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The day dawned cold and cloudy...the sky looked as if it could open up and dump rain, or snow, at any moment. Which totally suited her mood. She moved away from the window, slipped back onto the bed. Smiled when his arms reached for her, even though she was certain he was still asleep.
Casey snuggled against Daniel’s side, put her head on his shoulder. In his arms, nothing could hurt her. Here in their home, her sanctuary, she could deal with any problem. She certainly had a doozy to work out this time.
She couldn’t help but smile. No doubt he’d been watching her...waiting to see what she’d do. Had she gone into the bathroom, or the living room, he would have followed her. "No."
"Casey, he has every right to a life of his own."
"How many times have you told me that the heart loves who the heart loves?"
She truly believed that. Regardless of skin color, or religious background, or political ideologies, or gender, when two hearts fell in love, it was because it was meant to be. "He’s my father! She’s my..."
He frowned when her voice faded. Knew for a fact that Janet would be crushed if anything came between the two women. Janet had been his Wife’s first friend in the SGC, the two women connecting almost as soon as they had met, in spite of Casey’s distrust...and fear...of doctors. "Casey?"
"Janet is one of my best friends."
"I have to be honest, Angel. I’m not seeing a down side to this."
She sat up, looked down at him as if he had no idea what was going on. "I am! How can I ask Janet about her love life, when her love life involves my dad?" she exploded.
Daniel stared up into green eyes full of frustration. Even as the laugh rumbled from his chest, he knew he was in trouble.
Casey grabbed a pillow and whacked him with it. "It’s not funny! Janet is great at telling us about her ‘sex-capades’-" The second roar of laughter had her cheeks blazing. She swung the pillow again.
It took a minute to get himself under control. Only his Wife would view the entire situation from the angle of losing out on a bit of juicy ‘girl talk’. "Just pretend she’s talking about Paul Davis," he gasped. Crossed his arms over his head in self defense when the pillow came toward him for the third time.
She flopped onto her back. "They looked so happy," she said softly.
"They probably were."
"I know Janet. She won’t continue to see your dad if she knows it upsets you," Daniel replied.
"Dad wouldn’t want to..." her voice trailed off again. They had looked happy...and so damned good together, and they’d break up in a heartbeat if they thought she objected...and why couldn’t she figure out what was bothering her about the whole thing? She heaved a sigh. She would not act like a spoiled brat. Apparently Cassie didn’t have a problem with her Dad dating Janet. Hmm...this would make Cassie her step-sister, wouldn’t it? Damn it to hell! She was pissed off! Had every right to be pissed off! Why hadn’t her father told her about this...that he was dating her best friend? Because, her brain pointed out, you’d have acted just the way you did yesterday. She closed her eyes for a moment. Yep, just like a spoiled brat. Shocked or not, she should have at least listened to what her Dad had wanted to say to her. Damn it!
Leaning across her husband, she grabbed her cell phone. Punched up the memory stored number. Tossed her hair back, and waited for her father to answer. "Dad? Oh...sorry I woke you...I just wanted...well...why don’t you and Janet come to dinner tonight? I think we should celebrate...Seriously...I’ll admit I’m still surprised. But you’re my Dad, and she’s one of my best friends. And," she smiled at Daniel, ran her finger over his jaw. "the heart loves who the heart loves...yeah, I really do...Love you too, Daddy."
He waited until she had put the phone back on the nightstand. "You did the right thing."
"It still feels wrong. But...I can’t deny them happiness. Not when I’m deliriously happy, myself."
"We’re going to be late if we don’t get moving."
He held her close. Kissed her deeply. "Later. In the storage closet."
"Are you nuts? It’s only a miracle we haven’t been caught yet!"
He grinned. "We’re very lucky."
"Not that lucky." She crawled off the bed. "It still feels wrong."
"We aren’t the only couple who slip to the storage closet for a little ‘afternoon delight’."
"I was referring to Dad and Janet."
"You’ll get used to the idea."
"I hope so. The wedding will be damned uncomfortable if I don’t."
He looked over at her. "Wedding?"
"I just see lots of white around them," she replied, shrugging.
Daniel grinned. "Maybe you’ll get to give the groom away."
"Maybe." She stripped, then wandered toward the bathroom. "Sure as hell shoots hearing about the honeymoon, though."
He chuckled. Life would certainly be interesting if Gary and Janet married!
A A A A A A
Carl checked the list one last time. Put his hand on each of the paintings, to make certain that the number of paintings in the truck matched the typed list. None of the mural paintings were included, thank goodness. He’d need help to move those, and spending any amount of time with that college kid was enough to give him heartburn.
Pulling the door on the box truck closed, he heaved a sigh. It was going to be a long day. It was Friday, and the freeways would be overflowing with city dwellers heading to the mountains to escape the city for the weekend, staying in the cabins that dotted the Rockies. There would be city workers anxious to get home. Then those from the suburbs would be flocking into the city for dinner and entertainment. Well, at least he wouldn’t be making deliveries like this again for another year.
He wondered how college boy would handle the news that he'd be mopping floors and cleaning the bathrooms for the day. With a chuckle, the janitor and sometime delivery driver started the truck. He’d have to see if he could get a peek at the security tapes when Tammy told him. No doubt the assistant manager would be willing to share that moment. She wasn’t any too fond of the little bastard either.
A A A A A A
Harold was pacing the entry, waiting for the call that would confirm delivery of his painting. He’d already cleared the wall, ready to have it installed. Maybe this Venus would bring him a bit of good luck, he thought. He could use some luck, when it came to The Hack Job. He’d started calling it that in his mind. Capital letters. When he had stumbled upon the information, it had been nothing more than a means to ingratiate himself with Joey Ricardo. Someone in the NORAD facility had attacked his computer...wiped his hard drives out completely. It was personal, now.
He glanced at his watch. Five minutes before ten. Paced to the window to search the street for an approaching delivery van, but saw nothing.
Five after ten, and there was still no sign of the truck. Or his painting.
The sky had opened up and was sending down the first snowfall of the season. Well, he reasoned, maybe that was what was holding things up. The roads were probably getting a bit slick. He’d rather have his painting delivered in one piece, if not on time.
A A A A A A
Sam hurried across the parking lot just after lunch, crawled into the truck. She’d heard rumors that it had been snowing earlier in the day, a concern considering their task. But the sky had cleared, and the pavement was only wet. Jack started the engine while she adjusted her seatbelt. "Sorry. I had to wait until I came to a stopping point."
"No one is complaining, Major," Jack said, pulling out of the parking spot.
"O’Neill, did you procure ropes with which to secure the painting?" Teal’c asked from his place in the front passenger seat.
"I did, Teal’c. Tossed ‘em in last night."
"Have you talked to Casey about this?" Sam asked.
"She doesn’t know?"
"Not yet," Jack repeated. "I was sort of going to have you tell her."
"Yep, while the T-man here and I hump that thing into the garage, you can tell her all about it, and how we bought it for her, to do whatever she wants," Jack said, catching her eyes in the rearview mirror, giving a cheeky grin.
She shook her head, bit back her smile. "Right."
A A A A A A
He sauntered into Tammy’s office. "Hey! Thought I’d just let you know Mr. Templeton called, and I’m going to deliver that painting to him."
Tammy looked up from her desk, frowned slightly. She knew all of the gallery customers, most on a first name basis. This name wasn’t ringing any bells. "Templeton? Which painting?"
"Yeah, the guy who had the highest bid. For that ‘Venus’ painting."
Her frown deepened. She grabbed the folder that held the bidding forms, shuffled through the carefully sorted and separated groups. "No, that painting is going to a Harold Maser. Carl has it on the truck right now."
His heart nearly stopped beating. "Are you sure? Check again, there must be some mistake. Mr. Templeton was the highest bidder for the mural category."
"Jeremy, I know you think you’re aware of all that goes on around here, but I can promise you I know how to do my job, I’ve been doing it for fifteen years. Which is...hmm...fourteen and a half years longer than you’ve been working here. I have the paperwork in my hands that proves that Mr. Harold Maser was the top bidder."
"That can’t be right!" he gasped. He had already sent photographs, taken just before he had left work the night before, to the art school in New York City. They accompanied a letter detailing how he had come up with the idea, the techniques he had used, everything he was certain that the dean of admissions would be interested in knowing. He had to have that painting!
Donna chose that moment to walk into the room. "Tammy, I’m going-" She looked from Tammy’s frowning face to Jeremy’s look of shock. "Is something wrong?"
"Jeremy was just telling me that a Mr. Templeton has called in regard to the ‘Venus’ painting, and believes he won the bid."
The older woman shook her carefully coifed head. "Impossible. Major Samantha Carter won the bid."
"No, Harold Maser did," Tammy said. She handed the form to her friend and employer. "Carl has it on the truck right now."
"Oh, dear," Donna sighed. "This is my fault. The bid came in by special delivery, offered five hundred dollars over any top bid. The major will be arriving this afternoon to take possession. I just checked to make certain it was conveniently located."
His world was quickly spinning out of control. Keep calm, he told himself. All he had to do was get it out of the gallery before this major showed up. He could do that. He’d call Buddy and they’d have it on the truck and out of Denver before either of these bitches knew what was going on.
The phone at Tammy’s elbow began to ring. With a frustrated sigh, she grabbed it up. Listened to the caller for a moment. "Oh, Mr. Maser, I’m so sorry. There’s been a horrible mistake. I’m afraid your bid wasn’t the highest after all."
Disappointment so sharp it rocked him on his feet washed over him. "No! You told me that my bid was the highest!"
"I’m so sorry, Mr. Maser, this is my fault. There was another bid that I wasn’t aware of, that topped your bid by five hundred dollars."
"I’ll top it by another five!" he shouted frantically. He wanted that painting. He had to have that painting! It would be proof of his social standing, proof that he was genteel, guarantee more respect from Joey ‘The Hammer’ Ricardo.
"I’m afraid that’s not possible, the auction is over. The winner is picking the painting up this afternoon."
His mind began to whirl with thoughts, which he grabbed randomly, discarding one after another as simply not possible. If he were to meet up with this person at the gallery, offer more than he had paid for it, then maybe he'd get it after all! He said a hasty goodbye, dashed up the stairs to change his clothes. He’d be in Denver before the top bidder. This could work. This would work. He’d make his offer. Make it in such a way that it couldn’t be refused. He hadn’t spent as much time as he had with Mafia figures and not learned something!
A A A A A A
"So, feel like taking the rest of the afternoon off?"
She looked up. Her concentration was certainly not on what she was doing. Or supposed to be doing. She’d made a grand total of one entry so far. And hadn’t even bothered with any of the cross-reference links. Her thoughts were nowhere near the SGC at the moment. Well, that wasn’t particularly true. Her thoughts were nowhere near level eighteen of the SGC. They were instead about three levels lower.
"I might just as well," she sighed, pushing away from the keyboard. "I can’t get anything accomplished. I just keep thinking about them."
Daniel smiled. "I think that’s to be expected."
"I’m still not comfortable with the idea."
The smile widened. "You’ll probably need a few more hours," he teased.
"You can joke. It’s not your father dating your best friend. How would you feel if your dad was seeing Sam?"
"Pissed," was the immediate response. "For two reasons. Dad would be cheating on Mom, and Sam would be cheating on Jack."
She shook her head. "Okay, bad example." She sighed again. "I want to be happy for both of them, I really do. It’s just so damned...weird!"
"Let me ask you a couple of questions," Daniel said, perching on the edge of the desk, folding his arms across his chest. "Suppose for a minute that you didn’t know that Gary was your dad. How would you feel about him dating Janet?"
"He’s a great guy. If he wasn’t my dad, I’d be thrilled for her," Casey replied slowly.
"Okay. What if you’d never met Janet before. Your dad brought her to the house and introduced her. What would you think then?"
"That she’s a great woman and I’d be thrilled for him. I understand what you’re trying to say," she said softly. "But he is my dad, I know that, and Janet is one of my very best friends. Reality just sucks," she declared, pushing her hair back with one hand.
He watched the blonde silk settle back into place, falling over her shoulders. "If they’re happy, that’s all that matters, right?"
"Right." She wasn’t completely convinced, and that lack of conviction echoed in her voice. She surrendered to his embrace when Daniel opened his arms and reached for her.
A A A A A A
Gary tapped lightly on the door to the CMO's office.. Smiled when warm brown eyes lit up when they met his. "I have a surprise for you."
"Casey called me this morning."
Janet felt her entire body tense. "And?"
"She invited us to dinner tonight. She said something about a celebration."
Too afraid to hope, her heart pounding against her ribs, she rose to her feet. For the first time since meeting the young seer she had actively avoided running into Casey, doing her best to stay out of sight, to prevent further upsetting her best friend, who just happened to be her soon-to-be lover’s daughter. "Please, Gary, don’t joke about this," she said softly.
"No joke, Janet. She woke me up when she called. I don’t think she’s as okay with our relationship as she tried to make me believe, but she’s trying to be. We need to give her that chance."
"So what do we do?"
"We go have dinner with my daughter," Gary replied. The smile she gave him warmed him all the way to his toes.
"Sounds like a plan. We should take a good bottle of wine. We’ll probably need it!"
Gary chuckled. "Probably need something a bit stronger. But the wine is a good touch. Do you happen to know what she likes?"
Janet grinned. "As a matter of fact, I do."
A A A A A A
There was a wide alley behind the gallery, marked for deliveries. Jack parked the truck near the door that had the gallery name above it. Pushed the button that no doubt rang a bell somewhere inside.
It seemed to take forever, but finally the door swung open. A young woman with brown hair and carefully guarded eyes held the doorknob. "Yes?"
Sam stepped forward. "I’m Major Carter. I’m here to pick up the painting I bid on."
A smile replaced that carefully masked countenance. "Oh, of course! Please come in. It’s this way."
Tammy led them through a narrow room, stacks of carefully covered canvases leaned against the walls. Several very large sculptures were pushed as far out of the way as possible. "I’m so glad you were able to pick this up...poor Carl will be working on deliveries tomorrow as well, and these mural sized paintings are just so awkward to handle!"
She stopped in front of three tarp covered frames. Lifted the corner of each one to see just which painting was hidden beneath. "Here it is," she announced, pointing to the third painting.
Sam held out a check. "I believe this is what Ms. Richards said that the final amount would be."
Tammy glanced at the slip of paper. "Yes, that’s it exactly. If you’ll give me a moment, there are a few forms that need your signature."
"Sure," Sam replied.
Jack and Teal’c carefully moved the other paintings, surprised at the weight. When they reached ‘Venus’, Jack checked to make certain that the tarp couldn’t, and wouldn’t slip off; then they tipped it to the side, and began to slide it toward the door.
The assistant manager hurried back toward them, a clipboard in her hand. "Here, here and here," she said, indicating the pages of the agreement that waited to be signed.
Sam wrote her name on the highlighted lines, then smiled at the woman. "Well...thanks,"
"Thank you. I hope you’ll visit the gallery again."
"Maybe," Sam replied.
"Well, there’s always next year’s competition," Tammy grinned.
"I think I’d like to see that," Sam said honestly. She gave another smile, then followed Teal’c and Jack back to the truck. She didn’t know if Tiesha would have another entry...possibly not, since she could no longer be called a ‘new talent’. From what she'd heard, the young woman was already hearing from several people interested in seeing more of her work.
It took more effort that he would have guessed to get the painting into the back of the truck, and Jack was certain that without Teal’c, it never would have happened. No doubt the gallery had a hand truck of some sort that was used to move these huge things.
Fifteen minutes later the painting was strapped down tightly, wedged at an angle to prevent it from tipping. He’d have to be careful, it did stick out to the side by a few inches. Didn’t want to tear the thing up before he got it to Casey. If she wanted to take a knife or a hacksaw or a chainsaw to it, that was up to her. With a grunt, Jack swung to the ground. "Okay. Let’s get this thing to Radar."
Harold raced into the gallery, looked around for the young woman who had helped him before...who had dashed his hopes earlier that morning by phone. It was just his luck that the snooty-looking bitch had seen him, and was quickly approaching.
"May I help you?"
"The ‘Venus’ painting...is it still here?"
"I’m not sure," Donna said, somewhat taken aback. "The owner will be picking it up this afternoon."
"I have to meet him. I’ll top whatever offer he made, or I’ll pay him, either way," Harold panted. He was going to have to start working out. He shouldn’t be this winded, he thought. The parking lot was only across the street.
Tammy entered the gallery from the back. "Major Carter-" she stopped suddenly when she saw Harold standing beside Donna, breathing hard, his jacket rumpled, his hair windblown. "Oh, hello."
"This gentleman was inquiring about the ‘Venus’ painting," Donna said. She was perplexed by the situation...there had never been such a mix-up before.
"Oh, well, the Major and her friends just finished loading it into their truck," Tammy said quietly. She looked out the wide glass window behind Harold. "There they go now."
Harold whirled around and watched helplessly as a dark green, extended cab F250 passed by. He could only stare. "They have my painting," he whispered. As soon as the words left his mouth, his body was in motion. He ran out the door, heedless of the screech of tires as drivers slammed on brakes to keep from hitting him as he darted across the street. He didn’t even bother looking before hurtling his vehicle into traffic. All he had to do was catch up to them, or at least see where they were taking it. He absently patted his pocket. Three thousand dollars in cash. No one would turn that down. Especially since it was double what had been paid for the painting.
He'd been cleaning the bathroom when he heard the buzzer at the delivery door. Had watched from the shadows in absolute horror as two men, one the biggest brute of a man he’d ever seen, muscled his painting out the back door. Two facts never bothered to even filter through his mind: the painting wasn’t his, and he'd had every intention of doing exactly the same thing.
Cell phone in hand, he called his friend and accomplice. Who just happened to be waiting two blocks over. Jeremy had decided to take the painting before the rightful owner appeared, choosing to secret it out during his appointed afternoon break; thinking that to do so would reduce the chance of the two gallery bitches from suspecting anything. Lucky for him he'd thought to plan ahead.
Buddy had barely stopped the box truck when Jeremy jumped in. "There’s a dark green Ford pickup with my painting in it," Jeremy growled. "Probably heading for the freeway."
"Got it," Buddy replied. He barreled onto the street, oblivious to the horns of the drivers behind him.
A A A A A A
Casey signed her name on the sign-out sheet with a flourish. "You know, we should probably invite Sam and the guys for dinner, too.""
"Because they’re family, and this affects them as well."
Daniel grinned. No doubt Casey wanted Sam to react the same way she had, to justify her own feelings of misgiving about the situation. He didn’t think it would happen. In fact, he doubted that Sam would be anything but thrilled for Janet. "Fine by me."
With a nod, she dug for her cell phone. Punched the number two. "Hi, Sam. Do you have plans for dinner?"
A A A A A A
Sam settled back against the leather seat. Fished in her pocket for her phone when she felt the familiar vibration against her hip. "Hello?"
"Hi, Sam. Do you have plans for dinner?"
She smiled. "Hey, Casey. No, as a matter of fact, I don’t."
"How about dinner with Daniel and I. And my Dad and Janet."
"Sure, sounds-" What had Casey just said? "Did you say your dad and Janet?"
"Yep. As in, my Dad and Janet. Together."
"Not exactly my first reaction."
Sam snorted. "No doubt. Okay, when and where?"
"I was going to try to cook, but to be honest, I don’t think I can deal with it. How about O’Malley’s?"
"That sounds good. What time?"
"Well, how soon will you be leaving the base?"
"I’m...uh...not exactly on the base."
"Where are you?"
Sam cast a worried glance at Jack, then turned to look at Teal’c. "We’re in Denver."
She blew out a breath. Very carefully and slowly began to explain just why she, Jack and Teal’c were in Denver. Waited for what seemed like an eternity for the young seer to reply. Wasn’t prepared for the laughter that echoed in her ear.
"Girlfriend, you have just made my day," Casey chortled. "That is the sweetest, dumbest thing anyone has ever done for me! Just where in the hell are you going to put that thing?"
"In your garage," Sam chuckled.
"We bought for you, Case. We-"
Jack reached over and took the phone. "Radar? It’s yours to do whatever you want. If you want to trash it, well, that’s okay with us."
"Trash it? Are you nuts? After all the work Tiesha did on it? And the way she managed to capture the entire myth so beautifully?"
Jack held the phone away from his ear, stared at it as if it were something he’d never encountered before. Shook his head, frowned slightly. Put it back to his ear. "I thought you were freaked out by it."
"I was. Until I talked to Daniel. And Tiesha. We drove over to look at it the other day. I was able to see in much more...objectively...the second time."
"For cryin’ out loud! You didn’t think to tell us about it? We could have pulled our bid!" Jack complained.
"I’m sorry. Tell me what you paid, and I’ll reimburse you."
"Damn it, Radar, I don’t care about the money! But what in the hell are you going to do with a painting this big?"
"Maybe I could donate it to one of the art galleries or museums here in Colorado Springs."
Well, why in the hell hadn’t they thought of that? "Sure, you could do that." He frowned when the same Camry that had been following all the way from the downtown area took the same turn...again. "Casey, I gotta go. Something’s up."
Sam took the phone when Jack thrust it at her. "What’s wrong?"
"We’ve picked up a tail," he muttered.
"Casey, someone is following us," Sam said, trying to sound calm. She was watching the side mirror, her eyes discounting several of the vehicles behind them.
"Where are you?"
"Just north of the Littleton exit." She could hear her best friend talking to Daniel.
"Head for the base, girlfriend, we’re going to try and pick you up on the freeway. See if we can’t determine who your tail is."
"Right." Sam relayed the message to Jack.
"Won’t do any good, we’ll be to the base before they can catch up with us."
Sam grinned. "Have you ever seen Daniel drive?"
"Indeed," Teal’c chuckled from the back. "He will be most eager to meet up with us."
"Won’t do him any good if he gets pulled over," Jack grumped.
A A A A A A
NID. That was the thought on both minds as Daniel headed the Jeep toward Interstate 25. If they could find Jack’s truck, it would mean that whoever was following would have to choose which vehicle to follow.
Casey tugged her lip between her teeth, then dialed her cell phone again. "Hi, Dad. Change of plans. We’re going to try and meet up at O’Malley’s. But that’s not for certain. Jack, Sam, and Teal’c went to Denver, and now they have a tail. We’re heading that way now, we’re going to try to meet them on the freeway."
Daniel glanced at her when she went silent. "What?"
"Dad said that he had just picked up Janet, and they’re right behind us."
He glanced in his rearview mirror. Sure enough, three cars back was the familiar black Cadillac CTS.
"He just said that giving the pursuer three targets will either force him to back off, or give two a chance to rescue the original target."
Sounded just like something Jack would say, Daniel mused. He picked up his own cell phone.
A A A A A A
Jack bit back his groan, pulled his phone from his belt. "This better be good," he snapped, dividing his attention between the traffic in front of him, and the blue Camry behind him.
"Gary’s right behind me," Daniel’s voice said calmly.
"We’ll figure it out when we catch up to you. Where are you?"
"Just past Littleton. Traffic is starting to back up," Jack replied. Which might be a good thing. Or not.
A A A A A A
Harold glanced in his rearview mirror. Whoever was driving the box truck behind him certainly liked to ride close! He dismissed the truck, focused on the pickup that held his painting.
A A A A A A
"All we need is enough time to get the painting into the truck," Jeremy was saying, wringing his hands nervously.
"Hey, we’ll just hang back when they stop. Unless they take it to some place with an alarm system, it won’t be any big deal to get inside," Buddy replied confidently.
Neither stopped to consider that anyone purchasing a painting of such quality and size more than likely had better than a storage unit to hang it in. And homes that large were normally equipped with alarm systems.
A A A A A A
Janet was wide-eyed as Gary followed behind Daniel’s Jeep. "NID. It has to be. They’ve been after SG-1 for a couple of years now. Every time SG-1 shut them down, or stopped them cold from doing something illegal and unethical, it’s just made them all the more determined to get the team out of the way."
"Could be." A similar situation poked at his memory. It had worked then, it could work now. He picked up his phone. "Do you know Jack’s cell phone number?"
"No, but I know Sam’s," Janet replied, flashing a small smile.
"Good enough. Tell them to find a nice, crowded shopping center. Look for a restaurant. Tell them to start looking in about," he glanced at his watch, "fifteen minutes."
With a nod, Janet did as instructed.
A A A A A A
"He wants me to what?" Jack demanded. "I am not giving these creeps the chance to grab us!"
"He wants us to find a crowded shopping center, and a restaurant," Sam repeated. "In fifteen minutes."
Fifteen minutes...that meant that Gary had every intention of being there, and no doubt Daniel would be there as well...it would be a bit difficult to try to coerce any of them to leave, and certainly whoever was in the Camry couldn’t get all of them. He could only see the driver...that thought prodded him. Why would the NID send just one man? Unless that man was a decoy, meant to hold their attention... "Start looking around. There has to be another vehicle," he ordered calmly.
Sam began to examine the drivers and passengers of the vehicles around them. Teal’c turned in his seat to do the same.
A A A A A A
"Dad said that in fifteen minutes Jack will be pulling off, and we’ll all join him."
"They’ll either have to back off, or take all of
"That wouldn’t be so easy at a crowded mall. Not without waving guns around," Casey pointed out.
"If this really is the NID, I don’t think they’d have a problem doing that," Daniel said drolly. So far, every brush with the NID only enforced his belief that the group was brazen enough to try anything. That, he thought, was Senator Robert Kinsey’s legacy. A rogue government agency, operating without oversight, and outside the boundaries of the law.
A A A A A A
Harold watched the Ford truck, making every lane change that the Ford did. Staying behind it, although he did try to keep a car or two between them. He continued to try to work out in his head exactly what he would say when he finally met this buyer face to face. It wouldn’t be easy to convince him to give up the painting. Not if he had been willing to pay five hundred dollars over the highest bid. That, he thought, was determination!
His own determination was just as strong. He couldn’t explain, couldn’t put into words, what he had felt when he looked at the painting. It was...big. Not the painting itself, well, it was. But the feeling. That he was witnessing...part of...something big. Something very...big.
A A A A A A
Jeremy kept the pickup in view. Buddy couldn’t change lanes as quickly, but was doing his best to remain within sight of the Ford and the painting that was wedged safely into the bed. His entire future was riding on that painting. All of his carefully laid plans would come crashing down around his ears if he lost it.
On the upside, he hadn’t actually used the credit card yet. Which meant that he could still use it. He’d buy the tickets to New York City with it, and use his savings to get himself set up. This little...glitch...was actually putting him ahead in his plans. That was a very lucky turn of events for him. Sometimes, he thought, Fate just smiled on you.
A A A A A A
"Three more minutes, sir." She glanced over at her lover. The minute they had picked up a tail, their simple drive to Denver to pick up the painting, had changed, and had become SG-1 against the NID. They would operate as if they were on a mission. A transition made seamlessly. An advantage that their foes had never understood...or appreciated.
"Start looking," he said quietly.
Tense seconds passed as the three people in the Ford truck searched for just the right place. It had to be crowded, but not so crowded that moving the vehicles could become problematic. And it had to have a restaurant that had seating inside. A place where they could openly confront their tail. It also had to be easy to locate, so that Daniel and Gary would have no problems driving directly to it, and joining them.
"There!" Sam cried out, pointing to the Monument exit. A brand new shopping center, with a Home Depot at one end of the parking lot, and a Target on the other. In between were a variety of businesses; Printers R Us, The Gap, Toby’s Trophy’s, Armstrong Accounting, Pet Smart, Office Max...and a Red Robin restaurant. It was perfect. The NID wouldn’t want to cause a scene in a family place like that.
Jack nodded, checked his mirrors, and took the exit.
A A A A A A
Harold swore softly, cut off the car behind him to follow the truck. There had been no turn signal, the move was a last minute decision. Why? Maybe someone in the truck has to go to the bathroom, his brain supplied.
He contemplated waiting to confront...no, no. He didn’t want to confront them. Not exactly. He just wanted to talk to them. Offer twice what they had paid for the painting.
His own value system was responsible for his confidence in his scheme. No one would turn down an offer like that!
Keeping an eye on the truck, he watched it turn into a parking spot. He parked one row back. Nearly choked on his own sudden fear when he saw the black giant emerge from the backseat. Oh, shit! That guy didn’t look like he had a sense of humor.
A frown creased his face. If this major had a body guard, was the title honorary, or was he retired? If he was a businessman, just what kind of business did he operate that require such a safety measure?
The blonde was pretty. Tall, great legs...at least, they looked great in those jeans. And her ass filled them out nicely. Damn. The great looking women always fell for ‘the other guy’. He watched the major for a moment, the blonde was on the phone, and the big black guy...
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! Harold felt his blood run cold when the eyes of that huge man locked with his. He dropped his gaze, pretended to be looking at something on the seat beside him. When he glanced up, the three were walking into the restaurant.
His frown deepened. If he tried to talk to the major in there, wouldn’t there be less chance of any altercations? Most people would do just about anything to keep from causing a scene in a public place. He took a deep breath. This might be the only chance he’d have.
With more bravado than common sense, shaking slightly, Harold threw open his car door. Walked toward the red door without actually realizing he was doing so. Totally ignored the large, white box truck that drove slowly along the perimeter of the parking lot. Nor did he pay any attention to the two couples who entered just in front of him.
A A A A A A
The bronze colored Jeep and the black Cadillac slid into parking spots near the dark green Ford truck. The occupants exchanged hurried greetings, then nearly ran inside.
Sam waved to catch their attention as Daniel and Casey stepped up to the hostess desk. "Our friends are already here," Daniel said, pointing in Sam’s direction, smiling at the hostess.
Casey and Janet avoided looking at one another as they settled into the large booth. She knew that there had to be a discussion. But she...they...would deal with personal issues later. After they had dealt with the NID.
"Heads up," Jack said quietly. He took a sip of his iced water, watched the thin man approach him hesitantly. He hooked one foot around the extra chair he had requested for the table, kicked it toward the man. "You’ve been following me since Denver. You might as well sit down."
The voice was hard. Cold. Lifeless. And it scared him to death. Harold licked his lips. He hadn’t even considered that the driver, that anyone in the truck, would notice his presence. "I just want to talk to you," he said. Damned his voice for squeaking slightly. "I just want to get the painting...buy the painting," he corrected.
Surprised looks were exchanged around the table. "Excuse me?" Jack said.
Harold pointed over his shoulder, indicating the parking lot. "The painting...‘Venus’. I’m willing to offer you three thousand dollars for it. I have the cash right here-" He reached for the inner pocket of his jacket. Froze when he realized that two hands had disappeared under the table, and he heard the distinct, undeniable, very recognizable sound of a gun, no...two guns...being cocked.
"Sit down," Jack said firmly. Watched as the shaking man dropped onto the chair like a "Mister..."
"Maser. Harold Maser."
"You want the painting?" Casey asked, her eyes wide.
Harold looked at her. She looked familiar. A woman as beautiful as she was...surrounded by dangerous men...probably a model or an actress. They always seemed to be attracted to the ‘bad boys’. He worked for a Mafia Don now. He was a bad boy. Technically. Well, sort of...he could be. He’d never actually hurt anyone. But give him a computer, and he was killer. He jerked slightly when he was kicked roughly beneath the table. "I-I-I’m sorry, what?"
"Answer the lady’s question," Jack said.
"Yes, I want the painting."
"Why?" Daniel asked. He didn’t like the way the guy was staring at his Wife. He slid his arm around Casey’s shoulders.
"Because it’s beautiful. Because it’s...special. I..." Harold shrugged. "It makes me feel...special. Like I’m part of something...important."
Smiles flickered over every face...save one. That face displayed open shock. "Really?" Casey asked, her voice going up an octave.
Harold nodded. "It’s magnificent. I looked up the Venus myth. It’s a bit bizarre, but most of those Greek myths are. It’s just...just...it’s so beautiful," he sighed.
"What about Venus?" Sam asked quietly. She glanced from Casey to Harold and back again.
"As beautiful as a real woman?" Sam asked, carefully examining the menu in front of her.
Harold snorted. "There aren’t women that beautiful in the real world. That’s the reason she’s a goddess."
Daniel ducked his head and grinned. He was certain he’d just heard Gary chuckle.
"What?" Harold demanded. He hated it when people laughed at him.
Casey cast a frowning glance around the table. "Nothing, nothing at all. Look, I don’t know what Jack had planned, but I think he’d be willing to sell it to you."
Jack looked sharply at the seer. "I would?"
"Sure. I mean, really, where are you going to put it? It is rather large."
"I believe that it would be a wise financial decision," Teal’c added. Grinned when Sam began to giggle.
He shook his head. This day was turning out to be one hell of a weird one.
Gary stopped laughing. Maser. Harold Maser. "Son-of-a-bitch," he hissed.
All eyes turned to the man with the closely cropped blond hair. "What?" Janet asked.
Harold swallowed. Did not like how those blue eyes were focused on him.
Sam’s head whipped around so fast it nearly made her dizzy. "You’re the one!"
Harold tried to get to his feet. Only to find that there was something cold and hard being pressed into his side.
When Jack had motioned for her to sit in one of the two chairs, putting their uninvited guest on the empty chair between herself, and him, where he had dropped onto the edge of the bench seat, Sam was certain it had been to lull the agent into a false sense of security. She had never dreamed she’d be able to put her hands on the hacker who had been causing so much grief for the SGC. "Give me a reason," she hissed.
The waitress hurried toward the table. For one moment, Harold was certain she was going to rescue him. "Does anyone at this table own a dark green F250?"
"What’d I do, forget to turn off my lights?" Jack asked, with an easy grin.
"No, sir. Someone is taking whatever you have in the back, and putting it into a white box truck.
The waitress was nearly run over as eight bodies exploded from their seats, heading for the entry. Harold was thinking only one thing...get the hell out of there. He nearly passed out when a huge hand clamped around the back of his neck.
There was no way they could allow this hacker to escape from them. "I shall accompany you," Teal’c said firmly.
"Sh-sh-sure," Harold stammered. The huge man stayed beside him all the way to the car. He was shaking so badly he could barely unlock the door. Slid into the seat before his legs could give out on him.
"Fasten your safety belt," the Jaffa intoned, clicking his into place.
With a wild look of disbelief, Harold did as instructed. Then ran over the curb in front of him in order to pull in behind the truck that was making off with his painting.
A A A A A A
Jeremy looked up just in time to see half a dozen people headed directly for the truck. He shoved the door the rest of the way closed, still congratulating himself for procuring transportation that allowed the painting to lay flat. He was in too much of a hurry to make certain that the door latch was secured. "Go!" he screamed, jumping into the cab at the same moment that Buddy threw himself behind the wheel. "Go!"
"That little shit!" Jack muttered. "Let’s go!"
Daniel and Casey raced for their Jeep, Janet and Gary for the Cadillac. Sam crawled into the truck beside Jack, pointed to the Camry, and noted that Teal’c was with their hacker suspect...and that the car was peeling out after the truck.
Horns blared, brakes squealed, and tires screeched against the pavement as the truck careened onto the frontage highway... followed closely by the Camry, the Cadillac, the F250, and the Jeep. Two Colorado Highway Patrolmen, who happened to be collecting their orders at the nearby McDonalds, tossed their food into the air as they ran for their vehicles.
The chase was on.
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