Chapter Eighty-Four

I blinked at both Sarah and Michel.  “What?”

“She’s one of ours,” Sarah said.  “Nothing would have happened to her if she hadn’t been doing her job, keeping you safe.  I’ll be damned if I’m about to start abandoning people to the mercies of the criminal justice system now.  Especially considering what started all this, by which I mean Asher’s…flexible definition of loyalty.”

“This is what you wanted to do, no?” Michel added.  He scratched uncomfortably at the collar of his policeman’s uniform.

“I mean…yeah,” I said, “but I didn’t expect…I mean, I just figured that…”

Sarah dismissed my stuttering with a lazy hand.  “You’ve had this information for about five minutes.  I’ve been tracking her since I got on site, and I’ve been using that time to come up with some vague outline that might be good enough to get us into the building.”

“And from there?”

She shrugged.  “I’m starting to realize that there’s really no point in planning beyond the immediate next step.  The best laid plans, et cetera, et cetera.”

I glanced at the outline on Sarah’s screen.  While I understood the individual words written in the bubbles displayed there, the sum total of their meaning escaped me.  I blamed my mental fog on the head trauma.  “How are we going to do this, then?  Shouldn’t you get back to your command center in the Brooklands?”

Sarah shook her head.  “I tried to get into Scotland Yard’s network a while ago, when you first showed up at the black market.  Either they’ve changed protocols or they hired someone with half an idea about how to secure a system; the punchline is that I can’t get into their system unless I’m actually logged into their wireless.”

I gave her a blank look, which was only partly an affectation.  “In small words, for those of us recovering from serious head injuries?”

She rolled her eyes and responded in a forced, obnoxiously slow voice.  “I have to be within a few dozen yards of Interpol,” Sarah said.  “Maybe closer, maybe farther.  I’ll know more when I’m actually there.”

“How are you going to get a full setup close enough for that?  Is Sophie going to…I don’t know, rent out a nearby apartment building?”

Sarah opened her mouth, paused, and tilted her head.  “I…had not considered that.  But, no…even if she could pull that off – and I’m not sure she couldn’t – that’s a little too high profile for what I’ve got in mind.  Billy here volunteered his assistance and one of his personal vehicles.”

Now, I turned disbelieving eyes at the man in the wheelchair.  Billy spread his hands wide and pointed his palms at the ceiling.  “I’m a man of my word,” he said.  “You pulled off the job I sent you on, despite considerable complications.  More than that, you saw to it that my boys Chester and James got back here safe.”

“A kingpin with a conscience?”  Again, my thoughts travelled back to the elegant Lady and her personal giant.

Billy winced.  “Please, mate; I’m a businessman, and these are my associates and employees.  I look out for them, and they do the same for me.  You put yourself on the line for me and mine; throwing in a little aid to get your mate out of custody is the least I can do.”  He smiled wistfully.  “Besides, it’s been a while since I got to do anything in the field.  I’m actually looking forward to it.”

“You worked in the field?”

“Not as a thief,” Billy said.  He wheeled himself to the other side of the bed, closer to Sarah’s laptop.  “But I used to run for the previous king of this little hill.  Haven’t done anything since this happened, but I think I’ve still got what it takes.”

Sarah met my eyes, reading the unasked question contained within them, and nodded.  “We need people.  Stani went back to report to his superiors about the incident at the processing plant.”

“What about Iosif and Leonid?”

“He’s loaning them to us for the duration of this particular operation,” Sarah said.  “His words, exactly.  They aren’t exactly happy about the arrangement, but they’ve been following my orders so far.”

I didn’t understand what talents the bulky Russians might be able to provide.  Of course, I’d only seen them in situations where my life had been immediate danger so far, and they’d proven useful enough in Kiev and at the plant.

Sarah must have read confusion in my expression because she chuckled softly to herself.  “I’m not bringing them with us.  But the right-handed one is surprisingly good with electronics.”

“Iosif,” I said.

“You can tell them apart?”

“Oh, sure,” I replied.  “Iosif’s just a regular bundle of laughs.  Leonid’s more of the strong, silent type.”

Sarah searched my face for several seconds before realizing that I was kidding.  “Well, whatever.  I did use Sophie to transport some of the more sensitive components of my setup at the hotel out here, and the Russians are wiring it to the power supply in Billy’s van.”

In all the years we’d worked together, it had never occurred to me to convert Sarah’s setups from the stationary battle rooms she preferred to a more mobile setup.  Now that she’d thought of it on her own, it made sense as a permanent solution.  Ever since we’d landed in London, a good portion of our time had been spent transferring files from one system to another, or ensuring that the Lady hadn’t bugged our latest computer purchase.

“Your vans have special wiring?”  I asked Billy.

“Well, as you may have noticed, I have somewhat special requirements for transportation,” Billy said.  A part of my thoughts noticed that he rarely referred directly to his legs, or the resultant handicap.  Another question, perhaps, for a time when there were fewer immediate problems that required my attention.  “As it turns out, I had a model that your lovely lady here was able to repurpose.”

Sarah shot Billy a malevolent look.  “Are we going to have another talk about my name, and the consequences if you continue to not use it?”

He raised his hands in surrender.  “Sorry, sorry.  Force of habit, you understand.”

Sarah turned up her nose at Billy before returning her attention to me.  “I’ve got the general outline for the approach figured out.  We can probably use the same plan we talked about before; everyone’s on high alert, but Interpol and the local police department are all over the place dealing with the explosion at the plant.  As soon as the Russians finish setting up my station in the van, we’ll head over to the area and start fine-tuning from there.”

Michel had been very quiet since entering the room.  I directed my next question at him.  “And why, exactly, are you wearing a policeman’s uniform?”

“It is not exactly the uniform these police wear,” Michel said.  “But it is a close approximation.”

I sat back down on the bed and waited for an actual answer.

“When Michel stole the ID in the bar, I went ahead and cloned the cop’s cell phone,” Sarah said.  “He kept drinking for another few hours, judging from the security feeds, and I’ve traced his phone to an apartment almost thirty minutes away on a good night.”

“Meaning…?”

“Meaning,” Sarah said, “that Michel’s already got a cover we can use.”

I wanted desperately to protest to that idea, but it had too much merit to dismiss outright.  No one was going to be checking IDs in the middle of a possible crisis.  Properly attired and clearly in possession of the proper RFID codes to allow him access into the building to begin with, there was every possibility that no one would look twice at Michel.  If he could get inside the building, he might be able to use one of Sarah’s USB drives into a connected station.  Even if Michel couldn’t get close enough to a computer to do that, it still gave us a pair of eyes on the inside.

Of course, that was the best case scenario.  At worst, he might be discovered and charged with impersonation of a police officer.  Even worse: the officers might decide that he had some connection to the explosion.  From there, I didn’t want to imagine what charges they could levy against him.

“You came up with this idea?” I asked Sarah.

“No,” Michel answered.  “I did.”

“Well…alright,” I said, instead of a dozen other ideas that quickly came to mind.  “Sarah, walk me through our respective parts here.”

Sarah moved the computer screen so that it faced her once again and scanned through the flow chart.  “Recon’s going to be mostly Billy and some of his men.  We can’t risk being seen before we infiltrate.”

“Which men?” I asked.

“James follows orders,” Billy said.  “Chester had a bit of a problem with following your calls, or so I hear; I’m giving him a bit of a time out, and bringing along two of the younger boys I use for runs.”

“Okay.  I can probably work with that.”

“Glad to hear it,” Sarah said.  “Although, if you couldn’t, I don’t really know what else we would have done.  Anyway, after the recon, I should hopefully have access to their network.  All I really need is someone to forget to turn their phone’s Bluetooth off.  From there, I can get started on their internal security system.  I’ll have screens set up inside of the van; those’ll let me keep a watch on the people inside the station.”

I could wrap my head around the shape of the plan so far, even if the details were beyond my ability to understand.  I nodded to signal that I was following along.

Sarah returned the gesture and continued speaking.  “Michel can use faked credentials and the RFID card to get inside the building.  I’m not hoping to use him to actually get Mila out of custody; all I need is for him to finish the job of getting me past their network security.  After that’s finished, I’ll have to automate most of the work and hand the rest off to you and Billy.”

“Hand it off to…you’re keeping me on the bench?”

“You’re injured,” Sarah said, flatly.  “You won’t be able to move as quickly and you’ve mentioned your own head injuries in this very conversation.  If I put you in the field, that’d be another liability that we’d have to account for.”

I felt my face shifting into a childish pout.

“Think about it this way,” Sarah said.  “If it were one of us in the same condition, what would you tell him or her to do?”

Instead of answering that, I allowed my expression to darken by a noticeable degree.  “What if I have to get involved?  Just to keep someone from disrupting the plan, if nothing else?  I can’t watch the screens if I’m anywhere other than inside the van.”

Sarah sighed and bent over to dig inside of her purse.  A moment later, she found the object of her search and held up a smartphone that was almost entirely composed of a glossy screen.

“Another burner?” I asked.

“Yes and no,” Sarah replied.  “This whole experience has made me realize that we need to be better able to communicate when we aren’t standing right next to each other.  There’s an app on that phone that’ll allow you to connect to any active cameras, one at a time, so you can keep up with what we’re each doing.  I’m going to give one of these to everyone on the team eventually, but I only had time to work up a prototype of the program while you were, uh…recovering.”

I accepted the phone and tested its weight in my hand.  It was light enough that I legitimately feared I might break it on accident, but the quality of its construction let me know that Sarah had acquired a top of the line model.  I doubted I’d be able to do any serious damage to it without extreme negligence or incredibly poor luck.

“Also,” Sarah added, “I’m getting tired of buying burner phones.  That one’s encrypted above and beyond anything that someone should be able to crack.”  Pause.  “Ideally.”

“Well, as long as that’s figured out.”  I shifted my weight slightly so that I could slip the phone into my pocket.  It bumped against the phone I’d been using – Alex’ phone, borrowed from him back in Munich – so I removed the older model and placed it on the bedside table.  “What do we do after you and Michel get inside the building, assuming everything doesn’t turn to shit before we get that far?”

“Honestly?”

I gave her a vague gesture of acknowledgement.

“I’ve got no idea,” Sarah said.  “Without a clear visual of the interior, I can’t really come up with a solid chain of events.  We’ll be flying completely blind.”

“As opposed to partially blind,” I said, sighing and leaning back slightly.  “Which has been our MO for the last couple of days.”

“At least we know going in that we’re going to have figure things out on the fly,” Sarah offered, in a slightly sarcastic, slightly hopeful tone.

“Billy,” I said, shifting my eyes over to the man in the wheelchair.  He faked surprise at the attention.  “We’re going to need to borrow some of that product we got out of the plant.”

“It’s not my place to judge what a man does in his free time,” Billy said, “but I don’t know that this is really the right time to partake of any pharmaceutical products.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Not for me to use.  Sarah and I have other plans for it.  We don’t need a lot; just enough to make sure that the law enforcement starts paying attention to the quality of the product getting into the country.”

He was quiet for a few seconds as he worked through the implications of that sentence.  I recognized the look on his face; I’d seen it in mirrors on more than one occasion, in the midst of one job or another throughout the years.  When he reached the proper conclusion, his eyes lit up.  “You want to turn the police against Hill?”

I nodded.

“That’s a bit of risky business, isn’t it?”  Billy smiled, broad and sincere.  “And you’ll still be doing a good bit of work to support my side of things while you’re at it, too.  I don’t know what the police will do about it – Hill’s got his fingers in quite a few dirty pockets – but being the focus of an investigation, right after losing two major parts of his operation can’t be good for his business.”

Billy couldn’t know why we actually wanted the product and I was in no mood to correct his assumption.  “Sure.  I’m nothing, if not thorough.”

“I’ll have the boys bring a bit of the goods and load it into the van right now,” Billy said.  “When do you want to get moving?”

“I don’t know how long it’ll take before they get around to processing her,” Sarah said.  “Could be an hour, could be a couple of hours.  The sooner we get her out of there, the better it’ll be for all of us.  Dev, how soon do you think you’ll be able to move?”

As if in answer to that question, Iosif opened the door and searched the area until he found Sarah.  He spoke a couple of words in Russian; she replied in the same language, and he left as quickly as he’d arrived.  “He says it’s done,” Sarah translated.

“There’s your answer, Billy,” I said.  “We get started right now.”

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