Chez Café Coffee Shop and Internet Café
Allison did one final check on her network settings before firing up her connection to her home server. Her fingers flashed as she entered her password, then waited for the confirmation. The brunette tapped her foot as the laptop processed the incoming information. "There, I'm in."
"You won't be traced, right?" Rose's worry was written on her face.
"I'm using an SSL, a Secure Socket Layer. Even if they do trace us, they won't be able to see what I'm doing."
"That's not what I asked."
Allison sighed. "It's possible that they can trace the connection, but they'll have to figure out what my IP address is, determine who owns it, and then find out where exactly I am. That should take them longer than it will for me to get my files."
"Alright. Get in touch with Tyler, then get the photos."
"Already ahead of you. The photos are downloading. I just need to get Tyler's attention." Allison tapped several sentences. "Okay, I've left a note for her on her network drive. Let's see if she notices."
"Doesn't Tyler have text messaging on her phone?" Amber said.
"All of our cell phones do."
"Send a text message," Elena ordered. "Tell her what you've done."
Allison nodded. "Give me a moment." She opened another application, quickly configuring it, then sent her message. "I told her to use the file on the network, just in case there's someone there who shouldn't be."
Rose peeked over Allison's shoulder. "How will you tell she's answered?"
"The time stamp will change." Allison shooed Rose. "Not so close, okay?"
Rose backed off and sat down. Amber offered, "Coffee anyone?"
"Sure." Allison looked up and glared at Amber. "Normal coffee. Nothing fancy. Plain black coffee. No milk, no sugar, no extra coffee grounds. Just plain, normal coffee."
"Right, one boring coffee. Rose, Elena?"
"Espresso if you can get it," Elena said.
"Double double." At seeing Amber's puzzled expression, Rose explained, "Double cream, double sugar."
"Okay, that's one boring coffee, one espresso, and one coffee with two cream and two sugar. All large, right?"
"Mediums," Rose said. "No need for us to be more jittery than we are now."
"Be right back," Amber said as she walked over to the coffee bar.
"There," Allison said. "Tyler's answered. The Feds are back at the office. Brandon's trying to stall them until Mitchell arrives."
"Good for him," Rose remarked. "Let's hope Mitchell's in a long meeting with the senior partners."
"I doubt that will stop these agents," Elena said. "We were not in any Federal facility or office."
"Not important right now. That Tyler and Brandon are making a point about the procedures not being followed. That will help us if this ever gets to court."
"I don't think these guys wants us to get that far, Rose," Allison said. "The photos are done copying. This doesn't look like a cruise ship to me."
"Let me see." Rose waited for Allison to turn the laptop towards her. She looked over the plans. "This is military. Elena, is this a Russian ship?"
Elena peered. "No. The labelling is all English anyway. I don't recognize the ship."
Amber returned with a tray of steaming cups. She set down the coffee and glanced at the laptop's monitor. "Why do you have the deck plans of a Halifax-class ship?"
"Halifax-class?" Elena asked. "Amber, you recognize the ship?"
"Yeah. It's a Halifax-class frigate, from the Canadian Navy. Why?"
Rose took a closer look at the plans. "Allison, these are the photos I asked you to take, right?
"I didn't alter a thing, Rose. These are the same plans we delivered to Sexton."
"You don't think that the Canadians are after us, do you?" Amber shook her head in disbelief.
Elena leaned back in her chair and sipped her espresso. "Not at all. I don't think they're involved in this. Why would they keep the plans to one of their ships here in St. Louis? Allison, can you do a slide show of your photos?"
Allison nodded. "Not a problem."
"Amber, tell me which deck is which."
The women crowded around to watch the sideshow. "Okay, this photo – Allie, can you increase the size? Thanks – this photo is the main deck. There's the main guns in the forward turret there, and the aft helicopter platform."
"No notes on this page," Elena remarked. "Next photo, please, Allison."
Once the next image appeared, Amber continued, "This looks like the command deck. The bridge controls aren't labelled, but I can make guesses."
"Still no notes. Next photo, please."
"Okay, this is below the waterline. See the torpedo launchers?" Amber tapped the screen with her fingernail to point out the feature. "Anti-sub measures."
"Allie, zoom in on the bottom right," Rose directed. The image on-screen grew larger. "There. Elena, do you see it?"
Elena leaned in for a closer look. "The watermark?"
"That's not Canadian. What Canuck uses stars and stripes?"
Elena turned to Allison. "Ask Tyler if Sexton has called back or returned to the office."
Allison typed the command into the document she shared over the network. She waited, checking the time stamp of the file. Once it was updated at the office, Allison reopened it. "Sexton hasn't been seen or heard from. The agents are going into your office, though, Rose. Brandon's tried to stop them but is being held in restraints."
"Any mention of the Patriot Act?" Rose asked.
The brunette computer expert relayed the question. After a few moments, the answer returned. Allison shook her head. "None."
Elena looked over at Rose. "We need to find Sexton."
"Agreed. We'll split into two groups. Elena, you and Allison do what you can. I'll take Amber with me. We'll meet at Riddle's at six-thirty. Be careful, though. We don't have a safe way of contacting each other."
St. Louis, Missouri
"Look, Detective, this isn't a joke." Rose tried to pace despite the phone's short cable connection to the booth. "You know me, Lepinski. How many times have we bailed each other out? Your badge? What about my livelihood and my kids?" Rose shook her head. "Are you trying to trace me, Lepinski? I'm in Forest Park. By the time the boys in blue arrive, I'll be long gone. I just need to know what's going on." She stopped mid-pace. "That's a bad joke, Carl. I'm not laughing. I'm telling you, they were Federales. Even had the haircut and conservative sense of fashion." Rose leaned against the phone booth. "Alright, I believe you. Have you heard of a Ray Sexton? I don't know, it might be short for Raymond. No, I'll call you. How long do you need? I'll try to call then. Thanks, Carl. Bye." Rose hung up.
Amber waited expectantly. "Well?"
"Lepinski hasn't seen anything cross his desk." Rose started walking towards a park exit. "He's taking another look, and he'll call a few people he knows at the FBI."
"So, we weren't really arrested?"
"He didn't say that."
"Great." Amber sighed. "I'm going to have this hanging over me for the rest of my life."
Rose drew the younger woman into an embrace. "It'll get sorted out."
"No, it's not that. It's Mom. She's going to kill me if she ever finds out. She doesn't even know that I race. 'It's too dangerous for a girl.'"
"Your mother won't find out from me."
Amber pulled out of the hug. "Thanks, Rose."
"We better keep going. Lepinski may not have been telling the full truth about the call not being traced and we still have to find out more about Sexton."
St. Louis, Missouri
Wal-Mart Store #6032
Allison didn't bother to disguise her shudder as she and Elena crossed the threshold into the Wal-Mart. "You're out to torture me today, aren't you?"
"Not everyone has extra income on Thursdays, Allison." Elena strode through the store. "Some have to take what they can get." She saw her quarry, an older man wearing a manager's uniform, down aisle ten. "Case in point." Elena approached the manager. "Excuse me, I'm looking for caviar."
"You definitely have the wrong store, lady." The manager looked resigned to bearing the brunt of yelling.
"Sergei, do you have any caviar?"
The manager blinked. "Um, yes, er, do you have, er, preference?"
"I understand the beluga from Lake Baikal is in season." Elena rolled her eyes. "Really, Sergei, how could you have forgotten?"
"Elena? What happened to your hair?"
The blonde smiled. "I decided to try a new style. Look at you, though. Are you really the manager?"
"Please don't start with me, Elena. This is the best I can do. I can't exactly put in twenty-five years at the KGB on my resume."
"And you haven't found another way to use your skills," Elena accused.
"I've improved shipping schedules here."
"That is not what I meant. Sergei, I don't like being blunt."
Sergei sighed. "I keep in touch with people."
Elena nodded. "Good. I need information."
"I see. What's in it for me?"
"You've adapted to American life well." Elena smirked.
"It's been fifteen years, Comrade, and I don't know your young friend."
Allison offered her hand. "Allison."
Sergei never looked away from Elena and ignored the proffered hand. "What is in it for me?" he repeated.
"What do you want?" Elena asked.
With a shrug, Sergei answered, "Depends on what you're looking for. The lower my risk, the lower your cost."
"I want information about one Ray Sexton. Real information, not a Google search."
"What do you know about him?"
"Not enough to help."
"I'll need more to work on than just a name. Who is he?"
Elena tsked. "That's what I want to know. Who is he and who does he work for? What does he want with Canadian ship plans." She ignored Allison's snort of protest. "Why did he choose my colleagues and me for a job that was a set up?"
"Tall order," Sergei said. "Fifty thousand."
"Fifty?" Allison exclaimed.
"Allison, hush," Elena admonished. "Sergei, fifty thousand is out of the question. Ten thousand, up front, another fifteen when I verify your information."
"Fifteen up front, and I toss in a box of chocolates for each of you."
Elena smiled. "Make it Belgian chocolate, and it's a deal."