eyes swept over the bar as she walked inside. Loud country music assaulted her ears and the smell of beer permeated the whole place. She couldn't even count how many cowboy hats and boots she saw, and at least half of them were engaged in some sort of line dance.
After a couple of minutes, she caught sight of the long, chestnut hair she was looking for poking out from under a dark brown ten-gallon hat. He sat alone at a table near a corner, with his back to the wall and a giant mug of beer in front of him. "Are you seeing this place, Hardison?" she whispered.
"Every bit of it. Just keep your hands away from your neck so you don't block the camera."
She jerked her hand away from where she had been subconsciously fiddling with her necklace, which held Hardison's hidden camera. Though there were mounted security cameras inside and outside, they were just for show and didn't actually record anything. "Dark brown hat, navy blue shirt, worn, dusty boots — is that the guy I'm looking for?"
"Gimme a minute… yeah, that's him."
Now that she had her mark, she snagged a shot of alcohol, hiked up her skirt, and made her way toward him, making sure to swish her hips and smile. Nate had said Spencer had a reputation for flirting with just about any attractive woman he saw, and that was going to be her way in.
As she approached, his eyes flicked toward her, so she smiled suggestively and said, "Hey there. You look lonely."
"Alone and lonely ain't the same thing."
She refused to let his curt tone deter her, and keep up her flirty demeanor. "Someone's in a bad mood tonight. Why don't you let me cheer you up?"
He gave her a level stare, unnervingly cold and calculating. "Because your walk says ex-marine, and you're trying to hide it which means you're trouble. You got no reason to be here, so I suggest you walk away."
Tara was sure she had never met him before. How did he know…? Still, it wasn't the first time she was caught off guard like this. She didn't miss a beat. Laughing, she brushed off his comments. "That was years ago, to pay for college—"
He rolled his eyes and stood abruptly. Without even another word to her he marched toward the back room, the one that said "Employees Only." Away from the rest of the cameras Hardison had set up, and out of her reach.
She huffed and put her hands on her hips. "That was completely fruitless, and now I'm burned. What in the world was that about?"
Nate's voice came through her ear. "We're just going to have to dig around and find out."
"What was that, Hardison?"
Hardison threw up his hands in frustration. "Look Nate, I told you already — we're way out of our depth here. What was I supposed to be able to do about that? He saw right through her, and that's that. Ain't nothin' I can do about it."
His nerves had been on edge ever since they started this job. No, he'd been on edge ever since Nate disappeared on the last job with Spencer, and now here they were chasing the man yet again. And Nate expected him to work some sort of magic, as usual, and what was he supposed to do now?
As if to answer, Nate said, "Alright, then, dig deeper. We need to know why he's here. I want contacts, phone calls, money transfers, transportation routes, everything. You know what to do."
"Better than you," Hardison muttered, so Nate couldn't hear him. Nevertheless, he got to work.
Hardison didn't know how long it had been by the time he finally pulled together enough info on Spencer, but he wasn't any happier now that it was done. The results were just plain confusing. Once the team had gathered around the bar, he began his usual debriefing, complete with surveillance photos he had taken of Spencer at various places.
"So I started my research under the assumption Spencer was using a fake name. Turns out, he wasn't — but he made it look like he was. Once I finally sorted out that little knot, I discovered he actually grew up here, and still has lots of family in town.
"Now, as far as transportation goes, he took a plane from San Lorenzo to New York, drove to Boston, flew to Dallas, and then drove up here to Oklahoma." At the blank stares from the others, he explained how he had reached that conclusion. "He used an alias on the flight from Boston to Dallas and I can only assume he drove the rest of the way, because I can't find anything else.
"His last known phone is disabled, but after digging into his relatives' recent calls, I found a burn phone that lines up with all of his known locations. Assuming that it is in fact his, he hasn't contacted anyone except said relatives.
"Oh, and by the way, he hasn't received a dime electronically." He crossed his arms with all of his frustrated sass and raised his eyebrows pointedly at Nate. "So, tell me, mastermind, what am I supposed to do with that?"
Nate frowned and asked, "Did you figure out why he's here?"
Hardison rolled his eyes. "What else would he be doing in some tiny little town in the midwest? No work for a guy like him there, I assure you. He's visiting his family, Nate! Look, you may not be on good terms with your dad, but looks like even hitters love their mamas." He widened his eyes to emphasize the attitude, just to drive his point home. He shrugged and turned back to the screen. "Or, little sisters, in this case." He pressed a button on his clicker and displayed a picture of Spencer's little sister — now an adult — with her 6-year-old son. "He's been staying with them since he got here."
Finally, a hint of a smile spread across Nate's face. "Then she's our way in. What do you know about her?"
Hardison smirked too. "A lot more than we know about Spencer, that's for sure." He turned and brought up some more images on the screens. "But more importantly, we know that this morning Spencer bought two tickets for a flight to Orlando that's leaving in a few days, registered under Eliot and Gavin Spencer — Gavin is the nephew. They have tickets to Disney World for the next few days after that." Hardison turned back to Nate and crossed his arms. "He ain't hiding, that's for sure."
"Is he just that confident? Or careless? Or is he baiting someone?" Nate muttered under his breath, mostly to himself. "Surely he wouldn't bring his nephew along if he expected danger…" After another minute, he stood up straight and said to the whole team, "We need someone on that plane, someone to keep an eye on him after he gets off, and someone to run surveillance from Orlando."
Tara was grateful Hardison had arranged for her to get a seat near the very back of the plane. Normally she would have taken first class, but Spencer had flown a relatively cheap airline, and it didn't have first class. It was odd for a man who just received over $32 million to fly cheaply, and all Tara could figure was that he was hiding his wealth — and probably his occupation — from his family.
Spencer and his nephew were up near the front of the plane, far enough that they should have no reason to pay any attention to her. Spencer hadn't paid her much attention at the bar, but they weren't taking any unnecessary risks with him. From what she had been told, the only thing that had convinced him not to kill Leverage outright — or worse, deliver them to Moreau — was the opportunity to keep kids from getting hurt. How much more would he do if he thought they were threatening his own nephew?
But so far, everything had gone according to plan. She was sure everything would hit the fan at some point, but for now, Hardison and Nate were all set up in a Disney resort in Orlando (because Hardison insisted that they couldn't just stay in any old hotel in the vacation capital of the world), Parker was skulking around the Orlando airport, and Tara was sure Sophie was nervously hovering over Nate's shoulder while he worked. Nate was adamant that she especially did not go near Spencer. Though she had objected, saying she didn't need him to coddle her, Tara was pretty sure Sophie both appreciated the care and was relieved to stay out of the danger zone.
Tara soon caught sight of the stocky, long-haired man she had identified as Spencer a few days ago, but this time he wore clothes that blended in here. His nephew wore a big, goofy grin and carried an Incredibles backpack. Spencer himself seemed pretty relaxed and happy, and was talking animatedly with Gavin, though Tara couldn't hear what was being said. He didn't so much as glance at her as he slid into his seat, and she let out a little sigh of relief. Perhaps this flight would be uneventful. Still, it was a few hours long, so she wasn't going to let her guard down just yet.
When there was just under an hour of the flight left to go, Tara yawned as she perused one of the magazines she had brought. It wasn't particularly interesting — chosen because it would help her cover, not entertain her — but it was better than a book because it didn't actually require her focus. She could glance over it while still paying attention to events around her.
Or so she thought.
Halfway through a surprisingly interesting article, a man brushed up against her. She restrained the urge to jump in surprise. She heard the bathroom door close behind her, but something felt off. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up, and she found it very difficult to return to her article. Her eyes immediately went to where she had been watching Spencer the whole flight — only to find he wasn't there.
As her pulse sped rapidly, she glued her eyes to the page and focused on calming her breathing and relaxing her shoulders. There were a lot of people on this plane. There was no guarantee he had recognized her, especially under her disguise. She didn't need to draw any extra attention by being nervous when she shouldn't have been.
Each second felt like minutes while she waited. Why did he come all the way to this back bathroom when he could have used the one up front? Hardison had prepared for this eventuality and ensured he would have no reason to come anywhere near her by making sure the bathroom up front would be closer. Except, as she squinted at the sign, she realized that one was full. What terrible timing.
And she didn't dare use her comm now to alert Nate, or she really would give herself away.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, a six-year-old-kid holding his uncle's hand practically skipped back toward his seat. Tara's eyes bored into Spencer's back, watching him move away from her and feeling the tension in her body release with every step he took. She was probably overreacting, she knew, but you just didn't mess around with Spencer.
As quietly as possible once he was back at the front of the plane, she whispered into her comm, "Nate, I may be blown."
To Be Continued...