Chapter Eighty-Seven

It was only through an exertion of palpable self-control that I kept myself from asking Sarah not to go through with her idea.  She wouldn’t have listened, at best.  At worst, the implication that she might not be able to handle this task could cause a fight that we couldn’t afford to have.  And, I admitted to myself, she had been absolutely right in her original estimation.  Using Sarah in this way, at this moment, was simply the best option.

Adlai didn’t know that Sarah was working with me, or that she’d been instrumental to some of the greater heists I’d successfully pulled over the years.  As far as he would know, she would be Sarah Ford, scion of a particularly powerful and influential American family.  While she made a point to stay out of the news – unlike her sisters, who consumed every second of available media time like oxygen – Sarah was still a known quantity.

She’d appeared at high society functions sporadically before retiring to San Francisco following the dissolution of our partnership and marriage.  Her full name was listed on copious amounts of legal paperwork; she’d attended a prestigious college; and, during a wild two years immediately following her graduation, the tabloids had flirted with the idea of portraying Sarah as some sort of wild child.  Her public persona was flighty and unfocused, which clashed so horribly with the reality of the situation – Sarah’s ability to focus on, identify, and absolutely eradicate a problem defied logic sometimes – that I still found it hilarious to consider.

Even with the glut of negative press, however, she was still a Ford.  The family held political influence in America and, through clever trade deals and backroom arrangements, possessed connections in several overseas markets.  If Sarah made a request of local authorities, she couldn’t exactly be ignored, without facing potential career suicide.  Adlai wouldn’t necessarily care about that, but he’d follow protocol.  That was, after all, what one was supposed to do.

I thought about all of this, and more, while I drove the van back to the front of Scotland Yard.  When Sarah stood up, before she opened the door to step down from the van, I finally found something to say.  “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“I hadn’t planned to get kidnapped, start a shootout, or blow the building up,” Sarah said.  “If it’s all the same to you.”

I scowled at her.  “You know what I mean.”

Sarah’s expression softened.  “Yeah.  I know what you mean.  You understand how to work this system?”

“Press button,” I replied, in my very best ‘caveman’ voice.  “Speak loud.”

“That’s about the gist of it,” Sarah said.  I noticed, to my great delight, that she was struggling to hide a smile.  “Let me know what the system comes up with about the evidence room, as soon as it pops.  I can probably do most of the work from my tablet, I think.”

“Probably?  You think?”

Sarah shrugged.  “Stop trying to stall.”

I blinked, and then realized that I was trying to keep her from leaving.  “Alright,” I said, after a heartbeat or two.  “Get out of here, you’re cramping my style.”

Sarah started to say something.  She shook her head, dismissing the half-formed idea, and stepped down from the van without another word.  I closed the door for her.

As soon as I did that, I jumped up into her chair and spent a few seconds fiddling with the installed controls.  The joystick on the left side of the repurposed wheelchair was fairly intuitive, but it took me a few tries to master the ability to snap directly to a given monitor and stay there.  When I had that under control, I moved myself to the first monitor and clicked the icon marked ‘Ford,’ switching the camera feed away from Michel to the brooch Sarah had pinned to her lapel before leaving the Halfway House.

Where Michel had simply entered through the security checkpoint, Sarah headed directly to the front desk.  Two officers were stationed there.  One of the two gave Sarah a slow once-over.  “Yes, ma’am,” the officer said.  “How can we help you?”

I rolled my eyes and imagined Sarah doing the same.

“There is something that I would like to discuss,” she said, “with regards to an ongoing investigation.”

She was using her oldest sister’s carriage again.  I wondered idly whether that was a deliberate choice, or simply an accident of circumstance.

The second officer – the one who hadn’t immediately started to undress Sarah with his eyes – lazily began to type information into an older computer in front of him.  “And what officer is working your case?”

“That is a complicated answer.  However, if you tell one Inspector Adlai that a Miss Ford is here to see him…well, I think that will clear things up.”

The two guards took a second, blinking confusion at Sarah and each other, before they drew the appropriate connections.  The first guard immediately blushed and snatched a phone from its cradle.  He pressed two buttons, connecting the front desk to Adlai’s floor, and informed the Interpol inspector that a Ford had arrived to discuss a case.  The officer had to repeat that information several times before, finally, he hung the phone back up again.

“He’ll see you in his office,” the first officer said.  “It’s been a, uh…been a bit of mess around here, what with the renovations and all going on just ‘round back.  You understand.”

“Ah,” Sarah said.  Just the one syllable, delivered so drily that she had to be deliberately playing the character a shade over the top.

“Just, uh…just go right on through the metal detectors over there, and take the elevator straight up to the third floor.”

“Excellent,” Sarah said.

She turned and walked away.  Through the security cameras, I could see as the two officers watched her depart with slack jaws.  When she was far enough away, they felt comfortable whispering to each other like children caught by a stern teacher.

I waited until she stepped into the elevator before laughing out loud.  “Was that really necessary?” I asked.

“Probably not,” Sarah replied, “but it was fun.  Let him worry that I was offended for a little bit.  It’ll do him good.”

My chuckling continued until she reached the third floor and stepped off of the elevator into absolute bedlam.  The relative calm of Michel’s floor and the entryway had lulled me into a false sense of ease, I realized.  Here, on the floor where they were keeping Mila, was where the chaos had been sown.  It seemed like an electric wire of adrenaline had been inserted into the room and subsequently overcharged.

Sarah picked her way through the bullpen, taking great care not to accidentally disturb any of the police officers, until she found a corner of the room that the chaos seemed to have missed: Adlai’s office.

“And here we go,” she whispered to me, and then knocked twice on the door.

A large window allowed me to see as Adlai looked up from his work and, recognizing Sarah after a split second of blankness, waved absently for her to enter.

“I am busy,” he said, before she’d even had the chance to take a seat.  “What do you need, Miss Ford?  I am not aware of any case involving your family; I am not certainly not investigating anything, at least.”

“Is there someone else I can speak to, then?”  Sarah asked.  I frowned.  Adlai had already put her on the back foot.

“My superior is…unavailable, at the moment.  Perhaps you could make an appointment to see him tomorrow?  As you can see, there is a great deal happening tonight that makes it…difficult to sort through information, at the moment.”

He hadn’t looked up from his documents since Sarah had entered the room.  There weren’t any security cameras in the office and the angle wasn’t good enough to allow me a view of his work.  I considered asking Sarah to try for a better look, but I knew Adlai well enough to guess that he’d simply cover everything up if it seemed like privileged information might risk getting out into the public domain.

“That simply won’t do,” Sarah said, doubling down on the ‘idle rich’ affectation.  “This is a very important matter, and time is of the essence.”

Adlai sighed.  “What is the matter, Miss Ford?”

I tuned Sarah out temporarily and slid over to the second monitor to check on Michel’s progress.  He was nearly at the evidence room now and, so far, no one had stopped or questioned him.  One of Sarah’s computers beeped to let me know that it had found the appropriate procedural manual and the correct frequency.

I clicked the comms over to speak to Michel.  “Can you hold that ID card over your phone’s IR port?” I asked.  “I need to change your level of access.”

He removed the wallet from his pocket in a smooth gesture and slipped the ID card out.  I double clicked on the icon marked ‘RFID’ and a single window appeared on the display.

I smiled to myself.  Sarah must have written this program specifically for a luddite’s use; a blinking, bright red button in the center of the screen told me that I should ‘click to activate.’  I did exactly that and, a few moments later, a second window flashed across the screen, notifying me that I had been successful.

“That’ll do,” I said.  “When you get to the evidence room, remember; all you need to do is…well, if you can’t remove the evidence, just misfiling it will buy enough time for us to finish up in London and clear the area.”

“What about Mila?” Michel asked, under his breath.

“Sarah’s in place right now, keeping Adlai from getting any alone time with her,” I assured him.

I glanced over to the screen displaying Sarah’s viewpoint and immediately regretted my optimism.  I assumed that Sarah had given Adlai our agreed-upon cover story, but the Interpol inspector didn’t seem the least bit interested.

“One sec,” I told Michel and switched lines back over to listen to Sarah’s conversation.

“Let me see if I have this correct,” Adlai said.  At least he was looking up from the documents now, but the expression of barely concealed suspicion on his features wasn’t a great improvement from the top of his head.  “You believe that I should drop everything I am doing at this moment, in order to pursue someone who might have stolen your purse?”

“Well, you are an international police officer, aren’t you?” Sarah asked.  “I remember seeing you on the television earlier.”

“There are more important things that require my attention,” Adlai said.  “I will see to it that an officer is detailed to assist you in drawing up a sketch, but if you’ll excuse me, Miss Ford…”  He stood as if to leave.

“Wait!” A little bit of Sarah’s true anxiety bled through into her voice.  That was good; the fictionalized version of herself that she was playing would probably be feeling pretty anxious, too.  “I had very important documents in that purse…it would be disastrous if they were to fall into the wrong hands.  Are you sure you can’t help me?”

What happened next was subtle.  Michel or Sarah would have missed it, had they been in my position.  Any of the Russians almost certainly wouldn’t have caught it and I doubted that Mila would have cared much about the subtleties of micro-expressions.  It was possible that Alex might have noticed, if he’d been given forewarning and been at one hundred percent, but his specialty dealt with making friends instead of analyzing potential enemies.

I was the right person to see it, though.  I knew Adlai well enough to realize that the slight hesitation before he spoke didn’t mean he was unsure of what answer to give, so much as he was debating various options.  His eyes widened by a millimeter – maybe not even by that much – as an idea hit him, then narrowed as he looked at Sarah in a new light.  The right corner of his mouth twitched minutely up, then down.  And, in a movement that was so quick that I might only have imagined it, his gaze flickered away from Sarah’s face and down to the brooch she wore on her chest.

I opened Sarah’s line.  “Shit,” I said.  “He’s not buying it.  I think he knows you’re wearing a camera, too.”

Sarah obviously couldn’t respond with Adlai watching her so intently.  She couldn’t even touch the earbud to acknowledge that she’d heard me.  But the soft, sharp intake of breath was enough of a statement, in and of itself.

“Well,” Sarah said suddenly, rising to her feet, “I suppose if you’re simply swamped with work, I can come back another time.”

“Not at all,” Adlai said.  His eyes were still narrowed as he plastered a saccharine-sweet smile.  “I would be happy to take your statement.  If you would just give me one moment to collect the proper forms, we can begin to figure out what is going on…was going on, I mean.”  The smile grew sharper.  “With your purse, that is.”

“Ah…yes, that will be very good,” Sarah replied.  Reluctantly, she took her seat again.  Adlai returned all of his documents to the manila folder and tucked it underneath his arm before leaving the room.

“You’re staying?” I asked her, as soon as the door clicked shut behind him.

“Well, I can’t leave, can I?  He knows my name, Devlin!  If I try to walk away, he’ll know something’s going on.”

The corollary to that thought became apparent an instant after Sarah finished speaking.  She still had a public identity to maintain.  Whereas I could conceivably change names or go underground until the heat died down, the circumstances of Sarah’s birth made her a person that couldn’t easily disappear.  That wasn’t to say she couldn’t manage it, but doing so would necessitate a complete severing of any relationship that might be used to track her down.

“Maybe lose the brooch?” I suggested.

“And where am I going to put it?” Sarah countered.  “This isn’t the largest office, and I’m pretty sure he’ll notice that I changed as soon as he left the room.”

“Just…give me a second to think about this.”

I squeezed my eyes shut and, as the speed of my thoughts seemed to accelerate, allowed myself to consider all of the options.  Sarah was right; she couldn’t leave the room, so long as Adlai suspected something might be wrong with her cover story.  But he couldn’t have suspected that she was connected to me.  Sarah was too thorough to have left a digital trail he might be able to follow.  Besides, if he had any idea that Sarah even knew my name, he wouldn’t have risked leaving her in the room alone to begin with.

That meant it wasn’t a targeted suspicion.  Adlai was naturally paranoid and the events at the processing plant – which had, presumably, been noisy enough that he’d felt compelled to come to work on his night off – would only have put those senses on high alert.  A member of the prestigious Ford family arriving at the exact time might not normally have put him on edge, but tonight was apparently the night where he second- and triple-guessed everything.

He was looking for a connection and grasping at straws.  Sarah was, metaphorically speaking, the latest straw in his clenched fist.  I needed to think of a way to get her out of that room without elevating her perceived value in Adlai’s eyes.  I needed to…

I knew exactly what I needed to do.  “Sarah, listen.”

“Can’t really do anything else, at the moment.”

“In about three minutes, Adlai’s going to get called away from that floor.  You can use that time to make an escape – I’m sure there’s a back staircase you can find – and get back down to the van.  You’ll have to help Michel through whatever problems he runs into.”

“Why am I going to have to…wait, you aren’t serious.”

I sighed and rose from my seat.  “If I’m remembering this one episode of Law and Order I watched, I should be able to keep my phone for a bit.  No idea how long that’s going to hold up, but it’ll have to do.  I’m leaving my earbud in the car so that there’s no chance of the line being intercepted.”

“Devlin, I can figure something out.  Just give me – “

I deactivated my earbud and removed it before Sarah could say anything else.  I made a point to look away from the screen, in case she was mouthing words into her camera.  A quick check of my person told me that I wasn’t carrying anything incriminating or illegal, which was a small favor in a sea of unfairness.  After a quick instant of consideration, I kept the encrypted cell phone.

I left the keys for the van in the back, underneath Sarah’s seat, and stepped out into the street.  Moving at double speed – this whole gambit would be useless if Adlai returned to the office before I made it inside – I rushed into Scotland Yard and approached the two guards seated behind the desk.

What I needed to do, I realized, was give him exactly what he’d been looking for.  Any attention that might have fallen on Mila or Sarah would evaporate like fog on a hot day the instant Adlai thought he might be able to arrest me.

The officers frowned as I hurried towards them.

“My name’s Devlin O’Brien,” I replied, as soon as I was within earshot.  “I heard you guys might be looking for me?”

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