Chapter Sixty-Eight

“Michel, do you know what to do?”  I asked.

Sitting at the counter in our penthouse suite while Mila and Michel were in transit felt strange.  I shifted uncomfortably while I waited for a response.

“I think so,” he eventually answered, over the comms.  I noted the uncertainty in his voice.  “And you are certain that this will not be too difficult?”

“It’ll be fine,” Sarah said.  She was seated atop a stool in the kitchen, the remnants of a late dinner on the high counter in front of her.  “For one thing, you aren’t doing anything illegal.  Nothing wrong with striking up a conversation over a few drinks.”

“And,” I added, “you aren’t the one doing the actual lift.”

“That’s my job,” Mila said, also over comms.

The two had left the hotel an hour earlier, using a very common vehicle that Sophie made available for our purposes.  Sarah stayed behind with me, ostensibly to protect her cover for when she made the actual approach.  Personally, I suspected that it had less to do with that and more to do with keeping me away from her sensitive equipment, but I didn’t mind.  Her presence was comforting and, even though it wasn’t quite the same as it had been during our marriage, I still enjoyed her company.

“Out of all the bars in the area,” she said, “only one of them is showing the Scottish football league playing tonight.  Stands to reason that Lane’s going to pick that one.  All you’ve got to do, Michel, is get as many drinks as possible into him.  The more he has, the easier the lift’s going to be.”

“But he will not notice that his ID is gone?”

“Not if you keep him distracted,” I said.  “It won’t even be gone for that long.  As soon as Mila pulls it, Sarah’s going to copy the RFID frequency and then we’ll make one of our own when we need to.”

“How is she going to do that?”

I started to explain the intricacies of Sarah’s custom app, and stopped almost immediately when I realized that I didn’t have the foggiest idea of exactly how it worked.  I shot Sarah a helpless look and she rolled her eyes back at me.

“It’s technical,” she said, to Michel.  “Sufficed to say, we only need a minute or two with the card before Mila can give it back.  This should…well, it isn’t the hardest thing we’ve done in the past week.”

What she had been about to say would have been damning: if everything went perfectly, the approach, engagement, the lift, and the blow off should only take thirty minutes.  But nothing about my time since the Lady arranged for my breakout from prison – or even since Asher’s betrayal – led me to think that the world would allow any plan to proceed without complications.

“What place are we looking for?”  Mila asked.

“Rob Roy’s,” Sarah said.

“Then we’re here.”

“Mila,” I said, slowly.  “You’re just going to stay at the bar until Michel signals you, okay?  Nothing violent, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Do I get to define when it’s necessary?”

“I’m going to go with a no on that one.  Turn on the cameras, please?”

Mila sighed before she did as I’d asked.  The mini-cameras that Sarah had pinned to their lapels came to life and their outputs were transferred, via an extremely long cable that snaked through the hotel room, to the oversized television screen in the living room.  The display was split in two: one for Michel and one for Mila.

As I watched, Michel found a garage and parked the car.  He and Mila made their way out of the garage, back down to street level, and approached Rob Roy’s.  While they moved, I muted my earbud and turned to Sarah.  “How’d you know which bar was showing the game?”

“You mean, aside from using my powers of observation and my devastating intellect?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Besides that.”

“Every other pub in a five-mile radius had sudden, inexplicable problems with their satellite reception tonight,” Sarah said, and a tight smile stretched across her lips.  “Which is just a shame for business.  I’ll upgrade their service packages for free after we finish, just to make up for the trouble.”

“Isn’t that going to make Rob Roy’s incredibly busy?”

Sarah’s eyes flickered over to me, a trifle too defensively for my tastes.  “The level of access I’ve got into Interpol’s databases wasn’t high enough for psych profiles.  It was either this, or we spend half the night guessing where Lane is most likely to go.”

Which was, of course, a much worse situation than the one we’d engineered.  Michel probably wouldn’t see it that way – more people equaled more chances to be seen and identified at a future point – but a crowded environment would help Mila make the lift without attracting too much attention.  “You did great,” I said.  “A lot better than I could’ve done under the same circumstances.”

“These are exactly the circumstances you work best under,” Sarah replied.  A beat passed and she bit down lightly on her bottom lip.  “But thanks.”

We locked eyes and held that contact for three or four seconds before turning, at the same time, back to the television.  There, we could see what looked like nothing so much as a thriving horde teeming outside of Rob Roy’s entrance.

“I might have underestimated how busy this would make the bar,” Sarah admitted.

“You think?”  I unmuted the microphone.  “Okay, Michel, Mila.  You’re headed for the front door.  There are two bouncers there, and they’re going to try to keep you out.”

“What do we do?”  Michel asked.

“Nothing,” I said.  “Stick to the plan and use the IDs Sarah gave you.”

“Try not to overuse them,” Sarah added.  “Those things aren’t easy to make, and they might be useful later.”

Oui,” Michel said.  “I will do my best.”

“That’s all we can ask for,” I said.  Then, muting my microphone, I turned to Sarah.  “How much effort did you put into his paperwork?”

“Not much,” she admitted.  “I didn’t really have enough time to do a proper job on them.”

“Let’s not tell him that,” I said.

“You think?”

We watched on the television as Michel and Mila made their approach, threading their way through the crowds of people pushing for entry into the pub.  When they reached the entrance, Mila took point and stepped in front of a bouncer before he could put a hand on Michel’s chest.

“I think you’re expecting us,” she said.

The bouncer arched an eyebrow and grumbled something that the microphone didn’t pick up.

Mila chuckled.  “Go check with your bosses,” she said.  “I’m pretty sure they’ll want us in there.”

The bouncer examined Mila and Michel both with a skeptical eye before he motioned for his partner to head into the pub.  He stepped back to the door, just barely far enough away that he couldn’t possibly hear anything Mila or Michel said, so long as they were quiet.

“What now?”  Michel asked.

Sarah pushed aside her uneaten food and began to hammer commands into one of her laptops.  “Now that you’re within range of their wireless network,” she said, “I can get into their systems and…there we go.  I’ve got the security cameras and the email servers.”

“And what does that mean?”

“It means that there won’t be any physical record of your faces,” Sarah explained, “And the manager of this establishment just received a strongly worded email from the owner, describing how he’s going to treat the two of you with the utmost respect, but not to make it obvious that you’re being treated differently.  If that makes sense.”

“How did you do that?”  Michel asked.

I drummed an irregular rhythm into the countertop with my fingertips.  “College buddies?”  I guessed.

“Family friend,” Sarah corrected.  “Easier to pull that off, seeing as I don’t actually know anything about who the owners are.”

I considered that.  It wasn’t the option I would’ve gone with, but it would still work.  Probably.  “You could have gone with a mistress,” I said.  “People will do almost anything to get out of that conversation.”

“I could also have made Mila or Michel into a long-lost child,” Sarah shot back.  “But someone’s inevitably going to recognize them after that.  I do know what I’m doing.”

I do not know what you are doing,” Michel said, softly.

Mila chuckled.  “I’m starting to think that’s the point.”

Anyway,” I said, stressing the syllables to the breaking point, “the punchline is that you’ve got a way in.”

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before one of the bouncers hurried back and whispered to his partner.  The man who’d eyed Mila went from suspicious to solicitous in approximately zero seconds.  He held the door open so that our bodyguard and our driver could enter Rob Roy’s without any further incident.

The interior of the pub was, somehow, even more chaotic than its exterior had been.  Several large television screens hung at regular intervals from the ceiling, each one playing a different game.  Rowdy groups of men and women, dressed in wildly clashing colors and wearing sports paraphernalia in at least three different languages, clustered around each screen.  They yelled at each other, they yelled at the rival teams, and they yelled at the screens themselves.  Servers did their best to manage the hordes, carrying two or three pitchers at a time to this table or that one; retrieving emptied plates and trays; or generally keeping the tumult and roar of the soccer fans from boiling over into a riot.

Judging from the cameras placed throughout the building, Michel went statue-still as soon as he entered the main area.  Mila, of course, remained calm and professional.  She turned in a slow, tight circle, so that Sarah and I could see her full field of vision.  “I don’t see Lane,” she murmured.

I shook my head, even though Mila couldn’t actually see that gesture.  “Neither do I.  Sarah?”

She played back the feed from Mila’s camera on her own laptop, at half speed, and propped up her tablet with a photograph of Superintendent Lane on the screen.  “I’ve got nothing.”

“Michel,” I said, “go with Mila up to the bar.  Try not to attract too much attention, obviously, and…I don’t know, try not to look suspicious.”

He took in a deep breath, faced one of the bar’s security cameras, and nodded decisively.  “Okay, I am ready.”

They made their way over to the bar, picking paths that wound separately through the crowd, but still staying close enough that Mila could react to anyone who tried to attack Michel.  No attack ever came.  There were enough people that the trip to the bar took more than a few minutes.  “Sarah?” I asked.  “You want something from the fridge?”

Sarah shook her can of Diet Coke thoughtfully.  “Is it too early for wine?”

I answered that question by walking into the kitchen, retrieving a beer and an entire bottle of wine, and then depositing the latter onto the counter by her discarded food.  “It’s five o ‘clock somewhere,” I said, as I returned to the kitchen for a wine glass.

Sarah gave me a smile, warm enough to raise the temperature in the room by a few degrees.  “Thanks for dinner, by the way.”

I shrugged that off.  “Can’t work on an empty stomach.”

“Sophie was able to arrange for a cottage in the countryside, several cars, and forged papers on extremely short notice,” Sarah said.  The lines around her eyes crinkled slightly.  “Something tells me she could arrange for dinner.”

“I just like cooking,” I said defensively.  “Keeps me calm.”

“And I was just thanking you for doing it,” Sarah said.  “That’s still okay, isn’t it?”

It was a simple enough question.  For some reason, the answer seemed far more important than that question implied.  There was a sudden tension in the air as Sarah watched and waited for a response, her left hand crossing unconsciously over the right underneath the counter where she thought I couldn’t see it.  “That’s still okay,” I said slowly.

She nodded, just as slowly as I’d spoken, as if she wasn’t quite sure how to take it.  I started to say something else – I had no idea exactly what  – but Mila saved me from stumbling over my words.  “We’re getting drinks now,” she said into my earbud.  “What do you want us to do if he isn’t here?”

Sarah pivoted back to the television screen.  There were three feeds displayed there now: one for Michel, one for Mila, and a third window that changed every couple of seconds to one of the six or seven security cameras installed inside the pub.  My ability to multitask was limited to last-minute, emergency planning; Sarah’s, apparently, allowed her to track each of the feeds without difficulty.

“He’ll be there,” Sarah said.  “There are more than a few citations on record about his drinking, and this game isn’t one he’d want to miss.”

Mila sighed.  I watched her portion of the screen as a burly bartender handed her a mug of beer.  “Okay, sure.  But, humor me.  What if he isn’t?”

“If he isn’t there, then…”  Sarah stopped, tapped an index finger against her bottom lip, and then filled her glass with wine.  “Then we’ll figure out something else.  There’s still time to come up with a way into Interpol.”

Time, of course, was both our greatest asset and our largest problem.  The longer we took to come up with a solution, the more likely it was that Adlai would find a lead that would put him on our doorstep.  Asher hadn’t stopped being a threat, either.  I doubted that he would take our assault on the manor house without formulating a response.  And, topping off the soufflé of misfortune that the bad guys were serving us, Aiden was a still unknown quantity.  Mila remained tight-lipped about the mercenary, her relationship with him, and anything that Sarah or I could have used to plan against the man.  All she had told us was that Aiden would be coming for her, and us, at some point in the near future.

We couldn’t afford to wait for long.  I shot Sarah a look and saw, in the way her eyes narrowed by a millimeter, that she had come to the same conclusion.  She just wasn’t saying it out loud.

“Wait,” Mila said.  “I think I see someone.”

“Michel,” I said, “turn so that I can see what Mila’s seeing.  I don’t want her to make eye contact, if possible.”

Michel did as asked.  He didn’t turn smoothly; the movement was jerky and stilted, which I attributed to his complete lack of experience.  One of the Scottish strikers pulled off a particularly impressive goal, however, so no one was looking at the Frenchman turning like a broken robot.  The field of vision presented by his mini camera panned across the pub stopping to focus on the bartender; then, on a pair of Japanese twins that I recognized from the Green Light gala; then, on a tight knot of inebriated Englishmen, yelling at each other in an accent so thick that I could barely understand it; and, finally, passing over a big man with a fierce, flame-red beer who was yelling something unintelligible at the television screen nearest him.

“Stop!”  Sarah said sharply, and Michel stopped.  “That’s him.  The guy who looks like the Quicker Picker Upper mascot.”

“Who?”

“The man with the beard,” I translated.  “That’s Lane.”

“What do I do?”

“Just approach him casually,” I said.  “Try to build a rapport.  Offer to buy him a drink and we’ll play it by ear from there.”

“Speaking of ears,” Sarah chimed in, “you won’t be able to talk to us after you go over there.  Devlin will walk you through the conversation, and I’ll provide him with intelligence, but you’ve got to act like it’s all you.  Can you do that?”

“I, uh…I can do that,” he said.

The determination I’d seen from him the previous night was gone, replaced by uncertainty and doubt.  That was to be expected from anyone working themselves up to their first cold approach; considering the stakes of our current predicament, I could hardly blame Michel for being afraid.

“It’s just a conversation,” I reminded him.  “Mila’s going to move into position near you, and she’ll be there to pull you out if anything goes wrong.”

As if summoned by my poorly chosen words, that was when I saw him.  I almost didn’t notice him at first, but the glass of water stood out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of mugs and steins, liquor drinks and shots.  He picked his way across the crowded floor and the way he carried himself – stern, upright, and focused beyond reason – had a physical effect on the people around him.  They didn’t consciously melt away from him, but a buffer formed around him, and he was able to move to Lane’s table without incident or interruption.

The earbud clicked twice.  I hadn’t muted it, so I turned away from the screen and found myself staring into Sarah’s wide, worried eyes.  “Devlin,” she said.  For a single word, she managed to convey a thesaurus’ worth of meaning.  “What the hell is Adlai doing there?”

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