Authors: Fern Michaels
“What is our plan if someone does show up?” Annie asked, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Do weâ¦ahâ¦take him out? What?”
Maggie sucked the last of her Slamming Sally and held it up so the waitress could see she wanted a refill. “We play it by ear. We should ask for some munchies, peanuts, or some trail mix. I think better when I'm eating.” Her drink arrived, and, without missing a beat, she continued to talk and suck through her straw at the same time.
Myra's stubbornness rose to the fore again when she said, “I'm sorry, girls, but I am just not getting any of this. It's been so long since our pardons, and so much time has passed, that I'm having trouble believing any kind ofâ¦tomfoolery is afoot.”
Annie's eyebrows shot upward as her eyes widened. “Did you really say tomfoolery is afoot? My God, Myra, do you realize how that dates you? That sounds like everyone is going to go dancing in the park in their undies. You need to get with the program here and try to look alive and stop fingering those damn pearls. And who might that person be who just entered our domain here?”
Maggie raised her eyes from her drink to look at the man who walked over to the bar and ordered a beer. “Harmless. Not what we are looking for,” she said around the straw that was still clutched between her teeth.
“What are we looking for, exactly?” Myra whispered.
“You'll know him or her when you see them. If you don't spot them, then you do not belong in this business,” Maggie said, her gaze going to the door, where a tall man was standing. He removed his aviator glasses, rolled his neck like he was a tired businessman in want of something cool to drink.
“Bingo!” Annie chortled. “Mr. Cool himself. He's going to belly up to the bar and order a frosty one. Right, Maggie?”
“I knew that,” Myra said, just as Maggie nodded in agreement.
Seven minutes later, a pert redhead in a dove gray pantsuit ambled in, stopped, looked around, then headed for the bar, where she sat down, two stools away from the guy with the aviator glasses.
“Part of the team,” Myra said, before anyone could say anything. Maggie nodded again as she slurped the last of her drink. She held her glass aloft for the waitress to see that she needed another refill.
“Start jabbering, ladies. Babies are always a good topic of conversation. I have pictures of Little Jack I don't think you've seen. I think Lizzie has her camera on twenty-four seven, so she doesn't miss a thing. Little Jack is a cutie for sure.” Maggie's voice dropped several octaves. “All we need is one more, and my suspicions become fact. The next one will be so ordinary most people wouldn't give him or her a second thought.” Maggie's drink arrived as Myra and Annie managed to coo and giggle over the pictures of Little Jack, which wasn't all that hard to do even though they, too, were watching the doorway out of the corners of their eyes.
Seventeen minutes later, Maggie's fourth Slamming Sally arrived just as Myra and Annie finished speculating about Little Jack's bright blue eyes. The room darkened momentarily as a pudgy woman with three rolls of belly fat, wearing a tank top and carrying two shopping bags, huffed and puffed her way to a table near the far end of the bar. The three women smiled as one.
“Tissue paper in the shopping bags. She's just a watcher. She won't interact at all, unlike those two at the bar.”
“How do you know this?” Myra asked in a jittery-sounding voice. “What in the world is in those drinks you're guzzling?”
“I'm a reporter. I have instincts. I've seen it all, Myra. It's what I used to do and what I miss most in my life. I've seen this same stakeout scenario, in one form or another, at least a hundred times. We're three for three. They don't know if we're going to split up or not. Whatever, they have us covered. Outside in the lobby, there are three more just like them. You can count on it. Here's something else you can count on. None of them belong to any of the famous alphabet-soup groups here in the District and Virginia. All of them are on Global's payroll. But to answer your question as to the contents of my drink, it's a mixture of passion fruit, pear nectar, acai berry, mango, and orange juice. Guaranteed to give you strength, energy, and stamina. Not a drop of liquor.”
“How long are we going to sit here, Maggie?” Annie asked.
“We aren't. We're leaving as soon as I get the check. “This is the plan. I'm sure by now one of Global Securities' agents hacked into the hotel's computer, and they know exactly what rooms we're in. So, why disappoint them? We'll take the elevator, they'll watch from the lobby to see what floor we get off on. You with me so far?” Both Myra and Annie nodded. “Okay, then we take the stairs to the other room I got for us, which is three floors down. Talk about silly stuff as we leave and while we wait for the elevator.”
Maggie signed the check, added a generous tip. Together, the three women left the Blue Duck Tavern without so much as a glance at any of the other patrons. Maggie stopped just long enough to pick up an envelope from the concierge before rejoining the women at the elevator.
“This whole thing is starting to make me nervous,” Myra said.
“Maybe you should go back to Charlie and the farm, Myra. Obviously, you aren't cut out for this kind of work. I swear, I do think you've taken the shine right off your pearls with all that fingering you've been doing.”
“You need to stop worrying about my pearls, Ms. de Silva. Oh, and you aren't nervous? All I said was, this is making me nervous. If you had a brain, you would be nervous, too, Annie. None of this is computing, and you damn well know it, and no, I do not want to go back to the farm and
and you better not ever call him that to his face. The only person he lets call him Charlie is Hank Jellicoe. Oh, God! No matter what we do or say, that man is involved in some way.”
The elevator swished open. The three women stepped in, along with two lanky teenage girls, who got off on the seventh floor. The elevator continued upward and stopped on the seventeenth floor, where they got off. They walked down to the nearest
sign, and walked down three flights to the fourteenth floor. Minutes later they were in a two-bedroom corner suite complete with sitting room, with a view that Annie proclaimed to be crappy. In response to which Myra told her to suck it up and be quiet.
“This is the governor's suite, but I don't know of which state. What all that means, I have no idea. The fridge is stocked with alcohol and soft drinks and snacks. State-of-the-art TV, Internet, and wireless. All the comforts of home for the governor and his posse or, if it is South Carolina or New York, his mistress or high-priced escort. Or perhaps his wife and kiddies,” Maggie said with a bite in her tone.
“What do we do now?” Myra asked.
“You guys watch TV while I continue to text Ted. You can order room service if you want. You didn't eat any of the picnic food. And, Annie, you might want to call that dealership to pick up your car. Or, better, have your banker do it. No sense giving our location away by calling from here.”
Annie was so outraged that someone had dared to put a GPS tracker on her car she was speechless.
“Get over it, Annie. We have more pressing problems right now,” Myra said.
“What was your first clue, Myra?” Annie snapped.
arry Wong stared down at the pot of steeping tea. He poured it into a fragile cup with no handles just as he heard a knock on the door at the back of the
He frowned at the sound as he tried to decide whether he should go to the door or not. He couldn't remember if the door was locked. Yoko had left a half hour earlier to do some grocery shopping. Did she lock the door? He simply didn't know, so he set his cup of tea down on the small counter and walked toward the back door. His jaw dropped when he opened the door to see Maggie, Annie, and Myra smiling at him.
All three women rushed him, hugging him, to his dismay. Annie planted a kiss on his cheek, and gurgled, “Oh, Harry, it is
good to see you. I've never been here before, and neither has Myra. I hope we aren't interrupting anything.”
Harry grinned. It was nice to see some of his favorite people again after such a long time. His brow furrowed when he saw Maggie put her finger to her lips and motion for Harry to join them outside. He complied because he didn't know what else to do.
The women drew him down the narrow alley, all babbling at the same time. He did his best to make sense out of what they were saying but knew he was missing half of it. What he didn't miss was the worry and fear in the women's eyes.
What the hell is going on,
he wondered. “Whoa, slow down, ladies. One at a time. Should we wait for Yoko to get back from the market so we can both hear what you have to say instead of making you repeat whatever it is you are about to tell me?”
“Seems to me I remember a small picnic table around back. Can we go there?” Maggie asked. “How much longer do you think Yoko will be?”
“I'm surprised that she isn't back by now. She just walked over to the Asian market with her string bag. She buys just for the day. You know, fresh fruits and vegetables. Unless she went to the fish market, which is only two doors away. Even so, she should be back momentarily.” Harry pointed to the left of the driveway and said, “It's two blocks away.”
Harry bit down on his lip when Maggie said, “I'll walk in that direction to meet her and fill her in while Myra and Annie fill you in.”
“What the hell is going on?” Harry asked as he led the way around to the back of the
“To be honest, Harry, we don't know. Maggie seems to think everything is bugged, and there was definitely a GPS on the car I was test-driving. And someone has us under surveillance. We saw that with our own eyes. Ted and Joseph quit Global and are on their way back from Rome as we speak. They're taking on their old positions at the paper,” Annie said.
“We're so sorry we missed your wedding, Harry. We so wanted to be there, but no one knewâ¦it was such a bad time forâ¦oh, I don't know,” Myra dithered as she fingered her pearls.
Harry figured it was time to say something, but he didn't know what to say other than to repeat himself by asking again, “What the hell do you
is going on?”
“That's a very good question, Harry. We
something terrible is going on. Henry Jellicoe has dropped off the face of the earth, as far as we know. We think he's gone to ground but don't know why. Ted and Joseph have not seen him during the course of their employment, according to Maggie. No one can figure out why the two of them were hired by Global Securities in the first place, especially Ted and Joseph. Ted, according to Maggie, has suspected for some time now that things aren't right, but he doesn't know what the problem is, either,” Annie said.
“There is also the little matter of Hank becoming engaged to the president of the United States, then disappearing. There has not been a word, a squeak, or a peep about the engagement. We don't know if the engagement is on or off. As far as we know, Jellicoe has not been back at the White House since he walked out the night of the pardons. I know you saw him when you signed your contracts, but Harry, did you ever see him again?”
“No. We all went our separate ways that first month. Then we did our stint at the boot camp, which to me was a joke. ThenâI guess the correct term would be âdeployed'âwe deployed to the four corners of the globe. Yoko and I went to Israel, where I trained some of their men in martial arts. In the beginning, they had me going in all directions, but Israel was our home base. Every month it was someplace new. Then we ended back up in Israel and were there for the last six months with no other deployments. The Israelis weren't keen on my brand of training, and I had the feeling I was being humored by both the men and their superiors. It was almost, to me, like they were honoring a promise or a debt of some kind by having me there. We were tolerated, barely, and that's it. To be honest, I don't know how Yoko and I lasted as long as we did. She had two miscarriages, and it was her decision to come back to the States, with or without me, was how she put it. As you can see, I'm here, and she sure as hell didn't have to coax me to accompany her. I'm going to have to ask Lizzie to help me negotiate about the payback and canceling the contract. I'm assuming the bonus money has to be paid back and will be prorated. We banked my salary for the year and a half that we were gone. Housing and transportation were free, so our outlay was very little. Yoko is very thrifty, and so am I. We have more than enough money for a down payment on a house with a yard and a fence. That's what Yoko wants. I do, too. In the meantime, we have the
“At this point in time we are no worse off than we were before that out-of-the-blue offer of employment. Definitely better, in the sense that Yoko got her pardon and we got married. I suppose I can now add to my rÃ©sumÃ© that I helped train Israeli soldiers. I already have a full class signed up for next week, so that means I am here to stay.”
“What was it that made you throw in the towel?” Annie asked with an intensity that made Harry's eyebrows shoot upward.
“We both hated the whole deal from day one. I admit, and so does Yoko, that we were dazzled by the money. That didn't last long. Yoko got depressed after her miscarriages and blamed it on being out of the country. I hated seeing her like that. She missed the others terribly. She used to cry every day, and she cursed the day the pardons came through. She went into a real funk when we weren't able to come back for Christmas last year. I did, too, to be honest.
“I think I know what you want me to say here, and yes, it was a job that was created for me that had absolutely no meaning. No one took my brand of training seriously. They're all about guns and âreal' soldiering. Yoko is the one who finally came up with something we both thought made sense. She said Hank Jellicoe wanted to separate us, to scatter us to the four winds. Neither of us could figure out why, but it was the only thing that made any kind of sense. I can't tell you the last time I talked to Jack or Bert. The sat phones always, somehow, mysteriously jammed when I tried to call any of the others. Yoko had the same problem when she tried to call the girls. Neither of us could figure that out, either.”
Annie thought she had never heard Harry talk so much. Always a man of few words, he was certainly being more than vocal at the moment, which told her he was more than a little concerned over his present circumstances.
It was Myra's turn to speak. “Harry, I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to really think before you answer me. Do you think Hank wanted you boys to separate or do you think he wanted the vigilantes to separate? In a way, it is the same thing but not really.”
Harry pondered the question, wishing he had his cup of tea to wrap his hands about. “It's strange, Myra, that you should ask me that question. Yoko and I beat it to death so many times I lost count. We both think he wanted to separate the vigilantes. We can't figure out why, though. Is that what you all think?”
“We do, and Maggie agrees,” Annie said. “But like you, we can't figure out the why of it.”
Harry rubbed at the bristle on his chin. He wished now that he had shaved earlier. “If you think Charles was into all that covert stuff that goes on all over the world, he's a novice compared to what Jellicoe has going on. That man plows through some really deep shit, or, at least, his people do. Yoko and I are good listeners, and of course, since Jellicoe was our benefactor, we tried to learn as much as we could about Global Securities during our stint away from home, at least back in the beginning. Later on, we didn't want to know any more than we knew at that point. Hank Jellicoe is the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the espionage and security business. He outshines the CIA by a mile. By the way, do you know that only the CIA and Homeland Security can freeze a person's monies, even a foreign government's monies? A while back I remember reading about that in some article in the paper, probably the
Well, I'm here to tell you there are
organizations that can do it, and number three just happens to be Global Securities.”
Myra stared at Harry. “What does that mean, Harry? I mean in regard to us, to you, me, the vigilantes? You must have had a reason for bringing that to our attention.”
“Myra, I don't know. I just mentioned it. I guess we have to figure out what it means. Hey, I'm a martial arts kind of guy. I'm not into all that spook stuff. At this point in time, I just feel like I want to burrow in and get on with my life. There are no words to tell you how glad I am to be home. I just wish Jack and Bert were here. The rest of this crap means squat to me personally, but I do care how it affects Yoko. I want to be on record as saying that.”
“Duly noted,” Annie said.
The world took that moment to move, with Yoko rushing to the back of the
and throwing herself up against Annie and Myra as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I think she's happy to see them, don't you, Harry?” Maggie whispered.
Harry laughedâsuch a strange sound that Maggie grinned. She thought for a moment, and realized she had never actually heard Harry laugh out loud. That had to be a good sign. Of what, she didn't know. She looked down at the BlackBerry in her hand, at the text that was coming through. She felt the fine hairs on the back of her neck start to move. She looked up to see four sets of eyes staring at her.
“Listen, you guys stay here and talk about old times. I have an errand to run. I shouldn't be more than an hour, and I'll be back.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Ted wants me to pick up something he says is important.”
Sensing an urgency in Maggie, Harry stepped forward. “Do you want me to go with you, Maggie?”
Maggie thought about the offer and shook her head. “No, it's better if you stay here and pretend that everything is normal.”
Myra's tone was so anxious, Maggie found herself cringing when she said, “But, dear, where are you going? How can we pretend to be normal when we don't know what passes for normal these days?” Even though it was a question, Myra didn't expect an answer, so she wasn't disappointed when Maggie just shrugged.
“To Neiman Marcus at the Galleria to try on a slinky dress I am going to buy, so I can leave the store with a shopping bag. I shouldn't be more than an hour or so. You can bring each other up to date while I'm gone.”
“How wonderful! I so love slinky dresses. Just put it on your expense account, dear,” Annie said generously.
“I'm not into slinky, Annie, and thank you for the offer, but I really just need the shopping bag. See ya. But if the dress comes with the deal, who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Jittery small talk followed before Yoko excused herself to take her groceries inside. Everyone looked down at their watches. Yoko was back in less than ten minutes carrying a tray with a teapot, cups, and a plate of honey-rice cakes. The women all started to babble at once as they tried to figure out where and what Maggie was up to other than buying a dress she didn't want.
In the cab she was fortunate to hail almost in front of Harry's
Maggie leaned back in the seat to scan the latest text from Ted, who said he would arrive Stateside no later than 8:00
. She scrolled till she found the previous message, the message that had her in this cab at this precise moment. And to think she was going to get a slinky dress out of the deal, compliments of the
She had no idea where or when she would have an occasion to wear said slinky dress. And at this precise moment, she couldn't care less.
Maggie closed her eyes as she tried to figure out where all of
was going. She was almost giddy with the thought that in less than ten hours, give or take a few, she would be talking to Ted and Espinosa. She just wasn't sure if that would be before or after a round of lovemaking. Right now, though, lovemaking was coming in second to the weirdness that was going on in all their lives.
She was back in the game. She could feel it in every bone in her body. She knew in her gut that the others felt the same way. Yoko had come alive inside the fish market the moment she'd voiced her suspicions about what was going on. By the time they reached the alley of the
her eyes were sparkling like diamonds.
The only thing throwing her off at the moment was Yoko's question, which she couldn't answer. “Maggie, do you think it's possible something happened to Hank Jellicoe?” Considering his profession, all that the man was involved in, Yoko's question did bear thinking about. And it was a question that she, as a reporter, should have asked herself early on. With all Jellicoe's personal security, his savvy, his knowledge, he wouldn't have been dumb enough to allow himself to be compromised in any way. Then there was his engagement to the president, which was either on or off.
Maggie sighed as the cab slid to the curb. She paid the driver and barreled out. As she stuffed her wallet back into her bag, she also managed to scan the area where the cab had stopped. There were cars everywhere. There were people everywhere. She tried to focus and remember exactly what she was seeing before she headed inside to the escalator that would take her up to Neiman Marcus.