Meredith paced the hallway outside George Hannigan’s office. Pulled out of rounds just a few hours ago, she was still wearing her blue scrubs, white sneakers, and her hair in a ponytail. She hadn’t bothered with make-up this morning, nor did she most mornings with rounds, but today she wished she had taken at least a few minutes to look her best.
She rubbed the small key that hung around her neck. Was everything Mr. Hannigan told her on the phone possible? Was Kostya here seeking asylum in the United States? Hannigan told her it would be a little while for him to complete some papers, but then he would be coming home with her. Her responsibility.
The door to the hallway burst open, and Will arrived.
“Thank God you’re here,” Meredith said. “He’s going to need a really good lawyer, and I’m going to need someone with a clear head.”
“Mer, you know I don’t do courtroom work anymore. I’ll talk to him and refer someone good, but I can’t promise anything else.” Will, well over six feet tall, was slightly geeky in his brown suit and glasses, but conveyed a sense of calm confidence. He was good at his job. He was good at his job. So good, that he was always in demand for his legal advice on matters of national security. If what Meredith had been told about Kostya was correct, this case was right up his alley.
“Your non-promise is better than a thousand other lawyers swearing on a stack of Bibles,” Meredith said.
“So, am I remembering right? Is this the man you met in the Ukraine? The one who saved you on the road to Kiev?” Will teased her, knowing full well who they were meeting.
Meredith hit him lightly on the arm. “Shush. That was five years ago.” Involuntarily she reached for the key, pulled it out from her scrubs, and held it. “He’s probably married with three kids.”
“And raising wheat and chickens on his family’s farm,” Will taunted. “How provincial.”
“God, Will. There’s nothing wrong with that life.”
“For a Ukrainian farmer. You, my fashionista sister, would have had a struggle living there.” He smiled. “Not that you ever considered it.”
The fact was that she had considered it, dozens of times after leaving Kiev. When she had returned to the U.S. from the Ukraine, no one but Will heard about the weekend with Kostya in Cherkasy and Kiev. Will was the only one who knew what the key around her neck meant.
“So, what does Scott think about this development in your life?” Will asked. Meredith knew he already knew the answer, and could almost hear him sassing her.
“He doesn’t know yet,” Meredith answered, her eyebrow raised in warning. “Once he knows the situation, I’m sure he’ll be fine with it.”
“Even the fact you slept with the guy…”
“Five years ago, Will!”
“And he was your first—”
“Not your business!”
“And you still wear that key around your neck,” Will pointed out. “Things like that tend to make current boyfriends crazy.”
Meredith pursed her lips and glanced through the rectangular window set into the door that led into the offices. “Scott doesn’t know what the key means.” She defended herself. “He’ll just have to deal with it. No one would turn someone in this situation away. I mean, he’s seeking asylum from people who are trying to kill him.”
“I don’t question the humanitarian aspects of your decision. But is that all this is? Is Kostya just an exercise in empathy?” Will smiled at her. “Anyway, there’s a lot to figure out and your feelings are just part of it.”
“Thank you for doing this. It means a lot to me, but I’m sure to Kostya, too.” Meredith sat again next to her brother and laid her head on his shoulder. “This may be awkward.”
“Don’t worry, sis. I’ll be here.”
Just as they relaxed, the door cracked open and a tall man wearing a sweater over his button-up plaid shirt came in. “Miss St. Claire? Hello, I’m George Hannigan from U.S. Immigration.” He offered his hand in a firm handshake. “I can’t tell you how glad I am that you are here.”
“This is my brother, Will St. Claire. He is an attorney and will be helping Kostya.”
Hannigan shook hands with Will. “Kostya will need someone looking out for his interests here. He’s already stirred up quite a bit of attention.”
“Oh?” Meredith asked. “Who is interested in Kostya?”
“I wanted to warn you before we went back, anyway.” Hannigan sighed. “There are representatives from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy here as we speak. I am expecting Homeland Security to arrive any moment, and the Pentagon might want to have a say, as well.”
“Jesus,” Will murmured. “What did Kostya get involved with?”
“His story is quite extraordinary. I’m sure he’ll tell you all the details, but in a nutshell, he is the only person on Earth with the key to stop the launch of an SS-18 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile by rebels in the Ukraine.” Shuffling papers he offered a packet to Will. “This is a copy of the brief I sent to Homeland Security and to the CIA.”
Will took the papers and immediately began skimming them for the most important details.
“Where is he?” Meredith demanded. “Is he safe here?”
“You’ll get to see him in just a moment. I wanted to give you a moment to process the scope of what is happening here.” He chuckled. “You know, when he said he knew Meredith St. Claire, I thought he was name dropping to get help. But you really know him?”
“Yes, I do,” Meredith practically whispered. “Five years ago, he fixed my car on a lonely Ukrainian highway and made sure I was safe for the night.”
“Well, I don’t think he realized who your father is. It will certainly work in his favor, in your favor, but I told him so he could be ready when he is asked questions about it.” Hannigan turned, opened, and held the door. Will, stunned with the amount of information he had been handed, looked up and followed Hannigan into the room. Meredith walked alongside.
“Mer, I haven’t been in the courtroom for a while, but I’m taking this case,” Will whispered.
Meredith’s eyes widened. “Is it that good or that bad?”
“Depends. I think we stumbled upon one of the last true patriots of the twenty-first century.”
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