An hour later, Henry Lightstone finished his boysenberry pie, set the plate aside, and looked over at Paul MeNulty, who was scraping out the bowl of a large briar pipe with his pocket knife.

'So when did you guys know?'

'About you?' MeNulty asked.

Lightstone nodded.

'Oh, I'd say it was about four weeks ago,' McNulty told him.

'That's about the time I first met Kleinfelter at the bar,' Lightstone said, embarrassed by the sudden realization that he'd been made from day one.

'That's when,' Dwight Stoner mumbled through a huge mouthful of pie.

'Don't feel too bad about that, Henry.' Larry Paxton smiled sympathetically. 'Once Stoner worked his way into the High Horse as a bouncer and then got us our jobs, we started running makes on anybody who ever said more than three words to Kleinfelter. We got curious about you when Mike over here hit a brick wall trying to track back on that Mastercard you used to rent the Honda.'

'Yeah, had to spend the better part of a weekend peeling back all the protection layers on that computer of yours,' Takahara complained good-naturedly.

'What computer? I don't-' Lightstone started to say, then it hit him. 'You guys broke into the San Diego Police Department's computer? Christ, that thing's supposed to be protected!'

'No big deal.' Mike Takahara shrugged, 'I cheat.'

'I see,' Lightstone said, nodding slowly as if he understood the situation, which he didn't.

'Having a guy like Mike along on an operation makes it real difficult for the bad guys to hide,' Larry Paxton commented. 'Otherwise we wouldn't put up with the little runt. Him and his goddamned egg-rice, seaweed shit. Enough to make a grown man puke.'

Lightstone looked over at the Oriental agent and judged that at about six-one and no less than two hundred and ten pounds, Mike Takahara was maybe an inch shorter and twenty pounds heavier than Paxton. The covert team's idea of a runt.

'Power of the computer age,' Takahara grinned. 'You just watch. Microchips and robotics are gonna make you field guys obsolete yet.'

'Already made me obsolete,' Lightstone commented sourly. 'Doesn't make much sense to spend a couple of months setting up a deep cover if assholes like Kleinfelter can tap into a goddamned police computer any time they want.'

'Kleinfelter tap into a computer?' Takahara laughed out loud. 'Come on, give me a break. It'd take those idiots a week just to find the on-off switch.'

'Then how was he able to figure out I was a cop so fast?' Lightstone demanded.

'Probably because Stoner told him,' Mike Takahara said matter-of-factly.

'Stoner did what?' Lightstone exclaimed, blinking his eyes in shock and then turning his head slowly to stare at the huge ex-bouncer.

Dwight Stoner looked up over the remnants of his pie and nodded his massive head in confirmation.

Lightstone sat in silence for a long moment and then turned back to McNulty. 'Any particular reason why you guys decided to set me up so I could get my ass blown off?' he asked quietly.

'Actually, there was,' McNulty said in a perfectly calm and reasonable voice. 'We had Brendon pretty well lined up for the big sale, and we were all set to take him down; but then he started getting suspicious. Didn't want to show us his stock, and he kept sending that little asshole Popper and his buddies around to give us a bad time, see how we'd react. Then all of a sudden you show up, hot on the trail, all by yourself, nice cover, determined to work your way in.'

'The perfect distraction,' Carl Scoby nodded. 'Stoner supposedly checks us out, gives us a clean bill, and then lets Brendon know that he's got a cop on his ass. All of a sudden we look real good.'

'And then Larry steps in with the Alaska White scam, which Brendon thinks is a really funny idea,' Takahara added. 'Stoner follows up by telling Brendon that he wants to be the one who knocks you off 'cause he's never got to kill a cop before, which pretty well lines it up for you to be there at the buy.'

'And gives me a real nice opportunity to save your butt,' Dwight Stoner finished.

'Which you put into jeopardy in the first place,' Lightstone reminded.

'Yeah, exactly. Kinda poetic, huh?' the huge ex-Raider bouncer smiled.

'Think I'm going to make friends with a couple of pro linebackers,' Lightstone said after a moment. 'Maybe Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks, for a start. See if I can get those guys to work you down to my size.

'LT and Carl? Couple of pussies. No problem,' Stoner grinned happily.

'So,' Lightstone went on, 'Mike the Hacker here tracked me back to the PD through the computer, and that's how you found out about Bobby and figured I was running a Lone Ranger operation, right?'

'No, actually we called up your captain and asked if he knew where you were,' McNulty said. 'Naturally he had no idea, since you hadn't bothered to check in for about six weeks. We got the impression that if we'd found your body facedown in a ditch, he wouldn't have been all that upset.'

'That's probably right,' Lightstone muttered glumly.

'Typical brass,' Dwight Stoner nodded as he gratefully accepted another piece of boysenberry pie from Martha McNulty. 'We got the same problem.'

'Which reminds me,' McNulty said, ignoring the slight on his supervisory status, 'Bobby is doing fine. Came out of the coma a couple of weeks ago, wanting to know where the hell you were.'

'You're kidding?' Henry Lightstone exclaimed, his eyes widening in a mixture of delight and relief.

'Nope, honest-to-God truth,' McNulty said. 'Doctors seem to think he'll be fine. Just needs to rest up, stay off his feet for a couple months. His wife and kids said to say hi. They seem to think a lot of you.'

'You talked to Mary and the kids?'

'We wanted to get an idea of who we were dealing with,' McNulty explained as he sipped his hot coffee. 'You have an interesting reputation among your fellow officers.'

''Interesting.' That's a pretty good description,' Mike Takahara grinned.

'Exactly,' Larry Paxton confirmed. 'See, the thing is, we figure we've got one hell of a group here, as far as federal undercover teams go. In fact, to paraphrase one of our infamous ex-Secretaries of Interior, what we've got is one genuine black, namely, me; one more or less genuine Asian,' he nodded over at Mike Takahara; 'a gimp,' another nod toward Stoner, 'and a guy who, as you mentioned, looks an awful lot like a cop.' A final nod over at Carl Scoby.

'But what we really lack, what we really need to round out the team… ' Mike Takahara continued.

'… is a truly crazy fellow,' Dwight Stoner finished with a satisfied smile.

Martha McNulty reached over and filled Lightstone's cup with more of the steaming hot coffee. 'I think,' she said quietly, 'they're trying to ask if you'd like to go outside and play with them.' She patted him on the shoulder.

'You mean this is some sort of interview?'

'More or less,' Paul McNulty acknowledged.

'We've found that police officers don't usually make good wildlife investigators,' Carl Scoby explained. 'The cop types always want to control a situation, put everybody on the ground, take away their guns, that sort of thing, instead of going along with the flow… like you did with those fellows in the drunk tank.'

'You guys monitored the cell?' Lightstone asked.

'We usually let Jameson do all that sneaky-peeky stuff,' Scoby shrugged. 'Helps him maintain that sleazy image.'

Lightstone looked over at the U.S. Attorney, who smiled back, nodding his head.

'And then, too, you don't run across all that many cops who are willing to take on thirty-six outlaw bikers single- handed,' Larry Paxton added. 'Sort of a Don Quixote with a death wish. We like that in a guy.'

'Yeah, especially since we've got plans to take on some fairly serious characters in the next few months,' Mike Takahara said.

'Serious characters, as opposed to wimps like Kleinfelter?' Lightstone said, trying hard not to smile.

'Serious enough,' Larry Paxton said. 'Senators, congressmen, high-level bureaucrats, federal judges, CEOs, lawyers, cops. The kind of guys who can make an agent's life downright miserable.'

'Guys who don't think the laws apply to them. Guys who don't like to lose,' Carl Scoby added.

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