Chapter Sixty-Seven

“So, let’s split this up into smaller bites,” Sarah said the following morning, midway through the hypocritical act of shoveling a heaping forkful of eggs into her mouth.  “What all are we going to need to pull this off?”

I motioned for Michel to pass a carafe of orange juice in my direction before I answered.  “A miracle?”

Sarah glowered at me over her plate.

I raised one hand in surrender.  “A serious distraction,” I said.  “Something big enough that the police and agents in the local office are too busy to look too closely at anyone coming into the building.”

“I thought I’d be the bait?”

“You will be,” I replied, “but that’s only for Adlai.  We need his entire attention devoted on you, so that Michel and Mila don’t have to worry about him.  That doesn’t mean one of the other civilians won’t start asking questions that we really don’t want to answer.”

Sarah nodded.  She tried to make the expression seem sage and worldly, but the effect was spoiled by the mouthful of food.

I looked at Mila.  “Do we need to have a conversation about civilians?”

Instead of sitting at the table with the rest of us, Mila stood in the corner.  She ate mechanically, moving the food to her mouth without any apparent enjoyment.  She shook her head at my question.  “If they don’t put hands on me,” she said, “I won’t put hands on them.  These are just people doing a job.”

“Technically,” I pointed out, “you’re just doing a job.”

“Fair.  But I know what I signed up for.  They wouldn’t.”

That was at least one thing I didn’t have to worry about.  Despite my chosen profession, I bore the police no ill will.  If, in the commission of some crime, the law managed to catch me, I deserved to be caught.  I wouldn’t start hurting men or women who were only trying to stop a criminal.  Of course, I also wasn’t planning to give them a chance to throw me back in jail.  It was a…philosophically difficult position to inhabit.

“What else?”  Sarah asked.

“Some of Hill’s local product,” I said.  “There might be some specific signature he uses, and we want to leave as clear of a trail as possible.”

“Any idea where we can find some of that?”

I shrugged.  “Something tells me it won’t be too difficult to find a drug dealer.  If we happen to run into one that isn’t working for Hill, he can point us to another.”

Sarah’s eyebrows came together.  “Why would a dealer help us find someone else?”

I flicked my eyes in Mila’s direction.  “Our sincere and winning personalities, perhaps?”

“Ah.  Next?”

“After we’ve managed to steal or purchase drugs and created a distraction of sufficient size to keep an international police force from noticing two untrained infiltratrators?”

“Yeah,” Sarah said.  “After that.”

“Some sort of identification that gets these two past the front desk, I’d guess.”

Michel, who had been content to eat the morning’s offerings without comment thus far, cleared his throat.  “What do you mean?”

“We aren’t about to send you out there without cover,” I said.

Sarah nodded.  “With the access I’ve already got, I can figure out something.  Special visitor or consultant badges, maybe.  Nothing that would authorize you to access the evidence room, but certainly something authentic enough that you can walk around the bullpen without arousing suspicion.”

“This evidence room?  Why could you not get us passes into it, directly?”  Michel asked.

“Those are some of the most secure rooms in any police station,” I said.  “Specifically to stop people like us from doing what we’re planning.  Sign in sheets, twenty-four hour camera feeds, only accessible with direct authorization from a superior.”

“I can fake some of that,” Sarah said, “but not without more access.  And I can’t fake everything, even with all the access in the worldThat’s where you’ll have to get creative.”

Michel swallowed nervously.

“I’ll be watching,” I said.  “Just do what I tell you to, and you’ll get through this fine.”

“That’s dangerously close to jinxing us, isn’t it?”  Sarah asked.

“I didn’t say it’ll be easy,” I protested.  “Just that it isn’t impossible.”

“About that,” Mila said.  She finished her food and set the plate down on the counter as she walked across the room.  “This jinxing thing.  I’ve been meaning to ask.”

Sarah motioned for me to explain.  That was fair, since I’d been the one to start the tradition, in the first place.

“You know how, sometimes, everything just seems to be going your way?”  I asked Mila.  “You catch every green light, it stops raining as soon as you lose an umbrella, and you’ve got exact change for the vending machine?”

It said something about Mila that she only perked up at that last option.  I didn’t know what it said, but it certainly meant something.  “Alright.  Your point?”

“Well, that’s when the universe has forgotten about you.  And the last thing you want to do is remind the Mysterious Powers That Be about you.  If you do that, everything’s got to get balanced again.  Meaning all that good luck is going to turn bad in a hurry.”

“Seriously?  You’re superstitious?”

“Baseball players have lucky socks,” I said.  “And the worst thing that happens if they lose a game is a bad player record and low sales on their baseball cards.  If I make a mistake, I go to jail or I get shot.  At best.  Give me a break here.”

Anyway,” Sarah said, adding so much stress on the word that I thought it might break, “that’s three things: distraction, drugs, and identification.  What else?”

I had a few ideas.  Erasing my criminal history had seemed like a great idea on more than one occasion, but that had been nothing more than a fantasy.  Lots of thieves tried similar things, though their methods varied.  Bribing an official was the preferred method.  The more unsavory types trended towards murder.  Some of the wilder criminals I knew – the ones who would rather destroy a priceless work of art than come back for it another night – might go as far as starting a fire or planting a bomb.  Stealing the evidence, however, was…

I stopped and rewound through what I’d been thinking.  “Oh no,” I said out loud.

“What?”  Sarah asked.  “Think of something new?”

“More like, I remembered something.”

As if on cue, one of my phones beeped and vibrated from its resting place on the coffee table.  It wasn’t the burner that Sarah had purchased; the message came in on the device I’d lifted from the unconscious body of the sniper, back in Kiev.  I didn’t need to check the phone, but I did so anyway.  The text was short to the point of brusqueness.

“Do you want to share with the class?”  Sarah asked.

“Anton and company,” I said.  “They’re coming to London to run down Asher.  With everything that happened at the manor house, it just sort of…slipped my mind.”

Sarah searched her memory for a few seconds before her eyes widened slightly.  “Oh.  Well.  Hmm.”

“What does this change?”  Michel asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered, honestly.  “I’ve worked jobs with Anton before, but nothing like what’s going on with Hill.  Certainly not anything like the idea we’re working on now.”

“And his friends?”

“Friends is something of a stretch.”  Or, depending on what I’d been told about them, friends wasn’t quite far enough.  “The people he’s arriving with, however, are even larger variables.”

Sarah sighed.  She finished her coffee and refilled it to the halfway point.  Then, she added four cubes of sugar and a generous helping of cream.  “You know how I love variables, Devlin.”

“Well,” I said, “then you are going to love these guys.  A Mafia lieutenant and two of his pals.  I don’t know what they think about me.  I’m not sure what I think of them, honestly.”

“Didn’t they save your life?”

“We saved each other,” I said.  “That means something to me, sure, but I don’t know what it means to them.  Let’s not forget: the only reason they’re coming to town is so that they can crush Hill, inflict righteous retribution upon Asher’s person, and maintain their smuggling side business.  Plus, Stani and his goons have bosses.  I can work something out with Anton, but Stani can’t agree to anything without checking in with his superiors.”

“And we can?”  Sarah asked.  “We aren’t exactly working without oversight.”

“Except we kind of are.  The Lady gave us a job.  I don’t think she’s real particular about how we get it done.  Stani’s got to report to some real nasty characters, though, and I don’t think they’re the type that’ll accept failure.”

“Sounds like I’d like him,” Mila said.

Michel choked on his food behind her.

“Sounds like I’d like to work with him,” Mila clarified.  “I can respect getting the job done, no matter what.”

“In this case, getting the job done might very well require killing Hill, Asher, and anyone who might be able to tie the Russian mafia to the crime,” I said.  “So I’d really prefer it if we handled things in a less ‘Crazy Harry’ sort of way.”

Sarah narrowed her eyes in thought for a moment.  “The Muppet?”  She asked.

“Yep.”

Nice reference,” she said, nodding approvingly.

I inclined my head graciously.  “One does what one can.”

“So, are the two of you going to have sex or what?”  Mila asked.  She was so casual about it that I almost didn’t track what she’d said, until Sarah dropped her fork to the floor in surprise.

“What?”  Sarah managed to ask, after a couple of false starts.

“No?”  Mila shrugged.  “I’m not interested in him or anything.  Just figured it’d be better to knock that out sooner, rather than later.”

Sarah continued to sputter incoherently, while my own brain failed to even turn over.  Michel, bless his French heart, saved the both of us.  “What are you going to do about Stanislav and Anton?  And…who were the other two?”

“Leonid and Iosif,” I said.  I tried to convey appreciation for the interruption, using only my eyes.  “And the answer to your question is that I have no idea what I’m going to do.  I think we’ve just got to be proactive about it.  Give them a plan to follow before one of the Russians gets ideas of their own.  Besides, as far as Stani’s superiors know, I’m a chosen agent of the Lady, with special power to dispense favors or inflict punishments.  That might still have some pull.”

“It has the added benefit of truth,” Sarah said.  Her voice was still a little harsh from the aborted attempts at speech and she was trying her best to look anywhere, except at Mila.  “At least, it’s sort of true.”

“I’m in no hurry to find out the limits of what we can or cannot do, using the Lady’s name.”  That thought triggered another.  “What about the Texan?  Is there any way we can use that?”

“I considered that,” Sarah said, “but no, probably not.  We already know what information Adlai has; we just need to delete or destroy it.  Besides, what do we have to offer him in trade?”

“Would money not be enough?”  Michel asked.

“Information brokers don’t work like that,” Sarah replied.  “Cash is good, of course, but they’re professional social climbers.  Everything they do is calculated and any broker worth his decoder ring wouldn’t give up a secret without getting two in return.”

I wanted to congratulate her on the ‘decoder ring’ line, but Mila’s presence and the steady way she watched Sarah and me kept me from voicing that sentiment out loud.

Michel stopped pushing his food around for a second.   “He told you where we could find Avis, no?”

“He did,” Sarah said, nodding.  “But I’m pretty sure the Lady cut some other deal behind the scenes to make that happen.  He said something about the security system and other clients, didn’t he, Devlin?”

I drained my glass and refilled it with the last of the carafe’s orange juice.  “Something like that.  So, we can’t use or, more accurately, don’t need to use the Texan.  Are there any other assets we’re forgetting about?”

“None that I can think of,” Sarah said, just a fraction of a second late.

Even looking specifically for it, there was no way that either Mila or Michel caught the hesitation.  I would’ve missed it myself, if I wasn’t already privy to the information Sarah was concealing: Alex.  We hadn’t talked about him in front of anyone since before the museum gala.  There was no way to know where the two of us could safely communicate, and it was easier to just keep his name from our lips.  He, however, was an incredible asset that we were choosing not to tap.

Alex’s network of contacts was mind-bogglingly extensive.  He could almost certainly pull a string to get a member of my team into the local office; there was every possibility that he could call in a favor and have the evidence destroyed outright.  Moreover, he would leap at the opportunity to help.  But that would make him an active player and, almost inevitably, a target.  After what I’d led his wife into, I couldn’t bring myself to make that phone call.  That mistake haunted me even more than that final fight with Sarah.

I’d never discussed my feelings about the botched Venice Job with Sarah, after the time we spent searching for the perpetrators.  For the most part, I was fairly certain they were self-evident.  Judging from the flicker of emotion in one corner of Sarah’s eyes, I could see now that she felt the same as me.  We were in silent agreement: Alex was out, and he got to stay out.

“Mila?”  I asked out loud.  “Can you think of anything?”

“I get to be a part of the planning now?”  She faked open-mouthed surprise.  “You’re too kind.”

“Whatever we decide on,” I said, “you’ll have to provide security.  If Sarah’s the bait, you and Michel are going to have to be the infiltration team.  You’re okay with keeping him safe?”

“That’s not my job.”

“I’m well aware of what your job is,” I said carefully.  I didn’t want to beat her over the head about her Aiden-induced catatonia; just remind her of it enough that she remembered she and I still needed to finish our conversation.  “I’ll be as safe as possible, barricaded in here.  Sarah can wire some sort of panic button for me, in case things absolutely go to shit, but otherwise, it’s more important that we clear one of the numerous threats off of the board.”

Mila raised an eyebrow.

Figuratively speaking,” I clarified.  “Basically, the best way to keep me safe is to get those files.”

She sucked at her teeth.  “Alright.  It’ll be something new, so there’s that.”

“Variety is the spice of life,” I said.  “But there’s some prep work we’ve got to take care of first.”

Sarah finished with her meal and crouched so that she could dig into a bag on the floor.  After a few moments, she emerged with a tablet in hand.  A quick series of commands switched on the television and another adept movement of her fingers brought up a blank word document.  She typed as she spoke.  “Step one: acquire identification.”

“What’re you thinking?”  I asked.

“According to these documents,” Sarah said, as she tiled information across the screen, “Adlai’s direct superior is one Superintendent Lane.  Scottish guy who’s been responsible for some major breaks in cases in Japan, New Zealand, and a major gun-running operation out of Beijing.”

“Why’s he in charge?”

Sarah shrugged.  “Your guess is good as mine.  Whatever it is, Lane sent specific requests for Adlai’s assistance.  A lot of specific requests.  In triplicate.”

“That’s possibly good news,” I said carefully.

“Why is that?”  Michel asked.

“Adlai was in town way too fast after the museum,” I explained.  “Sarah and I were thinking that he must have already been in London for some reason.  Since we hadn’t done anything illegal before then, it stands to reason that he was probably called here for a different case.”

“Can we use that?”  Sarah wondered aloud.

“With more intelligence, maybe,” I said.  “But first, we need to get more access, don’t we?”

Sarah nodded, already a little distracted by possible angles to play.  Information appeared and disappeared from the television too quickly for me to follow.  “Seems like Lane is not very popular around the office,” she said.  “Lot of disciplinary reviews and water room gossip, memos and the like.  Despite that, he’s a pretty typical Scot.”

“Hard drinking, superstitious type?”  I wasn’t on a first name basis with any Scots, but the ones I’d worked with previously enjoyed celebrating a successful heist almost as much as the job itself.

“Straight down to his toes,” Sarah confirmed.  “And guess what tonight is?”

I blinked.  I actually hadn’t bothered checking a calendar in…a very long time.  In La Santé, the month or day of the week hadn’t mattered much; since I’d left, there’d been entirely too much going on.  I checked one of my two phones and saw that it was November 30th.

“Well, thank God for small favors,” I said.  Then, seeing Michel’s blank look, I launched into an unasked for explanation.  “Saint Andrew’s Day is…well, it’s basically the holiday for expats.  And if Lane is like his countrymen and countrywomen, he’s going to want to find somewhere to drink tonight.”

“Except the poor guy doesn’t have anyone to drink with,” Sarah said.  I chuckled at her adopted tone and ignored the subsequent eyebrow lift from Mila’s corner of the room.  “It’d be a shame to let him spend the evening by himself, wouldn’t it?”

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