41 2nd Avenue, back entrance
The door clicked open. Rose slipped her lockpick back into her hair. "Typical alarm system for this type of building."
"Anything more would stand out," Elena said. "Standard KGB approach: Search for anything that is more or less protected than the the surroundings. Around here, electric eyes are overdone, especially when there are other occupants to the building."
"How do you know there are others? They could be other NSA elements."
"If they were, that wouldn't prevent a more direct approach. With other tenants unaffiliated and even unaware, there collateral damage is greater."
Rose nodded. "We better get in before someone notices this door is unlocked." She stepped into the back hallway of the building. "Did Allie get a suite number?"
"No. She dug deep in the web just to find the building. We'll have to go floor by floor. Want to start from the top or the bottom?"
"The top. Easier to go down the last set of stairs than than up it."
"Alright, but we're not taking the elevator up."
"As long as we can stop to rest, I'll be fine."
Elena nodded. "This way." She led the way to the stairwell.
The two women crept up the stairs in the dim light provided. After reaching the fourth floor, Rose signalled for a stop. She leaned against the wall and massaged her knees. Elena mouthed, "Are you okay?"
Rose shook her head no. She held up her right hand, all fingers and thumb spread out. "Five minutes," she mouthed back. She winced as she continued rubbing her knees.
Elena crept up the next flight, leaving Rose to rest. She poked her head up over the level of the landing. In front of her, an electric eye sent an invisible beam across to the other side at ankle level to anyone standing on the landing. Elena slunk back down to rejoin Rose. "I believe the word I want is, 'Bingo'."
"What did you find?"
"I was wrong, okay? Besides, it's not at the ground floor. Are you able to walk yet?"
Rose extended her right leg. "Still stiff. It's going to rain, I think."
"Old wives' tale. We need to get going. I don't know if Allison's distraction can last this long."
"Give me a moment." She tested her knee, seeing if it could hold her weight. Satisfied, she took a couple of small steps. Despite her limp, she said, "Ready."
"The hell you are, but we don't have a choice. Take it easy and follow my steps once we're at the next floor. Last thing we need is an alarm going off."
"I'm ready," Rose repeated. "Lead on."
Elena climbed up the stairs again, stopping four steps away from the electric eye. "Okay, Rose, you'll have to take a large step when you get to the top here. If you can't, tell me."
"Alright. Go ahead."
Elena worked her way over the beam, taking her time to place her sneakered feet down quietly and safely. She examined the walls before signalling Rose to continue up. Rose raised her stiff leg high over the security system, bringing it down gingerly, then pulled herself up. She smirked at the Russian. Elena ignored Rose and felt around the stairwell exit. "Okay, standard construction, metal door," she paused as she worked out how the door would open, "and it will break the beam if fully opened."
"No opening the door fully, got it."
"How's the leg?"
"Still stiff. Damned arthritis. Take it slow here. I don't think I can run too well."
"Slow it is. Stay close, though." Elena examined the door. "Not locked – probably due to fire regulations." She pulled open the door wide enough for her to get through. Elena stepped into the hallway. Holding the door open, she looked around. "Clear."
Rose stepped through the doorway. She felt the metal fire door start swinging faster than she anticipated. To prevent the door from slamming, she kicked backwards with her right leg. The door smashed into the limb. Rose grimaced. "Elena," she said in a low tone.
Elena glanced backwards. "How did you . . .?"
"Trap door of some sort. It closes faster than you think it will. Can you help with my leg?"
Elena pushed on the fire door, opening it enough for Rose to pull her leg out. She let the door slowly close, latching back in place with a soft click. "Can you walk?"
"As well as I did before."
"Hobble as best you can, then." Elena turned away as Rose rolled her eyes. The Russian crept down the carpeted hallway, passing several unmarked doors. "Figures."
"I'm beginning to wonder if some of the missing files in my day with the KGB was because we never properly labelled anything. Look at the doors."
"Elena, you need a different approach. Design the layout in your head. Security is going to be central – it needs to get from their location to any part of the floor as fast as possible. We don't want that. Next, the more important the person, the more likely he is to have a corner office. Doesn't make sense, but that's how things go at times. There are exceptions, of course, but it gives us a place to start." Rose closed her eyes and pictured the floor in her mind's eye. She started down the hall, walking away from the elevators. "This way."
Elena kept up with the limping woman. "I hope you know what you're doing."
"I think I understand the American mind a little better. Besides, did Sexton strike as the type to be working in the basement?"
"He struck me as a salesman."
"Exactly." Rose stopped at a T-junction. She took a moment to get her bearings, then continued walking, her limp improving with every step. "Someone like that isn't out to get confined away from a window. He wants to look out at his conquest."
Elena nodded. "Makes sense."
"Psychology minor in university. Easy marks and I never knew how much I'd use it." The hallway opened into an open area filled with cubicles. Rose peeked into each work area as she passed it. Most of the cubes were utilitarian with only memos pinned to the cloth walls. A few, however, had photos of what Rose believed were family and friends. One cubicle had a photo of Sexton with a woman; Sexton grinned broadly while handing the woman a certificate. "Bingo."
"Figures he's in management," Elena remarked.
"Corner office type." Rose walked towards a closed door. She stopped to examine the jamb. "Clear." She reached for her lockpick.
"Wait. Don't you hear it?"
Rose cocked her head, straining to listen. She shook her head. "What is it?"
"There's a hum, like the florescent lights, except they're off."
"I'll take your word for it."
Rose smiled. "Rolling Stones concert, 1985."
"Right." Elena felt around the door jamb. "Nothing. Must be on the inside."
"He's management. Want to bet he wants his office ready for when he comes in?"
"No bet." Rose glanced around. "Over here." She walked over to a nearby cubicle and started opening the drawers. She pawed around through a mess of pens and paper before finding her target. "Electronic fob. I'm sure Sexton has one, too, but using it is for the lower people." She pointed it at the door and pressed the button on the fob.
Elena listened for a moment. "That did it." She dashed into the office.
Rose followed closely, closing the door behind her. She tapped the button on the electronic key again. "There. Some privacy, at least." She checked her watch. "We better hurry before Allie starts worrying."
Elena slipped into the overstuffed chair behind the wooden desk. "I wish Allie was here. She'd break into this workstation and find what we need."
"You were in a command position, right?"
"If you want to call it that. I had a few agents under me, if that's what you mean."
"It is. Now, when you had to give them instructions, but weren't there to do it in person, how did you go about it?"
"Rose, you're asking for state secrets."
"No, Elena, I'm not." Rose sat at the corner of the oak desk. "You'd have to pass along the instructions, either on paper or recorded on tape."
Elena looked around the office. "No tape recorders here."
Rose scrambled down and looked underneath the desk. "No connection for a microphone into the computer," she reported.
"He could have tossed it."
"Paperwork, Elena. Even the NSA has to track assets. He couldn't have requested a mike and then just lose it."
"What's stopping him from altering the data from his computer?"
"People like Allie working here. You've seen how protective she gets over our network. It's her little fief. Now, imagine here, with mandated security and Senate oversight on all budget items and someone even half as protective as Allie, would a mike be overlooked that easily?"
Elena shook her head. "Which means he still has it."
"Right. Check his drawers."
Elena tried the top drawer. "Locked." She rattled the handle a bit, with no luck. "Can you pick the lock?"
"They'll know we've been here."
Rose nodded. "That's what I want. I want Sexton to realize something's gone wrong. I want him to wonder what we've done. I want him nervous enough to make a mistake. Break open the drawer."
Elena pulled on the top drawer, trying to bend its lock enough to break it. After a minute or so of effort, she reported, "It's not budging."
Rose searched the desktop and found a letter opener. "Try this."
Elena took the implement and shoved it into the drawer. Using the letter opener as a crowbar, she pried open the compartment. Inside the drawer were several pens, pencils, and a personal digital assistant. Elena handed the device to Rose. "You get along with these things better." Moving to the next drawer, Elena found a laptop computer still in its carrying case. "Rose, what if he made the hypothetical recording somewhere else?"
Elena held up the laptop. "This. Keeps such incriminating evidence away from the network."
"I think we have what we need. Bring it and close up the desk. We're leaving."
Elena placed the case on the desk while she closed the drawers shut the best she could. She grabbed the carrying case's handle and followed Rose to the door. "Don't forget the key."
Rose activated the fob. "Thanks." She opened the door. After returning the electronic key to the secretary's desk, she led the way back to the fire exit. She took care to step over the electric eye's beam before going downstairs. The women crept slowly downstairs and back out of the building. Once safely several blocks away, Rose pulled a small radio from her pocket. "Allie, it's Rose. We're ready for pick up."